‘Ag Gag/Ag Fraud’ law struck down in Iowa: What does it mean, and what’s next?

A federal judge in Des Moines has declared a controversial law that criminalized the clandestine documentation of conditions in large-scale animal production facilities unconstitutional, and reactions to the decision have illustrated a growing chasm between agribusiness groups and activists who seek stricter oversight of the meat, egg and dairy industries.

Current Republican State Senator and former State Representative Annette Sweeney, a Hardin County cattle farmer by trade and a former president of the Iowa Angus Association, introduced the bill during the 2012 legislative session and championed it as the chair of the House Agriculture Committee.

According to House File 589, which then-Governor Terry Branstad signed into law later that year, a person was considered guilty of agricultural production fraud if he or she “obtains access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses and/or makes a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.”

Under the act, first time offenders were charged with a serious misdemeanor, and repeat offenders could be convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor. It also provided for the criminal punishment of any non-spouse who “harbors, aids or conceals the person committing the agricultural production facility fraud… with the intent to prevent apprehension of the person committing the agricultural production facility fraud.”

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