Jolley: About that Iowa ‘ag-gag” bill

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Sarah Hubbart, Communications Director at Animal Agriculture Alliance, blogging for, wrote, “Iowa’s governor signed a hotly-debated bill into law that makes it a crime for individuals or organizations to fraudulently gain access to a farm with the intent to cause harm.

The law doesn’t specifically ban the “undercover videos” that animal rights groups use to promote their cause, but it could cause the activists who obtain employment on farms under false pretenses to think twice.

The new law specifies that “A person is guilty of agricultural production facility fraud if the person willfully does any of the following: a. Obtains access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses. b. 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.”

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Annette Sweeney, said, ”This bill will ensure everyone who works on farms is honest about animal care and has their best interest in mind."

Governor Terry Brandstad agreed and signed it soon after it landed on his desk

As a journalist, I feel strongly both ways about that bill.  I like the intent, even though I’m sure Iowa already has laws against willful misrepresentation on employment applications and fraud.  Gaining access to an ag facility of any kind with the intent to do or promote harm ought to be a punishable offense with serious consequences.  Rumors are rampant that some of the animal abuse videos that have surfaced in the past few years were either staged elsewhere, the result of the videographer encouraging employees to abuse the animals under their care, or the result of some very sophisticated and selective editing.

No matter how “animal rights” activists gain access to an ag facility, their efforts to encourage such behavior or wait to expose it for maximum publicity for the advancement of their social directives are worse than the habitual abuser in my estimation.  To promote a lie to further your aims is an intellectual and moral dishonesty of the worst kind.  Those activists who claim to know better and try to seize the moral high ground by wading through the swamp are despicable.

At the same time, there are constitutional guarantees of a free and unfettered press and the Supreme Court has consistently defended that right, even as exercised by the vile people and organizations. 

Almost half a century ago, Robert Peck, staff director of the American Bar Association Commission on Public Understanding About the Law, and an author, editor, and lecturer on constitutional law, wrote about the Tinker v. Des Moines School District Supreme Court decision.  It was a case that looked at middle school children’s right to protest the Viet Nam war by wearing black arm bands in school.

Peck wrote, “Former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan described the rights of free speech and a free press contained within the First Amendment as embodying ‘a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.’ The Constitution accepts criticism of high government officials because, as the late Justice Hugo Black put it, ‘no country can live in freedom where its people can be made to suffer physically or financially for criticizing their government, its actions, or its officials.’”

In other words, you don’t have to like everything that’s published by any group or entity and you certainly don’t have to agree with it.  The Constitution absolutely protects the right to free speech, even if it is inflammatory drivel.

Co-existing with what was published in the 1960’s was a challenge; there were thousands of printed publications and many of them were perched on the outside edge of respectability.  It’s even tougher today with the advent of blogging, Facebooking, Twittering and all the other social media offering a public forum to tens of thousands of people.  Money, literacy or the slightest hint of intelligence are no longer barriers.  If you can ‘keyboard,’ you can publish.  Good spelling and grammar, and proof of a coherent thought process are not requirements.

I’ve seen some of the most idiotic and poorly thought out nonsense written for public consumption.  I’m sure you’ve seen much of the same trash.  What makes it interesting is well-educated, thoughtful Americans will look at the same story and disagree on whether it’s a brilliant dissection of a public issue or thoughtless and sorely misguided yellow journalism.

So, should those animal rights crazies be singled out and prosecuted for trying to expose egregious cases of animal abuse with a law aimed at their activities?  No.  Should they be slapped hard to the fullest extent of the existing laws covering libel, slander and willful misrepresentation?  I’ll volunteer to serve on that jury and I would like to see an old-fashioned ‘hanging’ judge presiding over the case.

That these undercover agents can still slink through the cracks and gain employment on ranches, harvesting facilities and processing plants doesn’t speak well of the activities of some human resources departments.  I’ve heard people in the ag industry say, “If he can fog a mirror, I’ll hire him” and on the processing side, there have been proven cases of illegal short cuts in hiring practices.  Stricter hiring policies, better training and improved oversight can cure almost all the remaining ills.

Slamming the barn door shut when the public is asking for the transparency of a screen door sends the wrong message and plays into the hands of activists who will say to a suddenly more receptive audience, “They must have something truly awful to hide if they have to pass laws like that.”

Let me ask the most obvious question, too.  If Chicago based MFA or Florida centered PETA sends an undercover rep to Iowa and sneaks a video back to the home office before the expose, what good is the law?  Certainly the videographer isn’t going to voluntarily return to accept his prison sentence.

We don’t have anything to hide.  More and more of the good guys in this business are practicing an open door policy and discovering that tours of the old ranch can actually make converts out of the suspicious. Survey after survey consistently finds the public innately trusts farmers and ranchers.  It’s only the bad guys in agriculture and every other human pursuit who have something to hide and they must be found and driven out of business as quickly as possible.

Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Vance Publishing.

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Isaac Franz    
Oshkosh, WI  |  March, 09, 2012 at 12:31 PM

So... intellectual dishonest is WORSE than a "habitual abuser" of animals? Are you kidding me?

oh  |  March, 12, 2012 at 11:13 AM

nope, not kiddin' at all. if there are animal abusers we don't want 'em either. regardless of what you may believe or what hsus and/or the media has convinced you to believe there is not nearly the abuse out there that they portray. what we are really talking about here is personal property rights.

Kirt Manecke    
Michigan  |  March, 09, 2012 at 01:16 PM

Transparency is the new norm for business. What on earth are you so afraid of??? Don't abuse animals, let the public in, and do the right thing-what's so hard about this???

Indiana  |  March, 10, 2012 at 08:37 AM

Kirt, you are welcome on my farm anytime, but am i welcome in your home? How transparent is your place of business? They wont even say what chemicals are used ion fracking, do you go to the oil companies and video tape their offices? Because my farm is also my home, where i raise my kids and where i intend to live the rest of my life, you are asking to come visit my home. It is only because HSUS and MFA are seeking wasy to end animal agriculture that consumers thought they wanted to see it. Do they want into the coca-cola factory or the mars candy factory or into the place where hotdogs are made? Its only farmers that they are supposedly demanding to see, but the demands are coming from animal rights activists seeking to end my way of life. In every case of "gotcha videos" the videographer was required to sign an affadvit that he would not participate in animal abuse and would report it if it was observed. Every videographer failed to do what they swore to do. If you observe abuse, it must be reported immediately, not held and edited for months to maxinmize dollars to your cause.

Iowa  |  March, 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM

Lots of insults for people who love and care about animals, and virtually nothing about the criminals who abuse them in factory farms. If animals were well treated there would be no problem, would there? And of course - the old classic - it is the animal welfare groups that are performing the animal seem to be in complete cognitive disarray on that one. In fact the only thing you got right was the fact that any uneducated, brainless idiot can write articles on the internet these days. I daresay you used a mirror to work that one out.

iowa  |  March, 11, 2012 at 09:51 PM

Steve You must be joking with your comment

March, 11, 2012 at 09:59 PM

"If animals were well treated there would be no problem, would there?" well many of us argue that there is no problem However animal rights organizations have already been reprimanded by judges because they solicited employees to stage abuse and film it. That is what this law is to prevent, as an employer you are liable for the acts of your employees whether you condone that behavior or not. If an employee were to be bribed to abuse an animal so another party could film it you might still be liable for that abuse. Yo prove the bribery you would have to have someone confess, prety much impossible. How many of these human society videos have been staged? "Hey I'll give you 5000 dollars and my company will get you your green card if you use the forklift to pick up the cow with the broken leg before you kill it and take it to the rendering plant."

March, 09, 2012 at 07:31 PM

This writer only hilights the problem. NO WHERE is there any concern for the abuse and mistreatment tof animals mentions. NO WHERE. The animal industry couldn't care a less about how animals area treated as proven by the hundreds of videos showing how they abuse and mistreat animals. They are simply covering up their crimes. This bill will do nothing for dedicated undercover agents to seek out and expose animal abusers. If any cafo's thinks they can keep doing business as usual THINK AGAIN! I guarantee you will be caught red-handed and those videos will go viral across the web.

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  March, 09, 2012 at 10:52 PM

I agree with everything you say and would only like to add... Imagine how really foolish they will look with factory-farm egg all over their faces - When even a "law" meant to hide a reality gets seen for what it is. Honestly... I can't wait for the next undercover video - It ought to be a doosie! ;)

Kansas  |  March, 10, 2012 at 08:21 AM

Interesting comment, so far, and several of them seem to indicate selective reading. Steve, you seem to be among the worse and your comments are stuff and nonsense. I daresay your insinuation is an ignorant attack on me and not an intelligent response to my comments. Isaac, the intellectual dishonesty portrayed by animal rights groups which leads some of them to falsely accuse people or encourage others to abuse to further their aims is worse. The idea here is to stop abuse when it occurs immediately rather than allow it to continue for political gain. Perpetrating a lie to further your cause is the point I tried to make.

SD  |  March, 10, 2012 at 07:01 PM

Define, "factory farm" and identify the one(s) abusing animals. Why isn't anyone photographing animal abuse and failing to immediately report it charged as at least an accossory to the crime? No animal producer wants the animals in his care abused. To believe otherwise is go ignore the fact that an abused animal is NOT a profitable animal. You animal RIGHTS extremists insist that most animals are raised on so called "factory farms", yet over 98% of all farms in the USA are FAMILY owned, managed, and staffed. So, where are all these "factory farms", and why have you failed to 'out' them???

Kansas  |  March, 11, 2012 at 09:38 AM

Maxine, Excellent questions. I'm betting you will get no satisfactory answers from animal activists, though. Factory farm is just a nice little shorthand term they use to influence public opinion without bothering with things like facts. You can't 'out' what you can't define.

Los Angeles, CA  |  May, 11, 2012 at 12:25 PM

These videos were the result of a staging? What a pathetic joke. I love how he just unequivocally believes the ag industry's ridiculous explanation as to why these videos are false. In the alternative, he might have more credibility if he cited the claim that these videos catch anomalies and that they are not industry norms. But staged? So it's the animal activists who are responsible for hurting animals? Because that is what their meager salaries depend on? Totally logical.

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