A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Iowa Passes Bill to Jail Factory Farm Investigators

(Update March 5: the governor has signed the bill into law.)

A bill, which passed with bipartisan support in the Iowa Legislature last week, would make it a criminal offence for people to get a job at a factory farm and then start taking undercover video of what goes on there. It’s now up to the governor sign it or veto it.

Last year, an earlier version of the bill drew protest from around the nation when it surfaced in various forms and in several states. The bill was hastily withdrawn, but plans were made to re-introduce it in Iowa in a new form.

Last week, the new version was rushed through both chambers and sent off to the governor for his signature. With different wording, the bill still makes it a criminal act for an employee to report what happens inside a factory farm. In other words, whistle-blowers will be fined or jailed simply for telling the truth.

The Des Moines Register has editorialized strongly against what the lawmakers have done.

The new bill passed Tuesday makes it a crime to misrepresent oneself in a job application at an animal production facility “with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility.” Laws against fraud are intended to protect persons injured by misrepresentation. But how is a livestock operation harmed by the reporting of facts — unless those facts reveal uncomfortable truths?

This law, moreover, would empower the owner of an agricultural facility to define what “acts” are illegal. That includes an employee reporting when he or she sees abuse of pigs, chickens or other livestock. The law could conceivably punish individuals who legitimately apply for jobs in animal confinements and then later decide to report things they see that their consciences tell them is wrong.

And the law would punish not only the person convicted of misrepresentation but anyone who “aids and abets” that person, along with others involved in a “conspiracy” or one who “harbors, aids or conceals” such person.

The newspaper asks why factory farms are singled out for special legal protection. Why not criminal penalties for people who misrepresent themselves when they go to work for an insurance company and then report consumer abuses there?

The only way retailers will know whether the meat industry is living up to expectations is for the industry to be transparent. If livestock producers are proud of what they do, they should have nothing to fear from being open to inspection.

Gov. Terry Branstad, a big supporter of Iowa agriculture, should veto this bill and send the signal to the world that Iowa livestock producers should have nothing to hide.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen has also called on Gov. Terry Branstad to veto the bill, calling it the “Kill the Messenger Bill.”

What you can do: If you live in Iowa, you can urge the governor to veto the bill. The Humane Society of the U.S. has this page through which you can send a message.