Last week we reported on an Iowa bill aimed at preventing undercover investigations at concentrated animal feeding operations that was on Gov. Terry Brandstad's desk.
At the time Brandstad's office said it was still considering but late Friday he quietly signed it to the dismay of activists who'd hoped to stop it.
"Governor Branstad has failed Iowa, and the American people," said Nathan Runkle the executive director of Chicago-based Mercy for Animals. "By siding with those who seek to keep Iowa’s corrupt factory farming practices hidden from public view and signing this bill into law, he has created a safe haven for animal abuse and other criminal activity in the state. Mercy For Animals, along with a broad coalition of national groups representing a wide spectrum of public interests, including animal welfare, civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental protection, food justice, workers' rights, and First Amendment interests, is exploring all legal avenues to overturn this dangerous and un-American law."
"My feeling is if somebody comes onto somebody else's property through fraud or deception or lying, that is a very serious violation of people's rights," Branstad said at his weekly news conference according to the Associated Press. "People should be held accountable for that...this is a reasonable public policy for the state of Iowa. I think a number of states will probably follow us."
Many Illinois sustainability and environmental groups--including the Illinois Coalition for Clean Air and Water, Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the U.S.--hope this will not be the case and have pledged to make their voices heard as Illinois holds hearing on its own similarly-aimed Animal Facilities Bill HB5143 on Wednesday. Illinois recently launched an online program where citizens can register their support or opposition on "witness slips" even if they don't attend the hearing. They can be filled out for that bill here.
"This bill will criminalize neighbors of CAFOs from taking photos of environmental violations in their community," said Karen Hudson an Illinois farmer and spokesperson for ICCAW. "We are the EPA's local eyes and ears. The EPA needs photographs to document alleged environmental violations. This ignores public health in our community."
Illinois Farm Bureau's Kevin Semlow, however, says that bill will protect farmers from videos of their operations taken out of context and broadcast to the world.
"Our biggest concen has always been how someone could come in and take something out of context withiout looking over the whole process," he said. "We, in no way, condone bad practices but we believe our current laws allow someone to investigate if there is any cruelty to animals going on."
State Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) says she also has reservations about the bill.
"I'm not sure it's necessary as there are numerous laws on the books pertaining to trespassing so I don't know what it really accomplishes," she said. "I think it's critical that we ensure that whistleblowers are protected if they bring to light unsafe or dangerous conditions with our food.
"There's a long history of whistleblowers and exposes from groups that have really affected our food industry from Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle' to the more recent issue with McDonald's," which changed its meat buying practices after undercover investigations exposed animal welfare practices in certain CAFOs.
Runkle worries that Iowa has set a dangerous precedent by passing its industrial farm law."At the behest of the multibillion-dollar meat, dairy and egg industries, similar Ag-Gag bills are being proposed in states all across the country, including Illinois, New York, Utah, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska," Runkle noted. "Unfortunately, Iowa’s flawed and misdirected new law could set a dangerous precedent nationwide by throwing shut the doors to industrial factory farms and allowing animal abuse, environmental violations, and food contamination to flourish undetected, unchallenged, and unaddressed."