Posted August 6, 2015
A federal judge struck down Idaho’s ban on undercover videos at factory farms, ruling that state legislators wrongly criminalized free speech to protect prominent agricultural companies, according to a LA Times article available here. The Guardian also published an article available here, NPR here and Food Safety News here.
Animal rights advocates called the ruling the first defeat for “ag-gag” law in the U.S. Due to the recent influx of publishing undercover videos showing animal abuse at facilities, the laws have gained popularity in some states.
Idaho is the first state to strike down “ag-gag” statute in a federal court. Seven other states have adopted similar statutes in the past few years, according to Food Safety News.
Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote his 28-page decision in 97 days after hearing oral arguments in the case last April.
The 2012 Mercy for Animals video exposed workers beating, kicking and shocking cows, twisting their tails and dragging them with chains attached to their necks, according to The Guardian.
It led to charges of criminal animal cruelty against multiple workers, including a manager.
The state’s multi-billion dairy industry believed the sting was an attempt to hurt businesses and rallied legislators in the state capitol to pass a law making it a crime to film inside agricultural facilities. A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations lobbied the court to overturn the ban, claiming it criminalized whistleblowers and chilled free speech.
Judge Winmill agreed and said the law violated the first amendment and the equal protection clause.
“The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment.”
The Dairymen’s Association will be asking the state to appeal Judge Winmill’s decision, according to NPR.
“Obviously we’re disappointed” with the decision to strike down the law, says Idaho Dairymen’s Association director Bob Naerebout. “The legislation was designed and crafted to try and protect First Amendment rights while also trying to provide some personal property protection.”
Idaho, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah and North Carolina are all states that have passed ag-gag laws, according to Food Safety News.