Federal Appeals Court Lifts Injunctions on Iowa’s Animal Welfare Laws, Granting Victory to Farmers

Des Moines, Iowa – In a recent decision, a federal appeals court lifted two injunctions that had prevented the enforcement of Iowa laws designed to prevent undercover filming of animal confinements. These laws criminalize gaining entry to agricultural production facilities through deception and recording with a camera while trespassing. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that these laws do not violate the free speech rights of groups that challenged them.

The laws have been a subject of contention between animal welfare organizations and agricultural production facilities. Those in favor of the laws argue that they protect farmers from incidents of physical injury or economic harm. Governor Kim Reynolds expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision, stating that Iowa’s farmers play a crucial role in the global food supply chain and should be safeguarded from potential threats.

Animal welfare groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have opposed these laws, claiming that they inhibit their ability to expose animal abuse and neglect in livestock facilities. However, the appeals court sees the laws as necessary to filter out trespassers who could cause harm to the facilities and society at large.

Since 2012, Iowa has implemented four “ag gag” laws to counter the unauthorized filming of livestock operations. The first law, passed in 2012, was deemed unconstitutional due to its prohibition on “immaterial fibs” during job interviews. The second law, enacted in 2019, refined the content and focused on lies that could affect employment. While a district court judge previously ruled against it, the appeals court concluded that it does not infringe on the First Amendment.

The other two laws, passed in 2020 and 2021, respectively, impose penalties for trespassing and using cameras while trespassing. A federal district court judge had previously found the fourth law to restrict free speech, but the appeals court disagreed, emphasizing the law’s aim to protect property rights.

Despite this recent decision, the legality of ag gag laws remains a contentious issue. Other federal appeals courts have ruled differently on similar laws in different states. The Animal Legal Defense Fund plans to continue challenging the constitutionality of these laws in certain contexts. It remains to be seen whether they will seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In summary, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted two injunctions that previously blocked Iowa’s laws aimed at preventing undercover filming of animal confinements. The court decided that these laws do not infringe on the free speech rights of animal welfare groups and are necessary to protect property rights and prevent harm. However, the legality and constitutionality of ag gag laws continue to be debated nationwide.