Activists could be jailed if they lie to obtain jobs on Iowa farms and document actions and conditions on those farms without permission.
On March 2, Gov. Terry E. Branstad signed House File 589, creating a law against "agricultural production facility fraud." The law gives police and prosecutors opportunities to pursue criminal charges against individuals who gain access to agricultural facilities through deception or false statements.
The legislation was opposed by animal advocacy organizations, which have said that video secretly captured by their investigators has revealed cruelty and neglect on farms, including some in Iowa.
The crimes defined under the new Iowa law are punishable by up to one year in jail for the first conviction and up to two years of imprisonment for subsequent convictions, according to information from the Iowa Legislature and the Iowa Department of Human Rights. Those convicted of conspiring to commit such fraud would face similar punishment.
Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said the bill doesn't prevent farm employees or visitors from reporting problems, but it provides criminal penalties for someone caught entering a farm with intent to harm the business or animals. He also said many actions by farm owners or employees can be unfairly portrayed to those unfamiliar with animal handling practices, particularly when footage of those actions is accompanied by dim lighting and dramatic music.
Hill said he and others on farms frequently pick up baby pigs by their rear legs, for example.
"That looks like you're hurting that pig or it's a bad practice when, really, veterinarians will tell you that's the best way to handle a baby pig," he said.
"Had this type of a law been on the books in California, that slaughter plant would still be operating, the cruelty to animals would still be occurring there, and that potentially unsafe meat would still be going to our nation's schools."
Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection for the Humane Society, said that, in recent years, the undercover investigations by his and other organizations have exposed otherwise hidden cruelty to animals and unsafe conditions for production of food for humans. He cited the Humane Society investigation that, in early 2008, showed abuse of downed animals and led to a recall of 143 million pounds of beef and closure of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. slaughter plant.
"Had this type of a law been on the books in California, that slaughter plant would still be operating, the cruelty to animals would still be occurring there, and that potentially unsafe meat would still be going to our nation's schools," Shapiro said.
The Humane Society released in 2010 footage that its investigator captured at four Iowa egg-laying hen facilities, where the HSUS said birds suffered under cruel conditions.
Mercy for Animals also objected to the law, which organization officials said criminalizes the actions of those who "expose cruelty to animals, corporate corruption, dangerous working conditions, environmental violations, or food safety concerns at factory farms." On at least three occasions since 2009, the organization has released footage that it said showed abuses seen by its investigators when they worked in Iowa farm facilities housing swine and egg-laying hens.
Shapiro said in mid-March the Humane Society had not decided whether to fight implementation of the Iowa law, and the organization was opposing bills with similar provisions in other states.
The Iowa VMA adopted a neutral position on the legislation that led to the Iowa law, said Dr. Tom Johnson, executive director of the IVMA. The AVMA did not take a position on the bill.
Examples of similar state legislation that is being considered or recently has been considered are Utah H.B. 187, which would define unauthorized recording on farms as criminal "agriculture operation interference"; Illinois H.B. 5143, which would define such recording as criminal "animal facility interference" and enact provisions similar to those in the Iowa bill; and Nebraska L.B. 915, which would require reporting of animal mistreatment within 12 hours of its observation, require inclusion of copies of any related recordings along with reports of mistreatment, and outlaw disruption of "animal facility" operations.