Iowa bill would ban secret farm animal images

(Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA)

A bill in Iowa would make it a felony to take secret photos or video of livestock operations. 

On Wednesday, the state Senate’s agriculture committee endorsed the bill without debate, and sent it on to the senate floor — for debate

There’s plenty to debate.

In the past, some animal rights' groups have released videos taken from inside livestock confinements in effort to publicize practices they find unethical. Those who support the bill banning these practices say these videos tarnish the name of all livestock farmers and those caught taking pictures should be punished.  The bill calls for prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Sen. Joe Seng (D), head of the agriculture committee, said it's a tricky subject so the Senate is proceeding cautiously.

"People that have these businesses say they need more protection as far as biosecurity, (the risk is) actually transporting diseases between houses of their livestock, especially by a hiree that may not be intent on the best interest of business," Seng said after the committee vote. 

Opponents of the bill have said it would only serve to punish whistleblowers looking to show proof of animal abuse.  They contend there are already enough laws in place that make activities like trespassing and applying for a job under false pretenses illegal. 

"Dating back to the last century, we have investigative reporters in the context of their job exposing what at that time were very serious issues related to the slaughterhouse industry —and I'm not suggesting any of that kind of stuff is occurring now — but to the extent that this may be perceived, the way it's written, to chill that First Amendment right of the press, for that reason I'll be voting against the bill," Rep. Charles Isenhart (D) said during House committee debate of the bill in early March.  The Iowa House passed the bill 65-27.

An amendment now is being drafted to ensure the law doesn't get challenged on constitutional grounds. It could be added when the Iowa Senate debates the bill, perhaps as early as next week.