DES MOINES — Agricultural interests on Tuesday said the Iowa Senate had given them a legal hook to help combat animal rights activists who aim to damage elements of Iowa’s food production industry.
However, opponents of the revised House File 589, which passed the Senate 40-10, said they had succeeded in forcing proponents to settle for a “watered-down” version of the bill.
The original legislation would have made it a crime to record video or audio footage of agriculture operations without permission from the farmer or business owner. The new version doesn’t restrict the creation or distribution of such recordings; it only addresses fraudulent statements in obtaining access to the facilities in the first place.
“I would say their victory is hollow,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who had tried to defeat the measure.
But Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, the House Agriculture Committee chairwoman who led the charge last year to get the tougher measure approved by the GOP-run House, said she was “very thrilled” by the Senate vote. Representatives wasted no time in approving the Senate changes on an 68-26 House vote several hours later and sent the bill to Gov. Terry Branstad for his expected signature.
“This is a very, very positive step for agriculture,” she said. “For right now, I think it’s a start to realize that we are serious about protecting the agriculture that we have in our state.”
Sweeney said 10 other states are looking at similar laws to deal with the issue, which pits environmental and animal rights activists against farmers and agribusiness interests.
The compromise version of HF 589 offered by Sens. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, and Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, would establish that a person who obtains access to the facility by false pretenses, or lies on an employment application with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner, is guilty of “agricultural production facility fraud.” Penalties could include fines and prison time.
Seng said the bill was designed to provide protections for livestock producers who make large financial investments and who are concerned about exposure to disease and other problems associated with unauthorized people accessing their private property under false pretenses.
However, McCoy said the law would have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers trying to expose conditions of animal abuse or food safety concerns, as well as potentially placing union organizers or media in positions of being charged for criminal activity under the bill’s vague wording.