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| 1 minute read

"Ag-gag" laws are alive and well (at least for now) in Iowa.

If you're a food and beverage lawyer-geek like me, you find “ag-gag” laws fascinating. That's because their legitimacy involves resolution of the conflict between some of the most important legal principles to our democracy – the First Amendment right of free speech and the law of trespass, which protects against unlawful entry onto property.

Ag-gag laws were developed in response to groups or individuals who would enter agricultural lands and operations under false pretenses, and videotape or otherwise record things like alleged animal abuses, usually on large industrial farms. Legislation was introduced in more than half of all state legislatures across the country prohibiting these practices, and became law in six states, including Iowa. Opponents of these laws successfully challenged and defeated most of them, arguing they are an unjustified infringement of their First Amendment right to free speech, undermine societal values and the public will, and fail to recognize the important role that whistleblowers have played in American history dating as far back as Upton Sinclair's 1906 book The Jungle.  

Iowa passed its first ag-gag law in 2012. It was struck down by a District Court in 2019. A new law was passed in 2019 which was enjoined by a District Court in 2020, resulting in another law being passed that same year. Followed by yet another law being passed in 2021. The two pending laws were challenged and eventually worked their way up to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In two decisions issued on January 8, 2024, the Eighth Circuit upheld both laws and determined that they had been appropriately narrowed to protect legitimate interests. But the fight is not over. Counsel for the plaintiffs, which include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., Bailing Out Benji, Food & Water Watch, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, vowed to continue to litigate against the laws in the District Court.

I will continue to monitor this fascinating litigation – at least to me – as it continues to evolve in Iowa and elsewhere in 2024.

In two published opinions, the Eighth Circuit panel unraveled a pair of district court rulings that previously struck down Iowa's 2021 Trespass-Surveillance statute and 2019 Agricultural Trespass Law, and vacated the permanent injunctions against them, saying the laws are not facially unconstitutional and fixed previous errors, respectively.


food and beverage, ag-gag laws, first amendment, trespass, litigation