The Iowa legislature has voted to establish new penalties for people caught getting a job at a livestock confinement or on a farm in order to go undercover or to disrupt the operation in some way.
AUDIO of senate’s 52-minute debate of the bill earlier this afternoon. The House endorsed the same version of the bill at 4:45 p.m. It now goes to Governor Branstad, who is expected to sign it into law.
Senator Joe Seng, a Democrat from Davenport who is veterinarian, said animal rights activists with an agenda to expose conditions inside livestock confinements can expose the animals to disease.
“People are trying to get into these places, saying they’re a plumber or they’re this or that, they’re going to take care of your livestock with no intention of that whatsoever. They’re trying to bring down this business,” Seng said. “That is false pretenses. It’s a claim that they’re going to do one thing, but they’re not going to do it. They’re going to do something else.”
Early this afternoon the Iowa Senate voted 40-10 to charge people caught in those situations with a serious misdemeanor. A few hours later the Iowa House endorsed the proposal on a 68-26 vote. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, voted no. McCoy suggested whistleblowers will be made into criminals, at the expense of public health.
“This is the way to chill the whistleblowers and to bring the cover of darkness over this and to give immunity to big agriculture so they can do whatever they please, however they please and do it with immunity,” McCoy said.
Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, voted against the legislation, too.
“Passing this bill will put a big red question mark stamped on every pork chop, every chicken wing, every steak, every egg produced in this state,” Quirmbach said, “because it will raise the question of: What have you got to hide?”
Senator Liz Mathis, a Democrat from Robbins, suggested people caught in these kinds of situations inside a livestock confinement can be charged with trespassing on private property.
“Those who have been talking about less government for years should agree there are already laws for protection and this bill is not necessary,” Mathis said.
Last year the Iowa House voted to establish a prison sentence of up to 10 years for people caught going into a livestock confinement to take pictures or video of the animals and those who’re caring for the livestock. Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican who raises row crops and cattle on her farm near Alden, urged the House to accept the Senate’s version of the bill which sets up a much more limited penalty.
“For right now I think it’s a start, to realize that we are serious about protecting the agriculture that we have in this state,” Sweeney said during an interview.
Groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, have released undercover videos taken from inside livestock confinements to illustrate their contention that the animals are being abused. Sweeney said “it remains to be seen” whether this type of law will be a deterrent to that kind of activity.
“But I’m hoping that it sends the signal that if you do commit fraud, it’s illegal,” Sweeney said. “And they do need to be mindful of that.”
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement — a group that opposes large-scale livestock confinements — calls the bill a “sell out to the corporate factory farm lobby.”
(This story was updatd at 4:50 p.m. after the House approved the bill.)