Animal rights activists gathered outside the state capital Thursday to protest a bill that would criminalize the actions of activists who go “undercover” at large farms. About 30 people held signs with pictures of abused farm animals. They were also dressed in black, with their eyes blindfolded with black cloth and their lips covered by a piece of tape — to symbolize what they describe as the silencing effect of the bill.
The measure has passed the Iowa House and Senate, but Mercy For Animals spokesperson Vandhana Bala says they hoping to convince the governor to veto the legislation. “We’re trying to get out the message that consumers have an absolute right to know how their food is being produced and how animals on factory farms are being treated, so they can make informed choices,” Bala said.
The bill would make it a criminal act to lie on a job application or present false information to gain access to a farm. Agriculture industry officials say it’s designed to keep out those who want to disparage their industry. Bala insists that’s not intention of her organization.
“Mercy for Animals undercover investigators serve as the eyes and ears of the American public, who are kept largely in the dark about how animals are treated before reach our plates,” Bala said. The legislation is less expansive than a bill introduced last year, but constitutional law expert Mark Kende of Drake University said the current bill may still restrict free speech because it “works to prevent speech before it’s even begun.”
If the governor signs the bill into law, that question may have to be answered by the courts. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, doesn’t believe the bill violates the constitutional right to free speech. “I’m confident the folks in our chamber worked with the attorney general to deal with the constitutional issues,” Gronstal said.