Court Strikes Down Second Iowa Ag-Gag Law

For immediate release: March 15, 2022

Media Contact:
Mike Heymsfield,, 707-364-8387

Court Strikes Down Second Iowa Ag-Gag Law

Public interest coalition celebrates another win against unconstitutional statute barring undercover investigations at factory farms

DES MOINES, IA — Today the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa held unconstitutional Iowa’s second Ag-Gag law, also known as Iowa Ag-Gag 2.0, holding that the law criminalizing undercover investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills violates the First Amendment. The law, which is similar to the state’s first Ag-Gag statute, gagged free speech by criminalizing undercover investigations at animal facilities, deterring the exposure of animal cruelty, unsafe working conditions, and food safety threats in such facilities.

After the coalition succeeded in striking down Iowa’s first Ag-Gag law at the district court level, the state wasted no time in passing Ag-Gag 2.0, creating the new crime of “agricultural production facility trespass”. The second law criminalized the same investigative activities as the first, targeting a slightly different form of speech integral to those investigations.

“It is incomprehensible that Iowa legislators continue to waste Iowans’ taxpayer dollars to pass and defend unconstitutional laws that suppress free speech simply to protect their own financial interests,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We hope this ruling sends a clear message that the Iowa legislature should cease its efforts to pass unconstitutional Ag-Gag laws.”

The ability to investigate, document, and publicize corporate agriculture’s abuses is imperative both to the well-being of animals across the nation and to public health and safety. Undercover investigations are also important for workers’ rights, and the ruling striking down the original Ag-Gag law notes that these laws have the effect of inhibiting union organizing.

Investigations are vital to public debates about food production and animal treatment. Especially during this time of uncertainty, factory farms and slaughterhouses have been roiled by COVID-19. Abusive working conditions and a lack of government intervention have left more than 3,800 Iowa meatpacking plant workers infected with the coronavirus and requiring many large facilities to temporarily shut down. The bottleneck of animals created by these slaughterhouse closures has led to “depopulation” of herds and flocks — the mass killing of animals on farms — which has made transparency and accountability more important than ever.

On May 29, 2020, a graphic video was released after a whistleblower came forward in Iowa revealing the cruelty of depopulation and the reality of ventilation shutdown, a common method of mass killing: pigs calling out in distress as they were slowly cooked to death with steam over the course of many hours. Without undercover investigations, such acts of cruelty would be hidden from the public.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, is one of the lead organizations striking  down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Utah, Iowa, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Kansas, and most recently filed litigation seeking to strike down Iowa’s most recent Ag-Gag law. Several of these cases are ongoing, and coalitions are defending victories in federal appellate courts, as well.

The plaintiff coalition is composed of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Bailing Out Benji. The coalition is represented by the ACLU of Iowa, Public Justice, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar, Justin Marceau and Alan Chen of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and in-house counsel for the plaintiff organizations.

For more information, visit


About the Animal Legal Defense Fund

Forty years of fighting for animals: The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit

About PETA

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization in the world, and PETA entities have more than 9 million members and supporters globally. PETA is dedicated to protecting animals from abuse, neglect, and cruelty, and opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. PETA focuses its advocacy on the areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time, which includes those used in the food industry. Visit for more information.

About Public Justice

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses. The Public Justice Food Project supports rural communities, farmers, workers, and allies to fight for a just, humane,  and regenerative animal agriculture system.

About the Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. Please join our more than 950,000 consumer and farmer advocates across the country at Twitter: @CFSTrueFood, @CFS_Press

About the ACLU of Iowa
The ACLU of Iowa is a private, non-partisan organization that fights to advance civil liberties for all. It is the state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU prides itself in upholding everyone’s civil liberties, no matter who they are or what they believe. We work to assure the rights of all Iowans—from atheists to devout Christians, from labor unions to businesspeople and more—to make sure the constitutional rights of all are preserved. For more information, please go to

About Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has been fighting to put people first for over 45 years. Follow us on Twitter at @iowacci.

About Bailing Out Benji
Bailing Out Benji is a nonprofit that serves as a watchdog group for the public when it comes to commercial breeders and the various outlets in which they sell companion animals. Our research and investigations are used by organizations and media outlets across the country, while our grassroots approach to education and advocacy has helped hundreds of citizens create lasting change for the animals in their communities. For more information, please visit

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