Iowa Leaders Use Pandemic To Restrict Free Speech On Ag Concerns

Photo by Julie Fleming

Guest op-ed from Ava Auen-Ryan of Iowa CCI and Emma Schmit of Food & Water Action.

Iowa’s political leaders used the end of the legislative session to avoid accountability and push through widely opposed legislation. They proved, once again, that when it is in the interest of corporate funders’ pocketbooks, legislators at the statehouse can actually move fast and get things done.

Among the flurry of heinous legislation to put corporate profits before people, Iowa lawmakers slipped in a third iteration of an “ag-gag” law. Ag-gag laws are industry backed pieces of legislation that aim to stifle free speech and protect corporate ag from any accountability for their actions.

These laws are designed to silence whistle-blowers from exposing conditions in factory farms.

Iowa taxpayers have already footed the bill to defend unconstitutional ag-gag laws in the Courts twice. In 2012, the legislature passed an ag-gag bill to keep concerned citizens from exposing the bad practices taking place inside factory farms and slaughterhouses. Once the Courts ruled the law unconstitutional, the Iowa legislature responded with ag-gag 2.0 in 2019. This legislation, too, has been brought to the Courts and is currently under an injunction while we wait for an official ruling.

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Undeterred, the General Assembly approved a third ag-gag measure this year while most Iowans were distracted by a global health pandemic and a mass uprising for racial justice.

While the industry claims that this latest bill is about controlling the spread of disease and stopping bio-terrorism, we know it’s really about giving agribusinesses even greater power. It’s a very real threat to whistle-blowers who attempt to expose the conditions in which our food is produced.

Iowans deserve to know what’s going into the food we eat. And we deserve to have our rights placed before those of multi-billion-dollar agribusinesses.

This most recent ag-gag legislation was tacked on as an amendment to a bill relating to the spread of zoonotic diseases like the current novel coronavirus. The legislation makes trespassing on a “food operation” an aggravated misdemeanor. This includes factory farms, veterinary offices, slaughterhouses, and any number of other places where food is processed, stored, or maintained.

An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by up to two years in jail and $6,250 in fines. The new law makes trespassing on factory farms a worse crime than assault with intent to cause bodily harm or a second offense of domestic abuse. Anyone caught trespassing on a “food operation” more than once can be charged with a class D felony, which is punishable with up to five years in prison and a fine of at least $750 but not more than $7,500.

Legislators like Senator Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa), who himself has been exposed as a cruel and negligent hog producer by undercover video, don’t care about the costs or repercussions of defending laws that have already been declared unconstitutional not once, but twice, in Iowa. Ag-gag laws have been knocked down in courts across the country, with one falling in North Carolina just over this past weekend.

This latest legislation is just another wasted attempt to give corporate ag more power while silencing the voices of concerned Iowans.

If Iowa’s political leaders spent half as much time creating an agriculture system that actually works as they do protecting corporate profits, we could have protected workers at packing plants from COVID-19. Instead, over 20,000 plant employees across the U.S. have contracted the virus.

We could have safe, clean water. Instead, we have 767 impaired waterways in Iowa alone.

We could have a resilient, regional food system that feeds our communities. Instead, we have empty grocery store shelves while producers are brutally slaughtering thousands of pigs every day.

At Iowa CCI Action and Food & Water Action we will continue working with Iowans – across the state and political spectrum – to hold our public officials accountable until we secure a more just agricultural system. Our food and farm system belongs in the hands of many independent, family farmers and workers, not a small handful of giant corporations and the factory farm industry.

With November elections on the horizon, we will be talking with Iowa voters about which of our elected officials have fought to protect our communities, our health, and our food supply, and which have chosen to act only in the interest of corporate agriculture.

 

by Ava Auen-Ryan, Farm & Environment Organizer, Iowa CCI Action
and
Emma Schmit, Iowa Organizer, Food & Water Action

Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

1 Comment on "Iowa Leaders Use Pandemic To Restrict Free Speech On Ag Concerns"

  • Hmm. Doing the same thing over and over (and over!) again and expecting different results? Isn’t that a definition of insanity?

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