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Journalists Challenge a Law Passed in Idaho Which Makes it Possible for Anyone Who Secretly Films or Records Animal Abuse to be Jailed for up to a Year

You could now be prosecuted if you took a photo of a concentrated animal feeding operation in Idaho. (US government photo)

A coalition of groups and journalists are challenging a law passed in Idaho, which makes it possible for anyone who secretly films or records animal abuse to be jailed for up to a year.

In February, Idaho became the seventh state to pass an ag-gag law—a farm secrecy statute aimed at political speech on industrial agricultural production.

Organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and the Center for Food Safety, along with CounterPunch and journalist Will Potter of GreenistheNewRed.com filed a lawsuit against the law, which they consider to be unconstitutional.

The filed complaint argues that the law “criminalizes efforts to document criminal behavior in the workplace.” It makes “capturing images or audio, even when a person is otherwise lawfully permitted to be at the location,” a criminal act.

It preferences industry speech over political speech. In fact, the statute was drafted by a lawyer for the Idaho Dairyman’s Association.

The legislative history indicates this law was proposed for the purpose of punishing animal rights groups and to curtail a form of political speech of great public interest.

According to the complaint, “more than eighty undercover investigations at factory farms in the United States” have occurred in the last decade. They would be criminal under Idaho’s new law.

The coalition further argues that the a “plethora of protected speech that is not even related to animal welfare, including worker safety, food safety, labor laws, and other types of agricultural industry misconduct,” would be criminalized in violation of the First Amendment. Employees, journalists or any person with particular knowledge who expresses concern about conditions under which food is processed could potentially be accused of violating this law.

The animal suffering that investigations have been able to expose includes instances of workers kicking pigs in the head or spray painting them in the eyes. It includes “stomping and throwing chickens and turkeys like footballs.” It includes “smashing piglets’ heads against concrete floors.” It also includes “beating and sexually assaulting pigs with steel gate rods and hard plastic herding canes.”

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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