Bill would outlaw trespassing at food production facilities

A shortage of meat processing capacity is forcing producers to resort to enthanizing animals, state officials say. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

People who trespass at a food production operation would be guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor under a bill approved by an Iowa legislative subcommittee Monday. 

At least one lobbyist attending the subcommittee wondered if Senate Study Bill 3171 was a third attempt by lawmakers to pass an “ag gag” rule to fight protesters who infiltrate animal confinements to document abuses. Two previous “ag gag” laws in Iowa were blocked by courts. 

Daniel Zeno, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said his organization opposed the bill and hopes it is not another effort to quell free speech. 

“This is the third go-round,” Zeno told the subcommittee. While the text of the bill doesn’t seem like an attack on free speech, “if in practice the goal is to stop speech then we believe that continues to be unconstitutional,” he added.

A member of the subcommittee, Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, told Zeno, “I completely take offense with your comments because what you are saying has nothing to do with this bill.”   Zumbach supported the bill, saying it would help keep food safe to eat. 

An animal welfare group recently entered a pork confinement operation connected to State Sen. Ken Rozenboom without permission, alleging inhumane treatment. State and local authorities cleared the livestock operation of wrongdoing.  

Preston Moore, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said his organization hasn’t taken a stand on the bill but added, “We do not condone illegal trespass to expose wrongdoing.” 

Sen. Waylon Brown, R-Osage, who chaired the subcommittee, said the bill “protects the integrity of our food system at all levels from those who do harm (and) jeopardize the safety and reliability.”

The third subcommittee member, Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, also supported the measure. 

Lobbyist Jim Obradovich said the Iowa Honey Producers Association would like honey production facilities added to the bill because some have been subject to vandalism. (Obradovich is the husband of Iowa Capital Dispatch editor Kathie Obradovich.)

The bill currently covers facilities where food animals are raised or processed, including farmers markets and restaurants. 

The legislation would make entering food production facilities, including those in restaurants or at farmers markets, without permission an aggravated misdemeanor. The penalty would be up to two years in prison and a fine of at least $625 and no more than $6,250.