Criminal codes in Iowa and Utah were used this year to keep secrets on factory farms by threatening jail time for anyone working undercover and taking pictures or video of animals without permission.

But Iowa and Utah were not the first to adopt what we now call “ag-gag” laws. About 20 years ago, there was a similar push for these laws in farm states with very similar language adopted in North Dakota, Montana and Kansas.

This means there are at least five states that now make illegal the sort of undercover work conducted by several major animal welfare groups, which involves sending someone in as an employee to record what is actually going on.

In North Dakota, it is a class B misdemeanor to enter an animal facility and use or attempt to use a camera, video recorder, or any other video or audio recording device. It is defined as “unlawful interference with animal facilities” and as “prohibited activity.”  Violators face jail terms of 30 days.

Kansas’s law makes it  a class A, nonperson misdemeanor  to enter an animal facility that is not open to the public and take pictures or video. The law is part of the state’s “Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act.”

Montana’s measure makes it unlawful to enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with intent to commit criminal defamation, and to enter an animal facility if the person knows entry is forbidden.

All three of these laws were passed in 1990 and 1991.

Now, after a 20-year lull,  there’s been a surge in the introduction of ag-gag bills and Iowa and Utah enacted new laws, meaning five states have imposed these restrictions.

Farm states have long made it a crime to mess with someone’s animals.  At least 28 states have laws on the books declaring it illegal to exercise control over animals or their facilities without permission, according to the Michigan State University College of Law’s Animal Legal & Historical Center, which tracks animal law.

In the last five years, animal welfare groups have sent members into large-scale farms as employees, who then videotaped incidents of animal cruelty and mistreatment.

States adopting ag-gag laws simply want to “silence whistleblowers,” according to Farm Forward, an Oregon-based group opposed to factory farms.   

The new Iowa and Utah laws are specifically written to block undercover whistleblowers.The Iowa law, for example, addresses obtaining employment under false pretenses as one element of a crime that could put the violator in jail for up to two years.

And the current crop of new ag-gag laws may not be over. So far, in 2012, the animal agriculture lobby has two wins, three losses going with five contests still outstanding.

Iowa and Utah enacted new laws, while ag-gag bills were killed in Florida, Illinois and Indiana.    Ag-gag bills remain pending in Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

The animal agriculture lobby is having success in the current election year it did not experience last year when proposed video fans first resurfaced in four states.  Last year, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and New York all rejected ag-gag bills.

Photo Courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States