Four years ago, undercover video recorded workers on forklifts forcing “downer” cows into slaughter at the Hallmark and Westland meat plant in Chino, CA, which at the time was a top supplier to the National School Lunch program.

The sting, by the Humane Society of the United States, put Hallmark and Westland out of business. When USDA saw the undercover video, it demanded the largest beef recall in U.S. history and it immediately cut off Hallmark and Westland from the lucrative school lunch business.

The damaged meat going to the National School Lunch program was also the subject of a $150 million lawsuit against Hallmark and Westland.

Other animal rights organizations have pulled off their own stings since the big one at Chino.   These undercover investigations usually involve sending someone in to get a job with the company being targeted.

Until now, whenever one of these undercover videos was released, it usually meant whoever owned the animal facility where abuses were filmed was in big trouble.

But not any more in Iowa. Within a few hours on Wednesday, the Iowa Senate took up an “ag-gag” bill, made some amendments, and passed it on a 40-10 vote. The House then immediately took up the Senate changes and approved them without debate on a 69-28 vote.

The bill, House File 589, now on Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk, is all but certain to be signed into law, and it will be the first “ag-gag” law in America, says Nathan Runkle, executive director of Chicago-based Mercy for Animals (MFA), an animal rights group that has been active in Iowa.

The new law, if it passes constitutional muster, could turn the tables on animal rights groups doing these undercover investigations. It gives Iowa’s county sheriffs a long list of possible violations to charge once it is disclosed that any filming or recording was done without the permission of the animal facility owner.

If the Iowa law had been in effect in California in 2008, Hallmark and Westland would have been able to go to court claiming status as victims of “animal facility tampering” for an “amount equaling three times all the actual and consequential damages” against “the person causing the damages.”

“This flawed and misdirected legislation could set a dangerous precedent nationwide by throwing shut the doors to industrial factory farms and allowing animal abuse, environmental violations, and food contamination issues to flourish undetected, unchallenged and unaddressed,” says Runkle.  “This bill is bad for consumers, who want more, not less, transparency in production of their food.”

Some of the more likely unconstitutional language was removed from the bill, but Runkle told Food Safety News the intent of the legislation remains exactly the same – “to shield animal abusers from public scrutiny and prosecute investigators who dare to expose animal cruelty, environmental violations, dangerous working conditions or food safety concerns.”

Animal rights organizations like HSUS and MFA – working with investigators to expose violations – could themselves be prosecuted under the new Iowa law.  And, the law does not just apply to animal facilities but also any “crop operation.”

Recent investigations by MFA in Iowa are certainly among those getting the attention of lawmakers. In 2011, the Chicago animal rights group turned its cameras on a large Iowa egg farm owned by Sparboe, and an Iowa Select Farms pig operation.

It found over-crowding in battery cages, some containing dead hens, on the egg farm, and at the pig operation sows being penned in confinement cages and testicles being removed from piglets without painkillers.

 And in 2009, MFA exposed the Iowa-based Hy-Line Hatchery’s practice of throwing more than 150,000 live male chicks into grinding machines every day.

Runkle says passage of the  “ag-gag” law proves Iowa agriculture “has a lot to hide.”

“This law is un-American and a broad government overreach. It seeks to shield animal abusers from public scrutiny and prosecute the brave whistleblowers who dare to speak out against animal cruelty, environmental pollution and corporate corruption.”

The new law shields animal abusers from public scrutiny, makes criminals out of those who dare to expose cruelty to farm animals and threatens the consumers’ right to know, according to the MFA.

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of HSUS, has written Gov. Branstad, urging the Republican governor to veto HF 589.

 “The intent of this bill is simple: shield animal agribusiness from public scrutiny by punishing whistleblowers and protecting animal abusers,” wrote Pacelle. “By signing this bill into law, animal agribusiness will have unbridled and unchecked power over worker safety, public health and animal welfare.”

Pacelle said the Iowa Senate and House rushed the bill through at a speed rarely found in the legislative process. Normally, he said, deliberations of such consequence take weeks, or at least several days.

Iowa’s sudden passage of an “ag-gag” law has brought together opposition to these state measures by a broad spectrum of national organizations, including animal rights, civil liberties, public health, food safety, public health, environmental and other groups.   

Many see HF589 as an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.

Ag-gag bills were introduced in four states last year, including Iowa. None of those passed.  This year, ag-gag bills have been introduced in Utah, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Florida and New York.


The Florida bill was defeated.  Except for Iowa, the others are pending.

The Wednesday night passage of the Iowa ag-gag bill came with support from some of the state’s most powerful agricultural lobbyists including: The Institute for Cooperatives, The Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Iowa Select Farms, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Dairy Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn Growers Association and Monsanto Co.

Under the new law, anyone making “a false statement or representation” as part of an application of employment at an animal facility could, after a first conviction, be charged with a class D felony.  

To produce a record of image or sound without the owner’s permission is defined as the new crime of “animal facility interference.”

  • shanez akhtar

    Going backwards in America I see … destroying your own country and once again showing the rest of the world how cruel and uncivilised you are there!

  • In effect, the bill’s measures to supposedly prevent fraud are scare tactics to keep employees silent. Farm operations don’t want workers keeping information from employers, but what about the employers keeping information from the public? As the nickname suggests, the legislation gags whistleblowers, the people in the best position to protect the integrity of our food. Whistleblower advocacy organization the Government Accountability Project joined others in a statement opposing what will have a chilling effect on food industry workers who could expose wrongdoing. Check out GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign for more:

  • robbie thomas

    proves Iowa factory farmers have things to hide and are probably lining the pockets of the Iowa politicians. Mopney can buy you anything unfortunately. praying this bill is vetoed.

  • Michele F.

    I know this is much easier said than done but if people would eat less meat and seek out non-factory local farms to buy their meat from, many of these places would go under. It is more expensive but doable.

  • JC

    There are many reasons why the number of vegans has doubled in the US in less than 3 years and Ag Gag legislation has to be a big one. Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: and

  • I don’t think any of us can safely consume any product from Iowa, and should go out of our way to avoid it, if this bill gets signed into law.
    This just tells the world that Iowa farmers have something to hide.

  • Carlotta

    Stop supporting them. Hit them as hard in their wallets as they abuse their animals. Let THEM suffer. No one feels sorry for the Factory farmers except themselves. Animals are gifts from nature, not commodities.

  • This is another perfect example of large AG corp. to continue to control our food supply. This bill should be stopped at all cost. Everyone including big corp should be accountable for there actions even if you are trying to hide something behind the closed doors of a slaughter house!!

  • You’re all looking at this the wrong way. The bill isn’t intended to hide what’s happening on farms, it’s meant to protect the agricultural industry–the industry that helped build America and helps feed the world–from animal rights terrorists like ALF.

  • Really Eric?

    Animal rights terrorists? You narrow-minded halfwits these days…jeez. You’ll throw the term “terrorist” after any blanket group you can muster up in your feeble mind because on a scale of 1-10 the most hateful thing you can think to say stems from your inherent racism. Peace corps terrorists, animal rights terrorists, internet terrorists, liberal terrorists, environmental terrorists, “edjamacated” terrorists! Thanks again for helping to convince people that all of us Americans are a bunch of toothless bigots, from the bottom of my heart.

  • Lynn Anderson

    Compassion is not terrorism

  • Dee Klebe

    Buying no food from Iowa.

  • Susan

    I agree Michael F. If people would eat less meat and seek out non-factory local farms to buy their meat from, many of these places would definitely go under. I’ve been buying my meat from a local farm and have found it is not more expensive all. Plus, the personal attention and service is wonderful.

  • This bill protects local farmers as well.
    If you had read my article, you would have seen that I said not ALL animal rights groups are terrorists. But groups that mail fake bombs to people, and that think burning livestock trailers is justified are terrorists by any definition of the word.
    ALF was listed as a terrorist threat by the Department of Homeland Security in January 2005.
    BTW I have all of my teeth and they are very straight, but thanks for your concern.

  • Undercover investigations play a crucial role in exposing cruelty to farmed animals and environmental violations. They also help to ensure food safety and protect workers’ rights. Undercover investigations by Mercy For Animals and other groups have led to landmark corporate animal welfare policy reforms, felony convictions of animal abusers, and other positive developments. Clearly factory farms have a lot to hide if they are willing to go to such despicable measures to hide their cruel and abusive practices from the public. Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from and how animals are treated before they reach their plates. This is a good, short video to watch about this topic: Or visit for information on adapting a more compassionate lifestyle.

  • Richard

    I am now ashamed to admit I am originally from Iowa after passage of this bill.

  • Amy

    Since Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle’undercover investigations and journalism has shed light on vile practices and brought about change in the food industry. Big agribusiness has something to hide and wants to force the consumer into the dark. If not they wouldn’t need or want to pass such idiocy. Iowa government should be ashamed of themselves for bowing down to greed over serving the people. It’s low practices such as this that scream to me I made the right choice in going vegan. I certainly hope many in Iowa continue on anyway and challenge this, take to the Supreme Court.

  • Merilyn

    all i can utter is oh my God……….

  • Lauren

    Let Iowa suffer from their big mistake and really make people even more determined to eat more meatless meals. So for all the big ag people such as Eric and the Iowa politicians go ahead and draw down the blinds because we already know how much big ag has to hide.
    Do some research…the positive news is that Americans are eating less meat. You don’t need to become a vegetarian/vegan, just eat less meat. Start with one meal, than another, maybe 3 or 4 meals…lots of fun, simple and delicious recipes can be found quite easily these days.

  • Cindy Torret

    Boycott Iowa!!!

  • Valerie

    The freedom to investigate and expose wrong doing is a vital freedom. If we allow ANY group to block that freedom where will it end? ANY industry will have grounds to block anyone from seeing what goes on behind closed doors. As consumers we have a right to know how our products get to us. This is another case of big business (factory farming in this case) paying off lawmakers to do what they want in their interest of greed, not what is right and just. To allow cruel abusive practices to be inflicted on any animals is never ok….human animals or inhuman animals! We are becoming an incredibly sick nation due to how our food is raised (factory farming) and pharmaceutical and pesticide/chemical companies. Wake up America and vote these idiot politicians out of office that put their purses above our well being.

  • Eve in Texas

    I will boycott ANYTHING I see that is from Iowa. I love meat, don’t get me wrong, but, if they have to lobby to get such a bill passed, it tells me they surely have something to hide.
    No thanks, Iowa!

  • pointerguy

    Trying to protect the industries from hyped up, many times staged, videos is not a bad idea. HSUS and the rest of those animal rights groups use push polls, lie about membership numbers, lie to the public about what they do with the millions of dollars they raise, are not above using deceit to get thier agends advanced. Ag producers are keenly aware that the way to produce more and better products is to treat the animals well. When the public trys to impose uneducated views on an industry that they know nothing about, prices rise, productions goes down, and the animals do not gain a thing. You animal rights wacko’s can do as you wish but keep your hands off millions of peoples livelyhood and my food!!!

    • Oliver Wendal

      Those video’s DON’T lie do they!
      And before you call me a liberal, I’m a far right leaning Independent.
      This law will now only increase abuse of these animals.

  • This is just insane. How can anybody think this will wash with people in possession of a brain cell. Would this ever happen to people investigating abuse in care homes? Or homes for children? This is simply protecting the industry of death for those that get off on cruelty and abuse and monsters that profit from them. But I have faith in animal rights campaigners. Where there’s a will there’s a way and there will definitely be a way.

  • rickharrell

    We can secretly film cops, but not cows?