The bill makes it a criminal offense for a potential employee to answer untruthfully if a farm owner asks whether the applicant is a member of a certain group, such as an animal-rights organization. "I can sleep at night," said Seng, a veterinarian, "knowing we are protecting an industry."
Seng also said he hoped the Iowa bill could be "a template for the whole United States." Similar legislation is also pending in New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah.
A version of the bill that passed the Iowa House in 2011 made it illegal to possess or distribute undercover audio or video recordings. The Iowa Attorney General's office advised legislators that the ban on recording would make the law vulnerable to Constitutional challenges. The laws under consideration in some other states, however, still contain language banning recording.
Animal rights groups said the actual purpose of the bill is to protect factory farms. "The intent of this bill is simple: shield animal agribusiness from public scrutiny by punishing whistleblowers and protecting animal abusers," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States in a letter urging Gov. Branstad not to sign. "By signing this bill into law, animal agribusiness will have unbridled and unchecked power over worker safety, public health and animal welfare."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is not part of the coalition that includes Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society, also opposes the "ag gag" bills. Actress Katherine Heigl, a longtime supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sent a letter to every member of the state senate in Utah, where she now lives, pleading for defeat of the bill pending before that legislature.
"As animals cannot defend themselves, the public must maintain its right to document illegal cruel practices in order to alert law enforcement to (their) existence," Heigl wrote. "Please don't impede law enforcement by passing this terrible bill."