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First Ag-Gag Laws in United States Are Over Twenty Years Old

Iowa's Ag-gag Law Was Not the First

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Abused turkey

Turkey from Mercy for Animals' undercover investigation of a Butterball facility in North Carolina.

Mercy for Animals
Updated January 23, 2013

Ag-gag laws are in the news in 2012, and many consider Iowa to have the nation's first ag-gag law, but the first ag-gag laws were passed over twenty years ago in Kansas, Montana and North Dakota.

What are Ag-Gag Laws?

Ag-gag laws prohibit the making of undercover videos, recordings and photographs of agricultural facilities. Exactly which activities and which types of facilities are covered vary in the various state laws and bills, but the intent is always the same - to stop animal protection advocates from documenting animal cruelty with undercover investigations. The laws are objectionable because of First Amendment concerns as well as general policy concerns, such as punishment of whistle-blowers.

Undercover videos of cruelty to farmed animals have led to police investigations and even felony animal cruelty indictments.

Kansas Ag-Gag Law

Kansas holds the dubious distinction of adopting the nation's first ag-gag law. In 1990, the Sunflower State passed the "Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act." K.S.A. 47-1825 - 1830 makes it a crime to "enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or by any other means" with the intent of damaging the enterprise and without the consent of the owner.

The Kansas law defines "animal" as "any warm or coldblooded animal used in food, fur or fiber production, agriculture, research, testing or education and includes dogs, cats, poultry, fish and invertebrates." An "animal facility" is "any vehicle, building, structure, research facility or premises where an animal is kept, handled, housed, exhibited, bred or offered for sale."

Montana

Montana passed the "Farm Animal and Research Facilities Protection Act" in 1991. A bit different from the Kansas ag-gag law, MCA 81-30-101 - 105 makes it a crime to "enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with the intent to commit criminal defamation," with the intent to damage the enterprise and without the consent of the owner. The added requirement of an intent to commit criminal defamation makes the Montana law narrower than the Kansas law. Criminal defamation is much more than a disparaging remark. Black's Law Dictionary defines "defamation" as "[t]he offense of injuring a person’scharacter, fame, or reputation by false and malicious statements." With video footage of typical practices on factory farms, animal advocates wouldn't need to make any false statements to get their point across.

Montana's ag-gag law defines "animal" as "any warmblooded or coldblooded animal lawfully confined for food, fur, or fiber production, agriculture and its related activities, research, testing, or education. The term includes but is not limited to dogs, cats, poultry, fish, and invertebrates." An "animal facility" includes "includes a vehicle, building, structure, research facility, or premises where an animal is lawfully kept, handled, housed, exhibited, bred, or offered for sale."

North Dakota

In North Dakota, the "Animal Research Facility Damage Act" was enacted in 1991. North Dakota's ag-gag law is the broadest of the three early ag-gag laws, making it a crime to "[e]nter an animal facility and use or attempt to use a camera, video recorder, or any other video or audio recording equipment" without the consent of the owner. While Kansas requires an intent to damage the enterprise and Montana requires both an intent to damage the enterprise and an intent to commit criminal defamation, North Dakota removes the intent requirement completely.

NDCC 12.1-21.1-01 - 05 defines "animal" as "any living organism that is used in food, fur, or fiber production, agriculture, research, testing, or education," but exempts human beings, plants and bacteria. An "animal facility" is "any vehicle, building, structure, research facility, premises, or defined area where an animal is kept, handled, housed, exhibited, bred, or offered for sale."

Compared to New Ag-Gag Laws

One difference between the nation's first three ag-gag laws and the modern ag-gag laws is the prohibition of just about any kind of "damage" to the animal facilities. The modern laws tend to focus on undercover investigations, while the older laws were also concerned about property damage and the liberation/theft of animals.

Thanks to Bret Hopman of the ASPCA for his assistance with this article.

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