This week, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of two Iowa trespass laws.
Both 717A.3B and 727.8A make it illegal for a person to trespass on agricultural property and record images or data. Initially passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2019 and 2021, the laws aim to stop animal activists from secretly filming livestock on farms.
“Today’s Court rulings are a landmark victory for Iowa farmers and property owners. Not only are Iowa farmers the backbone of our state, but they provide critical food and fuel that propel the rest of the country forward,” Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement. “For too long, our farmers have battled with trespassers, people lying to get jobs, and hidden recording devices. But not any longer. With today’s win, we will enforce Iowa’s agriculture trespass laws, strengthen security, and put those fears to rest.”
Due to its significant agricultural industry, Iowa has been a focal point in the debate over so-called “ag ag” laws. The state introduced its first in 2012, making it a criminal offense to gain access to an agricultural facility under false pretenses. The law also made it illegal to record or distribute images or information obtained from an agricultural operation without the owner’s consent.
Lower court rulings shut down a second attempt in 2019 to block the undercover investigations and limit falsified job applications saying they violated the right to free speech.
A third law in 2020 raised penalties for trespassing on food operations, while a fourth law, adopted in 2021, makes it illegal for trespassers to use or place a camera.
In 2021, animal activists sued the state of Iowa, asking for a permanent injunction.
“I’m extremely pleased that the Eighth Circuit lifted a lower court injunction and paved the way for Iowa’s two trespass laws — Iowa code sections 717A.3B and 727.8A — to be enforced,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement. “This is a win for both Iowans and the country. Iowa farmers feed and fuel the world and are an essential part of the global food supply chain. No longer will people be able to gain access or employment to agricultural production facilities with the intent to cause physical injury or economic harm. We will always stand up for the security and safety of our farmers and their land.”
Bird also released a statement in response to the appeals court’s ruling, “Today’s Court rulings are a landmark victory for Iowa farmers and property owners. Not only are Iowa farmers the backbone of our state, but they provide critical food and fuel that propel the rest of the country forward.”
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has promised to continue to litigate against the laws, claiming the measures unfairly target the speech of organizations that are advocating for both animal rights and the public right to know about abuse they claim happens on farms.
»Related: Viewpoint: Animal-rights activism gaining foothold in courtrooms