The ruling is the first time a court has found such an “Ag-Gag" law unconstitutional, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

August 6, 2015

2 Min Read
Idaho Ag-Gag Law Held Unconstitutional in Victory for Animal Rights Groups

Animal rights activists, food-safety advocates and whistleblowers are cheering this week thanks to a federal court’s decision that upended an Idaho law.

Idaho Code § 18-7042 creates a felony offense for activities that facilitate undercover investigations at agricultural production facilities and was passed in response to a prominent video that exposed dairy workers harming cows.

The law violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, U.S. District Court Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill held. The judge rejected the state’s argument that the law is not intended to suppress speech but is designed to safeguard private property and privacy.

Anyone who violates the law faces up to one year behind bars. Journalists and whistleblowers who are convicted under the law can be ordered to pay publication-related damages, comprising double the economic loss that a business suffers due to the journalist or whistleblower exposing the animal abuse or unsafe working conditions, the judge pointed out.

“In other words, § 18-7042 seeks to limit and punish those who speak out on topics relating to the agricultural industry, striking at the heart of important First Amendment values," Winmill wrote. “The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment."

The ruling is the first time a court has found an “Ag-Gag" law unconstitutional, said the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which joined other organizations in the lawsuit.

The California-based organization characterized the ruling as “just the first step in defeating similar Ag-Gag laws across the country."

“This is a huge victory for free speech, animal welfare, and food safety," said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “Without the ability to witness and expose the illegal and unethical behavior that goes on in one of the nation’s most powerful industries, we are all vulnerable. This latest ruling affirms our right to report abuse in order to protect animals and our health."

The Idaho law was conceived by the Idaho Dairyman’s Association, which introduced a bill to criminalize certain undercover investigations after a Los Angeles-based animal rights group released a video that depicted abuse of cows at a dairy in Hansen, Idaho.

The trade association plans to ask the state of Idaho to appeal the court’s decision, NPR reported. "The legislation was designed and crafted to try and protect First Amendment rights while also trying to provide some personal property protection," Idaho Dairymen's Association director Bob Naerebout said in the article.

About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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