Iowa has become the first state to adopt a law that is designed to curtail the undercover operations of animal rights activists on farms. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill last Friday that could result in penalties on animal rights activists who pose as employees or attempt to gain access to agricultural production facilities to expose alleged animal cruelty.  The bill follows a series of cases where animal rights activists gained entrance to what they called “factory farms,” including chicken and egg, hog and cattle production, and processing facilities.

“Agriculture is an important part of our economy and farmers should not be subjected to people doing illegal, inappropriate things, and being involved in fraud and deception in order to try to disrupt agricultural operations,”  Branstad said.

 The measure punishes anyone who gains access to an agriculture production facility under false pretenses or lies on a job application to commit an act that is not authorized by the owner.  Violating these laws would result in misdemeanor charges punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,875.  A subsequent conviction would result in an aggravated misdemeanor charge that could lead to two years in jail and a fine of up to $6,250.

Branstad and other industry groups said that the new measures do not tamper with whistleblowing laws, but instead target extremist groups intent on eliminating meat, milk, and egg production. State Senator Joe Seng, a Democrat and lead author of the legislation, said his bill “does not alter the code at all on whistleblowing,” nor does it discourage employees from taking images and reporting abuses.  Instead, it protects against outside groups that are trying to undermine legitimate farming operations, Seng said, a veterinarian by trade.  Another seven states have proposed similar laws.

One of the leading animal rights groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said it may mount a court challenge and threatened a possible boycott of Iowa.

Iowa is the top producer of eggs and pork in the United States.