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Coalition Responds to Idaho’s Motion to Dimiss Ag Gag Lawsuit
BOISE — Last week, national nonprofits Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho (ACLU), and Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a response to the state of Idaho’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed earlier this spring in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. In March 2014, a coalition of organizations dedicated to civil liberties, animal protection, food safety, labor rights, and the environment, along with journalists, filed the federal lawsuit to overturn Idaho’s newly passed “ag gag” statute, which was signed into law by Idaho governor C.L. “Butch” Otter in February (Idaho Code sec. 18-7042). Since the lawsuit was filed, groups including the AFL-CIO, the Government Accountability Project, Food and Water Watch, and a coalition of journalist organizations led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, have submitted “friend of the court” legal briefs in support of the coalition’s lawsuit.
“With much of the conversation rightly focused on animal welfare, we want Idahoans and the court to also understand that this law has the potential to imperil workers, and infringes on workers’ rights to a safe workplace,” said Rian Van Leuven, President of the Idaho State AFL-CIO. “If a worker wanted to demonstrate that worker safety was being jeopardized by unsafe conditions—such as an unventilated manure pit, broken equipment, or an electrocution hazard—and they took a photo of such conditions, they’d be subject to criminal penalties. That runs against everything we stand for.”
Idaho’s statute criminalizes whistle-blowing investigations at factory farms, and specifically targets animal advocates who expose illegal practices. If convicted under the ag gag law, a whistle-blower would face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. In contrast, the maximum jail term for a first-offense conviction of animal cruelty in Idaho is six months.
In mid-April, the Idaho Dairymen’s Association asked the district court to allow the industry group to intervene in the lawsuit as a defendant. The dairy association played a pivotal part in drafting the ag gag law, illustrating the collusion between industry and government to shield factory farms. The public interest coalition will oppose the involvement of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, because its intervention will waste court time and resources.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are ALDF, PETA, ACLU, CFS, Farm Sanctuary, Farm Forward, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment (ICARE), Idaho Hispanic Caucus Institute for Research and Education (IHCIRE), River’s Wish Sanctuary, Sandpoint Vegetarians, Western Watersheds Project, journalist Will Potter, undercover investigations consultant Daniel Hauff, investigator Monte Hickman, Professor James McWilliams, investigative journalist Blair Koch, and the political journal CounterPunch.
The complaint and list of the organizations submitting amicus briefs are available upon request.