Federal judges have not much liked those state laws restricting spying on animal agriculture that have been adopted since 2010. When challenged by animal activists in federal courts have largely been knocking down the so-called “ag-gag” laws, citing Constitutional grounds.

An older generation of state laws designed to protect animal agriculture operators has gone unchallenged. States like Kansas, Montana and North Dakota adopted their laws almost 30 years ago.

The Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act has been on the books in Kansas since 1990. According to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center, the law is found in Kansas Statutes Annotated, Chapter 47 under Livestock and Domestic Animals, Article 18.

“This section comprises Kansas’ farm animal and field crop and research facilities protection act,” MSU reports. “Under the act, no person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility, damage or destroy an animal facility or any animal or property in or on an animal facility. A person is also prohibited from exercising control over an animal or property. The act makes it illegal for a person to enter an animal facility that is not open to the public to take pictures or video. Violation is a nonperson felony if the property damage is $25,000 or more. An illegal entry that involves taking pictures or video is a class A, nonperson misdemeanor.”

Earlier this week, activists led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued Kansas in a challenge to the Constitutionality the state law they say is the oldest ag-gag law in the nation.

Whether any prosecutions have been made under the Kansas law isn’t specified. But in the complaint, ALDF attorney Michael D. Moss says “Kansas’s Ag-Gag law, which has been on the books since 1990, has shielded the state’s animal agriculture industry from public scrutiny for almost three decades.”

In addition to ALDF, the California-based Center for Food Safety and Kansas-based farmed animal organizations, Shy 38 Inc. and Hope Sanctuary are plaintiffs in the civil action. Defendants are Jeffrey Colyer,
in his official capacity as Governor of Kansas, and Derek Schmidt, in his official capacity as Attorney General of Kansas,

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for Kansas on Dec. 4, was assigned to senior U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn H. Vratil, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

CFS’s legal director, George Kimbrell says the 30-year old law “has silenced whistleblowers seeking to protect animals from cruelty for far too long.”

Without Kansas examples to cite, the complaint recalls several examples of alleged animal cruelty from surrounding states. It does claim animals used in agriculture in Kansas are raised on “inhumane factory farms.”

ALDF’s legal team includes Alan K.Chen and Justin Marceau from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, has been largely successful in persuading federal judges that “ag-gag” laws criminalize innocent behavior and interfere with the free speech rights of reporters and whistleblowers.

ALDF’s win in Idaho was upheld by the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and after it knocked down Utah’s law, the state opted not to appeal. Litigation on newer “ag gag” laws in North Carolina and Iowa is pending.

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Photo of Dan Flynn Dan Flynn

Editor Dan Flynn is a Northern Colorado-based writer and editor with more more than 15 years of food safety experience. As a public affairs professional, he worked with government and regulatory agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. His career as a journalist included working for newspapers throughout the West, from the Black Hills to Seattle. His on-scene reporting on the collapse of the Idaho’s Teton Dam and the suicide bombing at Washington State University’s Perham Hall was carried by newspapers around the world and was recognized both times regionally by the Associated Press for Best Reporting on a Deadline. Most of the disasters he attends these days involve food illnesses.