Animal rights activists are enraged over a bill that would make it illegal to obtain jobs on Iowa farms with the intent of capturing animal abuse on video.

The bill was introduced by the Iowa House of Representatives Agriculture Committee Chair Annette Sweeney, R-Alden. She said the bill's purpose is not to prevent the exposure of animal cruelty.

"This bill entails employment with the intent of committing fraud," Sweeney said. "In other words, if you are hired and you have the intent of committing an act toward your employer to defame that employer, that would make it illegal."

Sweeney said the real purpose of the bill is to protect the animals.

"We do not want people falsifying their employment for means of coming in and abusing or putting viruses in animals," she said. "We're really worried about the health and welfare of our animals."

The well-known animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, expressed its dismay toward the bill two weeks ago when PETA Vice President Dan Mathews held a news conference at the Iowa Capitol.

The group has been notoriously involved in a number of undercover investigations where hidden camera footage has been used to expose animal abuse. Mathews showed undercover footage taken at an Iowa pig farm in 2008.

The video that was taken at the Greene County farm showed pigs being repeatedly beaten with metal rods, jabbed in the eyes with clothespins and sodomized with canes.

The bill would make illegal the use of any camera that is not permitted by the facility's owner.

Sweeney said hidden cameras are not necessary to expose animal cruelty on farms.

"We have methods in place already in law that if anybody suspects animal abuse, you are supposed to go to the sheriff, county supervisor, anybody from the USDA and also the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship," she said.

Sweeney's bill already made it through the Iowa House of Representatives and is currently sitting in the Senate's Agriculture Committee.

Committee Chair Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, feels that a few details need to be hammered out before the bill goes any further.

"We want to make sure we don't tread on the First Amendment rights of free speech and free expression," Seng said.

Because the bill recognizes fraud as an act of being hired with the intent of defaming your employer, it's difficult to tell whether or not someone is falsifying their employment.

"Their First Amendment rights may be violated," Seng said. "It's hard to go into a person's mind and prove intent."

Proponents for the bill argue that a law is needed to keep unauthorized visitors out of livestock facilities.

"There is sort of two sides to the story on this," Seng said. "We want a bill that does not abuse the First Amendment rights but does give some help to the livestock industry against people going too far."

Other undercover footage that has exposed animal abuse in the past includes the 2009 documentation of live chicks being thrown into a grinder at a Spencer hatchery.

Organizations such as PETA and Mercy for Animals use footage taken by hidden cameras to reveal the inhumane practices of commercial farms across the nation.

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