“Ag-gag laws” hide the cruelty of factory farms from the public. Courts are striking them down. ( www.vox.com )

“Ag-gag laws,” explained.

In 2011, an undercover investigation at an Iowa Select Farms found employees smashing piglets onto the concrete floor. Another undercover investigation that year at an Iowa Hormel Foods supplier documented employees “beating pigs with metal rods” and “sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces.” Those investigations of illegal practices on factory farms were conducted by animal rights groups, which documented what they saw on video.

In 2012, the Iowa legislature passed a law banning the collection of evidence of crimes like those. And Iowa isn’t alone. Several states have passed — and many others have considered — so-called “ag gag” laws, which criminalize the undercover investigations that reveal abuses on farms. Legislators have been forthright about their motives too. They’re worried that evidence of what goes on on these farms will outrage Americans — so they want to ban it.

The question: Are these laws constitutional? On Wednesday, the federal court for the Southern District of Iowa said no. It was the third ruling against ag-gag laws in the past few years. Yet similar laws in other states are still in place, as challenges to them slowly make their way through the courts.

Ag-gag laws are a recent trend, and it will be good news if the remaining ones lose in court as Iowa’s did. They usually work by directly targeting only “deception” — the undercover investigators who get the footage of the farms get themselves hired through deceptive means, so the argument goes — but the laws’ intent is often openly to suppress real, accurate pictures and videos depicting how our food is produced. These laws were lobbied for by an industry that fears it