Livestock industry shook up

Published 10:28 am Thursday, December 4, 2008

Consumers don’t think about such things, when they shop for meat products at the local supermarket.

Was that turkey allowed to turn around in a pen or was it confined to a crate before Thanksgiving?

Could that veal calf stand up?

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Was that hog able to lie down?

Can any confined animal stretch its limbs?

California voters did think about the implications of restrictive confinement and by a 2-to-1 margin voted to ban specific livestock confinement operations.

Now, the animal livestock industry is worried the exaggerated animal rights movement could spread elsewhere.

They say the livestock industry already adequately regulates itself and consumers do not have to worry about too restrictive confinement for veal calves, egg-laying hens and hogs.

The price tag to too much worrying and over-reaction is steep.

FeedStuffs weekly agribusiness newspaper estimated 95 percent of egg production in California will be affected, leaving consumers dependent upon eggs shipped in from other states and possibly Canada and Mexico.

When President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January 2009, some pork industry observers say he will look at increasing livestock regulations for all the nation’s livestock producers even though the Environmental Protection Agency will have a new set of compliance rules to enforce: CAFO.

Kirk Ferrell, vice president of public policy for the National Pork Producers Council told the Hog Industry INSIDER, “Concentrated animal feeding operations” is ground zero in a new battle over livestock industry regulations.

David Priesler, executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, said the pork industry has the pending fight on “our radar screen.”

Joe Becker of Austin said he’s worried and so should others be concerned.

Becker is a sales representative for Pig Improvement Corporation, which provides breeding stock for hog producers.

Proposition 2 got his attention in November.

“Pushed by the Humane Society of the United States and other anti- animal-rights groups, agribusiness growers and producers will face huge expenses to configure their operations to meet this law,” Becker warned. “These groups pick on states with relative little production of pork or beef, thus the egg-laying hens were targeted lumping together the crates for pork and veal stalls utilized today to feed our country.

“This law passing in California is a stepping stone to other major pork, beef and egg-laying states throughout the Midwest,” Becker said. “Do you think these laws will impact future food prices?

What these laws fail to address is the ethics of animal production.

“When a hen’s egg-laying capability far surpasses that of any of her predecessors in egg-laying history, isn’t this telling us she is leading a stress-free life? Of course it is. Does a hen have an obligation to produce eggs for you and your neighbors? Should the pig’s purpose in life be to provide food for you or veal to produce rich, nutritious meat for your family?” Becker said.

Obviously, California’s Proposition 2 is a worrisome thing for the livestock industry.


Proposition 2 was a California ballot proposition in that state’s general election Nov. 4. It passed with 63 percent of the votes in favor and 37 percent against.

The proposition adds a chapter to Division 20 of the California Health and Safety Code to prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.

The measure deals with three types of confinement: veal crates, battery cages and sow gestation crates.

Having been passed by the voters, the key portion of the statute will become operative Jan. 1, 2015. Farming operations have until that date to implement the new space requirements for their animals, and the statute will prohibit animals in California from being confined in a proscribed manner thereafter.

The summary of the California Legislative Analyst’s estimate of net state and local government fiscal impact predicted an unknown decrease in state and local tax revenues from farm businesses — possibly in the range of “several million dollars annually.”

The potential minor local and state enforcement and prosecution costs could be partly offset by increased fine revenue.

Animal agriculture is a major industry in California. More than 40 million animals are raised for commercial purposes on California farms and ranches.

California’s leading livestock commodities are milk and other dairy products, cattle and chickens.

In recent years, there has been a growing public awareness about farm animal production methods and how these practices affect the treatment of the animals.

In particular, concerns have been expressed about some animal farming practices, including the housing of certain animals in confined spaces, such as cages or other restrictive enclosures.

Partly in response to the concerns, various animal farming industries have made changes in their production practices.

For example, certain industries have developed guidelines and best practices aimed, in part, at improving the care and handling of farm animals.

Farm Sanctuary, which claims to be the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization, celebrated the passage of Proposition 2 in California.

“This law phases out some of the most restrictive confinement systems used by factory farms — gestation crates for breeding pigs, veal crates for calves and battery cages for egg laying hens — affecting 20 million farm animals in the state by simply granting them space to stand up, stretch their limbs, turn around and lie down comfortably,” Farm Sanctuary said in a statement after the passage of Proposition 2.

Opposition to Proposition 2 was intense, according to news reports.

A group called the Animal Agriculture Alliance was formed to fight the initiative.

Made up of farmers, ranchers, processors, retailers and others, it included many of the state’s leading newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, according to Brownfield Ag News For America.

Opponents warmed the proposition could cause “massive” food cost increases as well as devastate production agriculture in California.

The effort, of course, failed.

Caution flags

The Minnesota Pork Producers Association’s Priesler said of the possible expansion of Proposition 2’s animal rights largesse in the Midwest, “We’re watching the situation closely.

“The process for putting an initiative like this is different in states such as Arizona and California than it is in Minnesota,” Priesler said. “If you will recall it took getting a bill passed to get the Legacy Amendment on the ballots in November.”

Thus, states that allow ballot initiatives are more vulnerable to the Proposition 2 impact spreading than states such as Minnesota.

Priesler said the MPPA isn’t discounting the animal rights movement taking roots in Minnesota and, thus, “At this time, it’s on our radar screen.”

Priesler said Proposition 2’s implications for the rest of the livestock industry are a “front burner” issue.

Priesler himself knows what’s happening. “It’s a vegetarian issue. A vegan thing. They don’t want us to raise meat.”

Before Proposition 2, pork and veal producers began transitioning to group or pen systems, because the science and technology had become available.

Egg producers were hailed for providing the highest levels of animal welfare, according to a study by animal ethicists and scientists.

Austin’s Becker sees a moral dilemma taking shape.

“Why isn’t it human morality to increase the cost of food for us, and the starving people around the world?” Becker said. “It is our ethical duty to find and promote the most efficient way to produce food and meat in the food chain.

“We as human beings should be most concerned about the ethical and moral consequences of not implementing every measure possible to feed as many people in the world as possible,” he said. “Keep in mind that millions of people in developing countries continue to experience chronic hunger.”

Like the MPPA’s Priesler, who believes the 2-to-1 Proposition 2 victory was a case of “urban” over “rural,” Becker said those watching the issue should understand how important education and awareness are to an issue such as this, whether they are urban or rural.

“The irony in most of these issues is that it rests in the hands of many Americans, who have little knowledge how production methods have upgraded the quality of life for food-producing animals through the use of confined facilities,” Becker said.

“Do we really value the life of a confined chicken or a sow in a crate over a homeless, hungry person living in the streets of L.A.? “ he said. “I personally hope not.”

What’s Becker’s advice?

“Know the facts and talk to the food producers out there or it may cost you a lot more for that bacon and egg breakfast down the road,” he warned.