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US NEWS PORK-FARMS-4 4 TB

Jeff Seabaugh walks through a shed housing pigs at his operation in Montgomery County, Ill. Seabaugh raises about 20,000 pigs each year.

WASHINGTON — All hogs in Massachusetts will be able to stretch their legs and turn around in their crates and all hens will be able to spread their wings under a law passed in November by voters in the state.

Laws like this one, which strictly regulate how farm animals are confined, are becoming more common across the U.S., as large-scale farming replaces family farms and consumers learn more about what happens behind barn doors. Massachusetts is the 12th state to ban the use of some livestock- and poultry-raising cages or crates, such as gestation crates for sows, veal crates for calves or battery cages for chickens, which critics say abusively restrict the animals’ movement.

The restrictive laws have taken hold so far in states that have relatively small agriculture industries for animals and animal products and fewer large-scale farming operations. But producers in big farming states see the writing on the wall. Backed by state farm bureaus, large-scale industrial farmers are pushing for changes that would make it harder for states to further regulate the way they do business.

North Dakota and Missouri adopted amendments in the last few years that enshrined into their constitutions the right of farmers and ranchers to use current practices and technology. Legislatures in many states, including Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and West Virginia, considered proposed amendments this year. And Oklahoma voters rejected a similar amendment sent to them by the Legislature in November.

Farmers acknowledge that some people who do not spend much time on farms may object to some of their practices. But they say that they do not abuse animals and that their practices are the most efficient and safest way to keep up with demand for food. And, they say, complying with restrictions on raising poultry and livestock like those approved in Massachusetts are costly for them and for consumers.

They point to an 18 percent increase in the price of eggs — about 49 cents a dozen — in California last year that was attributed to a law that created strict space requirements for hens. The law applies not just to producers in the state but to producers in other states that sell eggs there.

“Our nation’s ability to protect its food supply can be threatened by unnecessary regulations driven by activist agendas, often by people who’ve never set foot on farmland or have no idea what it takes to produce a crop,” said Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Right-to-farm laws were put in place by all 50 states starting in the 1970s, as suburban development sprawled to rural areas. The laws were intended to protect farm owners from lawsuits brought by new neighbors who claimed the farms — with their smells, sounds and chemicals — were a nuisance. The newly proposed amendments would extend the protections by locking in farmers’ ability to use modern technology and practices.

Animal welfare advocates, such as Daisy Freund, director of farm animal welfare for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, say the modern practices are not humane and call the right-to-farm amendments “right to harm” laws.

The amendments would not only prevent states from passing new animal treatment laws, but would make it harder for anyone to win a lawsuit against an agriculture business, even if the operation was affecting nearby quality of life, or air or water quality, Freund said.

Matthew Dominguez, a former lobbyist at the Humane Society of the United States who now works a national advocacy organization called the Nonhuman Rights Project, said the legislators who are proposing the amendments — including some who have received hefty donations from the industry — are trying to find any way they can to continue agriculture business as usual.

But consumer expectations already are forcing producers to change how they operate, said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the U.S. Demand for free-range eggs and grass-fed beef is growing, pushing large companies to change their standards. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s recently committed to using only suppliers that raise cage-free hens by 2025.

Market demands will force producers to change their practices or be left behind, Balk said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that to meet demand, the industry will have to convert over half its egg production to cage-free systems by 2025, up from the current rate of 10 percent.

“It’s kind of similar to which companies are trying to still produce black and white TVs, and which ones are selling color TVs,” Balk said.

Consumer expectations have shifted as animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society have used undercover investigations to expose industry practices.

Videos and images published on the advocacy groups’ websites, on YouTube and in documentaries depict windowless warehouses with hundreds of sows confined in gestation crates, where they spend most of their lives. Hens are shown in cages as wide and long as a letter-sized piece of paper, and barely tall enough for them to stand in.

Many of these methods are accepted by industry groups such as the United Egg Producers and the National Pork Producers Council. Farmers say keeping animals in cages is the most sanitary and safest way to care for large groups of farm animals. And farming groups say the practices encouraged by animal welfare groups might not make life for farm animals any better.

The National Association of Egg Farmers said that while Massachusetts voters will pay more for eggs, the lives of chickens will not improve. Caging chickens, the association said, reduces the likelihood they will become diseased. It also improves the quality of eggs, the group said, by reducing the chance that the eggs touch manure.

Farmers and ranchers aren’t opposed to regulation that protects “the environment, that protects the food supply and that protects our families,” said Tom Buchanan, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. “We buy our food from the same shelves you do,” he said.

But Buchanan and others, such as Harry Kaiser, a professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, say consumers should have the option of buying meat and eggs without paying a premium for special animal treatment.

Kaiser led the study, funded by the National Pork Producers Association, that showed an 18 percent increase in the price of eggs in California. The price increased even more than that because of a bird flu crisis, but that additional increase was filtered out of the study’s results.

Kaiser said the results didn’t surprise him. If businesses aren’t able to use the most efficient methods for producing eggs, he said, their costs will go up.

Not everyone can afford to pay premium prices, he said, and others don’t want to.

Rodolfo Nayga, professor in the department of agricultural economics and agribusiness at the University of Arkansas, has found that while a segment of the population is willing to pay higher prices for organic food, or food produced using higher standards for animal treatment, not everyone is.

“This isn’t for everybody,” Nayga said. “There are some farmers that won’t be able to accommodate the regulations for animal welfare and for environmental concerns.”

When animal welfare groups started about a decade ago to pay their employees to take jobs on farms to expose practices, the industry responded by pushing for what animal welfare advocates call ag-gag laws. Some of the laws made it a crime to take photos or videos of private farm property without the owner’s permission, while others made it a crime for an employee of an animal welfare organization to lie about where they worked when they applied for a job on a farm.

About 26 states considered ag-gag laws from 2010 to 2015, but only nine — Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — passed them.

The Humane Society is not aware of any ag-gag bills proposed this year. Interest in these laws has faded after they faced opposition from animal welfare groups, as well as groups advocating for food safety, freedom of speech and workers’ rights, said Dominguez, who traveled the country fighting the laws for the Humane Society. Lawmakers also may be hesitant to propose the laws when so many are being challenged in court, he said.

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(16) comments

FriendofJesus

I am a Conservative Christian and it`s always been the case that we are supposed to treat the animals well

Proverbs 12:10 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

petemo

I worked on farms throughout my teenage years AND then I worked (on farm) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 35 years. No stranger to farming, am I. Give your reasons for abusing animals a rest. It is B.S. and there is a major problem with YOU!!!

petemo

I am a conservative and a Trump voter....but I love animals. The more horror stories I read coming out of the food industry the less meat I eat. There is NO REASON why farmers can't farm humanely. Same for the slaughter industry. Don't give me the song and dance about YOUR problems as a farmer. I frankly don't care. If you can't raise animals with kindness and gratitude, you shouldn't be farming. We are truly stewards of God's green earth and that includes reverance towards ALL living creatures. I really get sick of those 'blaming' liberals for wanting humane legislation. It is NOT just liberals....no wonder Conservatives get a bad rap. oh...to ClimateHoax...I believe THAT is a hoax too, but c'mon fella, is kindness towards animals really a bad thing?

cmurph

petemo; I too am a person who likes animals. I have been in a farming family for 35 years we raise hogs, cattle, chickens. All the farmers I know care about the welfare of their livestock because it is their livelihood. Farmers depend on them as much as livestock depends on the farmer. But for you to say what you did is a very harsh statement especially if you know nothing about a farmers life and what is ALL involved in the farming industry. Believe me farmers have kindness and are grateful but animals don't equate feelings like we do. A cow with a calf could easily kill a farmer no matter the 20 years the farmer has been caring for the cow. Same with a sow it is a very dangerous animal when it has pigs and doesn't think like humans and says "oh here is my farmer owner who cares for me I love him and I will let him pick my piglet up to give it its needed vaccinations that will help it survive" NO it would rather rip the farmers knees right out from under him and rip him to shreds! Our chickens have it so nice and get to roam our farm freely but they are brutal to each other its called pecking order. Also in the big egg industry free range chickens I feel are worse off than the caged ones for precisely what I said "they are brutal to each other."

petemo

petemo Dec 4, 2016 4:56pm
I worked on farms throughout my teenage years AND then I worked (on farm) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 35 years. No stranger to farming, am I. Give your reasons for abusing animals a rest. It is B.S. and there is a major problem with YO

FriendofJesus

horse hockey

7cedars

I agree with you, however, do you or have you ever lived on a farm? Working and living on a farm is a whole lot different than going to your fresh meat counter or your frozen section and getting meat versus the REAL farm and ranch. If a person raises meat chickens so they can feed their families, what do you think they do...send it to a producer first and then buy it back from them?
True, there are workers on those farmers who are abusive, but those are minimal. Ever see a person who "loves" animals, only to starve them, because they just can't seem to get rid of them, much less feed them appropriately. Those problems are more rampant than you think. One lives down the road from us, and it's absolutely SICKENING!
I like NOT love our cows, I understand their purpose, I also know what happens to the older cows and calves we take to the auction. Same with chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.
There's a HUGE difference in being an animal lover and doing what's right versus being demagoged because you can't keep a non-producing cow, because horrors, she's "an animal."
What one person calls "human legislation" may NOT be the same as the real world struggle on the farm and ranch.

john mccann

When Obama took office their were over 5 million farmers and ranchers at the present time there are only 1.7 million of us left to feed 330,000,000 people and I hate to say it but at the present time our agriculture cannot feed the American people without imports. The strongest and most vulnerable war tool of a country is for them to be able to feed themselves. We at the present time cannot do it. Did anyone wonder why the price of beef has remained high and we have less cows but it did not go any higher? Our government is flooding our industry with import beef and when you get any canned beef it is not beef but water buffalo in some instances. Sorry American people but you have been fooled by your own government. Do you think that countries use commercial fertilizer like we do to grow produce, think again they use what comes out of their cities topographically not knifed in to stop intestinal bacterial diseases.

john mccann

People that know very little about hogs or chickens are reading this article. First hogs that are pregnant will gain lots of weight and they have a difficult time breeding back after pregnancy. As a farmer you have to cage the hog cut her feed and when you do that she tries to eat her babies. That is why you cage her when she is nursing until the young are about 6 weeks for weaning. After that she can be put back with the boar and start all over again 120 day gestation period. Yes I don't like to cage chickens but they are the most omniverious animals alive. When they are in building and populated at 500 feet by 40 feet with a population of 26000 it is max over that and they will eat each other. I wish the people that write and read these articles would do a sociological study project to understand the density packing of animals and understand the economics of how us farmers are trying to feed the world with the limited resources that we have and do it economically.

7cedars

Agreed. Or even better yet, farmers and ranchers can feed their own friends and families and the heck with the rest of the world. Let them get their hands and feet filthy from the care of animals, and all the hard work that goes with it. Let's see if they get up every morning, no matter the weather at 7 a.m. to make sure animals get their fresh water and feed.
I'm a guessing few will pass that very SIMPLE TEST!

petemo

petemo Dec 4, 2016 4:56pm
I worked on farms throughout my teenage years AND then I worked (on farm) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 35 years. No stranger to farming, am I. Give your reasons for abusing animals a rest. It is B.S. and there is a major problem with YO

FriendofJesus

Most of us get up early and go to work

petemo

petemo Dec 4, 2016 4:56pm
I worked on farms throughout my teenage years AND then I worked (on farm) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 35 years. No stranger to farming, am I. Give your reasons for abusing animals a rest. It is B.S. and there is a major problem with YO

Climatehoax

Liberals are always whining about Republican proposals that are detrimental to the less fortunate. What is more detrimental than forcing these farmers to change how they do business which will drastically increase food prices? Hypocritical libs at it again

petemo

petemo Dec 4, 2016 4:56pm
I worked on farms throughout my teenage years AND then I worked (on farm) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 35 years. No stranger to farming, am I. Give your reasons for abusing animals a rest. It is B.S. and there is a major problem with YO

FriendofJesus

Many farmers have their dogs in the house by the fire and some have them outside in a dog house with or without straw. Yes I know a farmer that actually has a barn full of straw, he also sells straw on the side and does not even provide straw for his outside dogs.

I also no MANY farmers that treat their animals very well, and I know some that dont. I live in a very rural area, actually most of the farmers in my area are the dog by the fire type. The Bible states that a wise man looks after his animals...to be more precise

Proverbs 12:10 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

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