May 24, 2021

Initiatives in a Few States Would Criminalize Farming of Food Animals

Initiatives in a Few States Would Criminalize Farming of Food Animals

Recently, various propositions and initiatives in several states, if passed, would have severe consequences on the agricultural community and farming of animals. Proposition 12 in California, Initiative Petition 13 in Oregon, Initiative 16 Protecting Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) in Colorado, and a bill in Massachusetts, S. 36 and H. 864, all have recently sparked controversy.

Proposition 12 in California would mandate spacing requirements for all gestating hogs. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBU) gave oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appels for the 9th Circuit, requesting that Proposition 12 be considered unconstitutional under the dormant commerce clause, which is against states passing legislation that discriminates against or excessively burdens interstate commerce. While Californians eat 15% of the pork consumed in the U.S., most of the meat comes from producers in the Midwest. Proposition 12 would require farmers outside of California to change the way they farm to meet the requirements, which would be devastating to small producers. “If you’re flush with cash, you can build a new facility,” said Michael Formica, general counsel of the NPPC. “For everyone else, they are going to lose access to this market.”

Proposition 12 would also make the price of pork rise drastically not only in California but everywhere. “Prop 12 hurts the family on a budget by causing higher prices for pork, veal, and eggs, and unfairly punishes livestock producers outside of California by forcing them to spend millions just to access California markets,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “If this unconstitutional law is allowed to stand, California will dictate farming practices across the nation.” Formica also stated, “We're coming out of this horrific COVID crisis, the economy is in shambles, and Prop 12 is going to remove the protein of choice for 55% to 60% of California residents as a low-cost option. The pork that they will have is going to be significantly more expensive there. Prop 12 will hurt and is hurting hog farmers, but Prop 12 is also going to hurt moms and children and families living in California.”

The basis behind Proposition 12 is animal cruelty, but Terry Wolters, NPPC President-Elect, and Minnesota pork producer said these types of initiatives come down to details. “We have designed and built facilities that are extremely convenient to the animal and to the animals’ livelihood. We've nearly put out 30% more pigs out of a sow today on an annual basis than we did 20 years ago. That doesn't happen because we don't take care of our animals,” he said. “That couldn't be farther from the truth.” For more information on the Proposition, Hyatt Frobose of Gestal, Christine McCracken of Rabobank, and William J. Friedman of EarthClaims LLC participated in a webinar detailing its implications.

Initiative Petition 13 (IP13), the Abuse, Neglect, and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement Act in Oregon would amend Chapter 167 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, which is said to currently provide unnecessary exemptions to laws governing animal abuse, animal neglect, and animal sexual assault. The Initiative is said to reduce the suffering of animals and improve their quality of life by classifying their slaughter as aggravated abuse and redefining artificial insemination and castration as sexual assault. The act would remove all references to “good animal husbandry,” only allow an animal to be injured in cases of human self-defense, and only allow animals to be used for food once they died naturally. Before the initiative is placed on the ballot for 2022, it still needs to receive 112,020 signatures by next summer.

One of the implications of IP13 is that it would make artificial insemination an act of sexual assault, considered a Class C Felony. “From my experience, I can tell you the reason the cattle industry leans heavily on AI is improved genetics, which means they’re more efficient with feed, more efficient with every aspect” including rate of gain, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association executive director Tammy Dennee told Farm Progress. “It certainly would be problematic to have that taken away.”

Initiative 16, Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) in Colorado would extend animal cruelty definitions to livestock, rules that livestock cannot be slaughtered until it reaches one-quarter of its expected lifespan, and deems farm practices for assisting with reproduction as lude sexual acts. PAUSE defines the natural lifespan of a cow to be 20 years, meaning the cow couldn’t be slaughtered until 5 years old, quite off from the 12-22 months that is typical. Grand Commissioner Merrit Linke of Colorado said, “It criminalizes normal, accepted, standard veterinary and livestock management practices.” 

The language used in PAUSE tugs at the heartstrings of uninformed voters. “They will have urbanites who in many cases don’t know where a hamburger comes from, don’t know where a lamb chop or pork roast or even the toppings on their pizza come from, and they will be asked the simple question, who would want sex with animals?” Representative Richard Holtorf, a third-generation cattle rancher in Washington County said. “When people see those kinds of words, they become inflamed by them and, of course, nobody wants to see animals abused in any way,” the Grand Commissioner’s lobbyist and consultant Mark Waller said. “They don’t understand that this is going to prevent the agricultural industry from being able to engage in the practice of agriculture in the state of Colorado. It’s going to be absolutely horrible and devastating.”

After the public upset of Colorado Governor Polis’ “MeatOut Day,” encouraging Colorado residents to give up meat, a spokeswoman for Polis told the Colorado Sun that Polis “agrees with farmers and ranchers that the PAUSE ballot initiative would hurt Colorado and destroy jobs, and he opposes it.” PAUSE would need 124,632 signatures to be placed on the ballot in 2022. Agricultural sustainability is top of the priority list for many farmers, and PAUSE would cause the agriculture sector of Colorado to be less sustainable and efficient. Travis Taylor, a Colorado State University Livestock Extension Agent, said the extended lifespan of cattle could mean an additional $1,200 per animal in feed input alone. Assuming similar finish weights, he said the price of a pound of beef sold to consumers would increase $2 per pound before the inclusion of additional expenses incurred in the three years, not including health vaccinations, transport, water consumption, and labor costs.

S. 36 and H. 864, an Act to Upgrade Hen Welfare and Establish Cage-Free Standards in Massachusetts was a ballot initiative in 2016, which prohibits the sale of pork produced using certain production methods and setting minimum standards for how farm owners house certain animals. Without any intervention, the regulations will take effect on January 1, 2022.

Concerning Question 3 of the bill, NPPC has requested the implication of the bill to be delayed for 2 years. Question 3 on the 2016 ballot, which passed with nearly 78% of voters in support, banned Massachusetts farm owners and operators from knowingly confining breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens “in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.” It also prohibited businesses from selling whole, in-shell eggs or cuts of veal or pork produced out-of-state under those conditions. “Meeting the requirements of Question 3 is difficult enough to do in normal conditions, requiring significant investments of labor and capital, as farmers must convert to a compliant system to meet Question 3’s requirements. The time and cost of this challenge have been exacerbated over the last two years as the industry struggles to overcome the challenges – both to our workers and to the marketplaces for pigs and pork – caused by COVID-19,” NPPC said.

NPPC also says it supports language that would place the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources in charge of promulgating Question 3 regulations. Currently, the attorney general’s office has exclusive jurisdiction. “Regulatory compliance will require the pork industry to divert resources from maintaining a critical food supply and reallocate personnel to prepare for the compliance deadline. Businesses will need to rework operations and supply chains to comply with the forthcoming regulatory requirements,” NPPC continues. “Farmers will need to expend substantial capital costs to build or retrofit housing, which is a decades-long investment. To undertake those significant costs now, before the issuance of final rules and guidance, would be impractical if not impossible.”

Because of the lack of intervention on the part of lawmakers, animal welfare groups and industry representatives are urging lawmakers to intervene and reform the hen-specific standards enacted by the ballot question to mirror the more common practices elsewhere that have already been embraced by producers. If there are no changes, there would be an egg shortage. “In 8 months, there’s going to be a massive shortage of eggs for Massachusetts consumers and the price is going to go really high for those eggs that are there unless we can change and pass these two laws,” said Chad Gregory, president of United Egg Producers. “We believe that this is a reasonable step forward to align Massachusetts law with other animal welfare initiatives across the country,” said Allison Blanck, director of advocacy at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “As we look forward to the implementation of the law in January 2022 and keep in mind that regulations are currently being promulgated, we would like to stress that time is of the essence to give clarity of standards to farms in Massachusetts.”