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Voters on hook to buy pig in a poke

Published on December 31, 1969 3:01AM

Last changed on September 9, 2013 6:48AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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Voters in states that have passed initiatives dictating how livestock must be raised may have bought a pig in a poke -- and an expensive one at that.

The state of Florida is on the hook for over a half a million dollars, plus interest, after voters passed an initiative that put a hog operation out of business because it could not use stalls for sows. The stalls were banned by a 2002 vote that amended Florida's state constitution. The amendment said, in part, that is was unlawful "for any person to confine a pig during pregnancy in an enclosure, or to tether a pig during pregnancy, on a farm in such a way that she is prevented from turning around freely."

Farmer Stephen Basford, one of two farmers who operated high-efficiency hog confinement operations in Florida, argued that the amendment amounted to a taking and sued the state for the cost of his barn and equipment.

Basford won in court, and the state appealed.

A confinement operation is expensive and highly specialized and cannot be modified for other agricultural purposes, he argued. It included a breeding barn, gestation barn, farrowing barn, two finishing barns, feed mill, laboratory and office, four water wells, clay-lined lagoons for waste disposal and a chute for loading hogs into trailers.

"Appellee's business depended on raising a high volume of pigs for market, and his improvements were designed for that purpose," the appeals court wrote. "According to the appellee, he could not, without the gestation crates, operate his business and compete with other producers (in other states) who were not similarly restricted."

The appeals court agreed with Basford and awarded him $505,000 in compensation from the state.

His lawyer perfectly summarized Basford's plight.

"This amendment was targeted to put him out of business," Stephen Turner said.

Similar initiatives and laws have been passed in at least nine states aimed at farmers who raise hogs, chickens and other animals in high-efficiency operations.

We may now assume that those other farmers who have been victimized by similar votes in California, Arizona and elsewhere can go to the state capitols and receive compensation for their costs. If the legislatures are unwilling to pay for the costs to the farmers that the voters have caused, the courts would offer them an appropriate venue to plead their cases.

Or better yet, anti-animal agriculture activists such as the Humane Society of the United States, which supported the initiatives by spending millions of dollars on the campaigns, might be willing to pay for the damage they've caused farmers.

But we won't hold our breath.


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