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Some groups fear threat of precedent

Published on July 14, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on August 11, 2011 6:58AM

Pork group:'One-size-fits-all approach will take away producers' freedom'


Capital Press

While egg producers see a plan to seek a first-ever federal law setting cage standards for egg-laying hens as a means of declaring a cease-fire with the Humane Society of the United States, other livestock industries are wary of the deal's implications.

They say they are concerned such a law will open the door to more federal legislation.

When the Washington state egg-laying hen initiative effort was announced in January, Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, said his group and HSUS would like to see battery cages for chickens, veal crates for calves and gestation crates for breeding sows banned nationwide, potentially through federal legislation.

Paul Shapiro, senior director of Factory Farming Campaigns at HSUS, said he doesn't know if the egg proposal will make it easier to enact other animal welfare measures nationally.

"If another industry is willing to talk to us, we will listen," he said. "The egg industry wants this and we do."

Doug Wolf, president of the National Pork Producers Council, issued a statement saying the council is committed to animal well-being in all aspects of pork production but that federal legislation preempting state laws on egg production would set a "dangerous precedent" allowing the federal government to dictate how all livestock and poultry are produced.

"NPPC is gravely concerned that such a one-size-fits-all approach will take away producers' freedom to operate in a way that's best for their animals, make it difficult to respond to consumer demands, raise retail meat prices and take away consumer choice," Wolf said.

Further, it may devastate niche producers and at a time of constrained ag budgets, redirect valuable resources from enhancing food safety and maintaining the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture to regulating on-farm production practices for reasons other than public health and welfare, he said.

"NPPC is concerned about the uncertainty such legislation would generate among U.S. pork producers who use a variety of production and housing systems," he said.

David Warner, NPPC spokesman, said the council does not oppose the egg agreement, in that it is a business decision, but does oppose codifying it into federal law.

"We oppose federal legislation that dictates on-farm production practices. Even if it only applies to the egg industry, the legislation would serve as a precedent and easily could be amended to include other species," Warner said.

Colin Woodall, vice president of governmental affairs of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said a decision will be made in three weeks at the association's summer conference but that it's likely the association will fight the UEP-HSUS bill.

"We won't support legislation that dictates production practices in agriculture. Knowing our policy and how HSUS operates, we will probably work against it," Woodall said.

The bill also would give HSUS standing as a player in developing a new federal farm bill in Congress, and the association does not want that, he said.

NCBA and NPPC probably will lead the charge in opposing the bill, Woodall said, adding he doesn't know which other organizations might join.


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