Source:Portland Press Herald
Date: 1 December 2016
Author: Jen Fifield Tribune News Service
Large-scale industrial farmers are pushing for changes that would make it harder for states to further regulate the way they do business.
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 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.