Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nebraska State Unicameral kills LB1148 that proposed banning confinement crates for gestating sows. Peripatetic Lincoln Senator Dianna Schimek found other priorities after introducing LB1148 that was former Mayor Don Wesley's and the Humane Society's brainchild. Sponsors of the withdrawn bill sought to phase out confinement pens for pregnant sows. Livestock producers consider it an economical practice that allows farmers to monitor food, water, health and pregnancies. "LB 1148 came to life after Kevin Fulton, a Litchfield farmer, made repeated calls to the Humane Society of the United States, prodding them to promote Nebraska legislation to phase out gestation crates as it had done in Oregon. The national organization hired Lincoln lobbyist Don Wesely, a former state senator and former Lincoln mayor, to find someone to introduce the proposal, which would have phased out gestation crates by 2014.Sen. Phil Erdman, chairman of the Legislature's Agriculture Committee, filed the kill motion against LB 1148. He said he was prepared to find 24 co-sponsors, had that been necessary.Hog operations are being bullied and targeted by the Humane Society of the United States, Erdman said. Fulton said the humane society was reluctant to tackle the issue in a major farm state.Fulton, who raises grass-fed cattle, is a public speaker who supports sustainable agriculture. The Humane Society of the United States has organized successful petition drives against gestation crates in Florida and Arizona, two states with minimal hog numbers.The society maintains that confinement, which restricts animals from turning around and socializing with other animals, is cruel and inhumane.Pressure from the society and the public has prompted some major food retailers, including Burger King, Wendy's and Hardees, to issue statements encouraging a phase-out of gestation crates. Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's largest hog producer, has said it would phase out the use of gestation crates. Advocates and some veterinarians, however, say confinement is preferable to group housing partly because it avoids the tendency of pregnant sows to become violent with one another. In a policy statement on hog confinement, the American Veterinary Medical Association says that all current forms of housing have advantages and disadvantages for animal welfare.The veterinary group recommends more research into technology and study of economical viability before ending current confinement practices.Smaller pork producers would be affected most if they were forced to change their method of handling sows, said Larry Sitzman, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association. "The large producers have the resources and the ability to make major changes," Sitzman said, "whereas a family producer will just drop out of the marketplace."

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