Pork production restrictions could be eased

Meat packing companies could own swine during production under a bill advanced by senators May 26.

Currently, a restriction under the Competitive Livestock Markets Act prohibits livestock packers from directly or indirectly owning or feeding livestock. LB176, introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, would narrow that restriction to apply only to cattle producers.

Schilz said the change would encourage growth in the state’s swine production industry.

“Nearly every state that surrounds Nebraska is seeing significant growth in their hog industries, but we are not keeping pace,” he said. “If implemented, this will once again allow hog processors to own hogs and contract with producers under custom feeding agreements.”

Under the bill, a swine processor or packer could enter into an oral or written agreement with a person who owns, leases or holds a legal interest in the livestock operation. The packer would own the swine, while the individual producer would retain ownership of the facilities and land.

An Agriculture Committee amendment, adopted 27-5, would expand the period of ownership and feeding by packers incidental to slaughter that is excluded from the prohibition from five to 14 days.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield moved to bracket the bill until April 15, 2016, saying it would hurt small independent farmers.

“The independence of the Nebraska farmer is renowned. If this passes, it would eliminate that independence,” Bloomfield said. “When you enter into a contract such as the one offered under the bill, it is a life-changing commitment. There is no renouncing the contract on the producer’s part; his entire family is locked into a contract they can’t get out of even by dying.”

The contract system allowed in the bill represents a sort of indentured servitude, according to Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan.

“In my estimation, this is just another strike against competitive and fair marketing of livestock in Nebraska,” she said. “This makes hog producers nothing more than serfs, totally beholden to the corporate entity that owns the livestock.”

Sen. John Stinner of Gering opposed the bracket motion, saying the notion of the small family farm is no more.

“The family farm has now morphed into thousands of acres of production with technology incorporated throughout the operation. LB176 would put Nebraska on equal footing with neighboring states and promote sustainability and profitability,” he said.

The bracket motion failed on a 10-17 vote.

An amendment introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, adopted 37-2, would preclude contracts from containing confidentiality agreements.

Several senators introduced a series of motions and amendments to extend debate on the bill, saying it would prioritize corporations over independent farmers.

After eight hours of debate, Schilz introduced a motion to invoke cloture—or cease debate and force a vote on the bill—which senators approved on a 34-9 vote. A successful cloture motion requires at least 33 votes in support.

The bill was advanced to select file on a 28-10 vote.

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