National livestock groups are monitoring efforts in some states to make changes to livestock production.
On June 21, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled 7-0 to strike down a proposed ballot initiative that would have banned slaughter of animals that have lived less than 25% of their natural lifespan and would have criminalized artificial insemination and other practices.
The court ruled the proposed initiative, Ballot Initiative 16, violated the single subject requirement by combining multiple items for one vote.
This proposed ballot initiative is similar to one in Oregon, Initiative Petition 13, that could have wide-ranging impacts for agriculture. The Oregon measure would also define artificial insemination as a sexual crime and ban the slaughter of animals.
Michael Formica, general counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, says these are part of an effort to make animal agriculture and meat more expensive. He has been working on a lawsuit relating to California’s Prop 12, which was passed by voters and implements new regulations on pork producers.
“This is what the Humane Society and their partners have been trying to implement,” he says. “It’s really designed to limit the supply of animal protein and drive up the price of animal protein, making it an exotic luxury item.”
Formica says the ballot language was misleading, and it calls for standards that 98.5% of pork currently produced in the U.S. would not meet. He says the measure requires a minimum of 24 square feet per animal and requires group housing except for brief periods of time.
Formica says the measure will be costly for producers, whether it means renovations or operating with fewer animals.
“It’s going to require complete wholesale re-design of all the farms,” Formica says.
The state of California is still working to draft regulations to implement the passed ballot measure, and Formica says the comment period is ongoing, with ag groups giving their input. He says the state understands NPPC’s concerns.
“They’re not denying the heart of our complaint: That there’s no scientific basis to this, and no benefit to California residents,” Formica says.
He says the lawsuit efforts are also ongoing.
“It’s difficult to get the Supreme Court to take a case,” he says. “It’s less of a science, more of an art.”
Formica says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the suit, and says the fact it is filed on behalf of producers themselves could help the case. He is hopeful for success that also preempts future ballot measures.
Overall, Formica says these state challenges are part of a bigger fight for the livestock industry. He says the groups supporting these initiatives are well-funded, but he says there are still reasons to be hopeful, citing the successes countering some of these efforts, as well as the majority of people still wanting to consume meat.
“The overwhelming, vast, vast majority of people eat meat,” he says. “People who don’t eat meat, it’s usually because they can’t afford it, especially around the world. We see, when places get money, they want more meat (in their diets).”
Chase DeCoite, director of animal health and food safety policy for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says his organization has been monitoring livestock regulatory efforts.
“We’re certainly aware of those issues and these initiatives that are out there,” he says.
DeCoite says the national organization does not take specific stances on state measures, but it does provide support to state cattlemen’s organizations. He says the state groups know their state situations and nuances the best.
“It’s just an all-around approach,” DeCoite says. “They have the relationships in the state.”
He has also worked on the organization’s Beef Quality Assurance program, which provides educational tools and resources to help producers be good stewards and communicate what they do to take care of animals.
“I think the industry has a great story to tell,” he says. “Our practices are based on sound science, they’re based on research, common sense. Producers know their animals, their land. They know how to take good care of it.”
DeCoite says the key issues can vary depending on the audience, and conversations about livestock production can happen anywhere from social media to chatting at the dinner table. He says producers don’t have to have all the answers.
“It’s OK to say you don’t know everything that goes on at the industry level. Just share what you do on your operation,” DeCoite says. “It’s all about that honesty and that transparency.”
Formica says the NPPC works with the NCBA on these issues.
“We all work well together,” he says. “We all enjoy bacon with our cheeseburgers.”