Nebraska lawmakers nearing vote on hog ownership bill

by Erica Shaffer
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Nebraska state capitol building in Lincoln
Large meatpackers such as Smithfield Foods will be able to grow and feed company-owned hogs if LB176 is passed and signed into law.

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska lawmakers are nearing a final vote on a bill that would allow meatpackers to own hogs. The measure, LB176, narrows restrictions under the Competitive Livestock Markets Act that prohibits meatpackers from directly or indirectly owning or feeding livestock. Lawmakers recently voted to advance the bill to a third and final round of debate after a failed filibuster attempt.

Supporters of the measure believe LB176 will help spur growth in Nebraska’s pork industry. Not passing the bill, proponents argued, puts Nebraska at a competitive disadvantage in pork production and effectively prevents business from coming into Nebraska and contributing to the state’s economic growth.

“The legislature’s action moves Nebraska one step closer to creating a climate where pork processors that own Nebraska facilities, employ Nebraskans and pay Nebraska taxes can work together with Nebraska farmers to raise hogs,” Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association said in a statement. “Every other state in the nation allows this to occur. Nebraska’s self-imposed restriction on packer ownership is one of the contributing factors as to why neighboring states have expanded pork production at a faster rate over the last decade than Nebraska.”

Opponents of the measure said LB176 favors major agriculture concerns such as Smithfield Foods Inc. over smaller independent pork producers. The Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) recently asked state senators to return campaign donations from Smithfield Foods. The group identified 20 state lawmakers who received contributions ranging from $200 to $1,000.

“Given the history of large amounts of corporate ag money being invested in political campaigns and high-priced lobby firms, we are simply saying that in order to protect the public perception of the objectivity of the Legislature, we hope that many of the checks are returned,” John Hansen, NeFU president, said in a statement posted on the organization’s website. “If the checks are kept, we suggest that at a minimum, a conflict of interest filing should be considered. Another simple option would be to vote “Present” but not cast a yes or no vote on LB176.”

In a move to protect hog producers, lawmakers passed two amendments to the bill. One amendment grants the state’s agriculture department the authority to establish contract regulations to protect hog growers from unfair business practices while giving producers the right to cancel a contract with a meatpacker. The second measure prohibits confidentiality clauses in contracts between meatpackers and hog producers.

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