LINCOLN, Neb. – The Nebraska legislature recently passed a bill that ends a ban on hogs owned by corporations.

Lawmakers approved LB176 by a 34-14 vote and the bill will be sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts for consideration. The measure narrows restrictions under the state’s Competitive Livestock Markets Act that prohibits meatpackers from directly or indirectly owning or feeding livestock.

State Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala introduced LB176. Schilz and supporters of the measure argued that lifting the ban would make Nebraska’s pork industry more competitive with other pork-producing states. He said Nebraska was the only state that prohibited meatpackers from owning livestock.

“This is an important step forward for Nebraska agriculture,” Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said in a news release. “Pork production is a critical part of our state’s agriculture economy, but our pork sector has struggled to keep pace with neighboring states because we’ve limited these types of opportunities. We have to provide opportunities for future generations and this bill does that for pork producers.”

Opponents of the bill said ending the ban would put small, independent pork producers at risk. Critics focused on lobbying efforts in support of LB176 by Smithfield Foods and the pork processor’s ownership by WH Group which acquired Smithfield in 2013. The Nebraska Farmers Union, which opposed the bill, called ending the ban on packer-owned hogs the “chickenization” of the Nebraska pork industry.

“The majority of food consumers consistently prefer to buy food for their families from other families that farm rather than from corporate farms,” John Hansen, NeFU president, said in a statement. “Direct marketing and the Local Foods movement continues to grow. Yet, the Legislature voted to help Chinese government-owned Smithfield Foods, Inc. take over hog production in Nebraska by allowing them to directly own the hogs. That vertically integrated packer-controlled system of one-sided take-it or leave-it contracts with no cash markets or competition is similar to the poultry system that has victimized broiler producers across the nation. It is a sad day for family farm agriculture.”