By MEHAK BANSIL
Capital News Service
LANSING—A controversial farm animal welfare bill would limit the restraint of pregnant pigs, veal calves and egg-laying birds, including chickens, turkeys and ducks.
Awaiting the governor’s signature, the bill would outlaw confining the animals so they could not lie down, stand up, turn around or extend their limbs.
The final bill reflects a compromise among the Humane Society of the United States, the Michigan Allied Poultry Industries Inc., and the Michigan Pork Producers Association.
The compromise was reached only after the Washington-based animal welfare group warned it would launch a ballot initiative if the industry groups were unwilling to reach an agreement.
An important source of income for the state, poultry and pork farming is prevalent on the western side of the state.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that the top three poultry-producing counties are Ottawa, Allegan and Ionia, and the top three hog-producing counties are Allegan, Cass and Ottawa.
The Michigan Humane Society, although not an affiliate of the Washington group, supports the bill and said it hopes that common interests of the groups will protect the animals from further abuse.
“People in Michigan want to make sure that animals on our farms are living good lives,” said Jennifer Robertson, public relations coordinator for the Michigan humane group headquartered in Bingham Farms.
“We truly hope that the revisions to the bills will help Michigan become a leader in these regards. We look forward to working with the farm industry going forward to ensure positive changes for thousands of animals in Michigan,” she said.
Several states, including Maine, Colorado and Arizona, already prohibit several of the practices covered by the legislation. A ballot initiative in California to give egg-laying hens more space was successful.
According to George House, executive director of the poultry industry group based in Ada, surveys of Michigan residents indicated farmers would lose a ballot initiative and then would most likely face stricter regulations.
“Because there’s no chicken psychologists, our measures of appropriate animal welfare standards rely on three factors,” House said. “How many birds die in production, how many eggs are laid and the amount of feed it takes to produce a dozen eggs.
“It’s all about the cost.”
With the current state of the economy, cost is another concern. However, both House and Sam Hynes, head of the pork producers group based in Holt, said the bill’s 10-year implementation period should allow the industries to find ways to comply without drastically increasing prices for consumers.
Because concessions by the two industries caused a considerable difference from the original standards, some co-sponsors of the original bill asked that their names be removed.
One is Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, who is also a farmer.
“This wasn’t the same bill we introduced,” Daley said. “This bill took a radical organization and adopted their standards under the scare of a ballot initiative.”
The Michigan Farm Bureau endorsed the measure because the rival parties had come to a compromise.
“I cannot say food safety, animal welfare and economic weights are taken into account in this legislation,” said Tonia Ritter, manager of state governmental affairs for the Farm Bureau said. “However, we supported the bill because the poultry and pork industries stood behind it.”
The chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Simpson, D-Jackson, accepted the compromise for the same reason, according to his chief of staff, Mark Sadler.