US states to lure California poultry prodrucers

A year after Californians approved stricter rules on the treatment of farm animals, Idaho and other states are trying to lure away the Golden State's poultry and egg farmers with promises of friendlier regulations and lower costs.

In Idaho, as lawmakers convened Monday, Republican state Senator Tim Corder said he would introduce legislation designed to attract California chicken farmers who might consider relocating. In Nevada, Pershing County is aggressively recruiting poultry farmers in California, the nation's fifth-largest producer of eggs. Georgia's poultry industry also has reached out to some California farmers in a bid to woo them eastward, California egg-industry officials say.

The movement comes after California voters in November 2008 passed a ballot initiative called Proposition 2 designed to prevent "cruel confinement" of farm animals in cramped conditions, like small "battery cages" for egg-laying chickens, or "gestation crates" for pregnant pigs.

Such measures have grown more popular nationwide as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups have pushed to raise awareness of how animals are treated in the food-production system. Since 2002, similar provisions have passed in Florida, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the nation's largest farm groups, implored farmers at an annual convention in Seattle to "aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule." He applauded Ohio for passing a state constitutional amendment last year creating a "Livestock Care Standards Board" that would set animal-treatment rules.
The California initiative prohibits confinement of hogs, veal calves and poultry "in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs." The law doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, but farmers already are worried it will drive up costs, because many cages commonly used now probably will have to be scrapped for bigger cages or no cages at all.
US states with specific animal rights legislation

Laws governing confinement of livestock
bans confinement of piglets in crates
prohibits ‘cruel confinement of farm animals’
Prohibits confinement of veal calves and gestating pigs in small crates
Phases out pig and veal crates
Bans confinement of pigs in small crates
Bans confinement of veal calves and gestating pigs in small crates
Mandates roomier conditions for pigs, chickens and veal
"I've got guys saying they're unwilling to make an investment or try to raise capital, because they don't know how to comply" with the measure, said Fiona Hutton, a spokeswoman for the Association of California Egg Farmers.
Of course, moving to another state could be costly, too. Moreover, Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society, said farmers who flee California may wind up facing tougher rules anyway, because more retailers are seeking food raised under strict animal-welfare standards.
"It's not surprising that some of the factory farms would flock to states that are deregulated when it comes to animal welfare," said Mr. Pacelle. But "that is not a long-term answer."

Other states don't see it that way. "The vultures are circling," said Debbie Murdock, of the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association in California. Economic-development officials from Pershing County, Nevada, recently visited egg-industry officials in California to pitch Nevada as an alternative home. "We wanted to let them know that we do have the land, the climate, and we'll work with them," said Kathy Johnson, the county's economic development director. "We don't have these stringent regulations that are being imposed now in California."
In Idaho, where there's currently little poultry production, Doug Manning, economic-development director of the town of Burley, said he wanted to offer incentives to poultry farmers as a way to increase jobs and tax revenue in the area. He has heard from a few California farmers who "are looking at some options," Mr. Manning said. "We said, 'When you're ready, give us a chance.' "
Idaho is no stranger to California farmers. In the past decade, the state has attracted scores of dairy farmers from California seeking cheaper land and less regulation.

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