Gestation stalls fall to Oregon lawmakers


Portland, Ore. - The Oregon Legislature banned swine gestation stalls last month, the third state to prohibit the controversial housing practice.

PORTLAND, ORE. — The Oregon Legislature banned swine gestation stalls last month, the third state to prohibit the controversial housing practice.

The new law exempts veterinarians and applies to pregnant-pig confinement after 2012.

But while animal activists celebrate the measure, its passage lacks resistance from opponents — a signal, insiders say, of industry's apparent resignation to the housing system's demise in small agriculture states.

By all accounts, Senate Bill 694's quiet enactment lacked the high-stakes conflict previously waged between anti-stall activists and agriculture groups that support the longstanding housing system.

Even Oregon's swine producers reportedly rolled over on the issue, telling lawmakers they don't use stalls to house their pigs. Their position sharply contrasts with emotionally charged battles previously fought in Arizona and Florida, which, like Oregon, have only a handful swine producers. Activists, on a mission to change public sentiment against sow stalls in small agriculture states before tackling larger ones, argue the housing system is cruel because it fails to allow sows to turn around and limits their back-and-forth movement.

But industry supporters conclude alternative housing systems such as open pens are detrimental to swine health due to the likelihood of pig-on-pig attacks. The American Veterinary Medical Association's science-based evidence shows that standard 2-foot-by-7-foot pens protect breeding sows from injury and stress. When it comes to swine gestation stalls, organized veterinary medicine fails to pinpoint a superior housing method.

Ultimate defeat

To make that point clear to the public, the Arizona Farm Bureau and National Pork Producers Council spent roughly $1 million in a failed 2006 campaign against a statewide ban that passed via citizen referendum. Four years earlier, Florida residents witnessed a similar battle during the passage of that state's ballot measure.

By comparison, the Oregon bill "sailed right through," says Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association took a neutral stance, and the state's farm bureau failed to vigorously lobby against the initiative.

After the demise of Arizona's campaign, industry officials conceded that their message, which failed to mold into a consumer-friendly sound byte, was at a steep disadvantage, Burkgren contends.

"The activists have a one-sentence campaign: 'the sow can't turn around.' We don't have a magic bullet to counter that," he says.

On the move

Just how far that will take activists such as the Humane Society of the United States in their attempts to ban sow stalls nationwide remains to be seen. At presstime, California lawmakers face Assembly Bill 594, which sets minimal standards for space where domesticated mammals or birds used for food or fiber are kept in confinement.

In addition, other widespread housing practices are taking heat. This year, lawmakers in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington considered but did not pass bills to prohibit the confinement of layer hens. AVMA officials expect such measures to reappear in 2008 legislatures.

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