U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), have sponsored a bill that would fine and shut down livestock slaughter plants that repeatedly processed downed animals. Specifically, the graduated penalty phase would give USDA more authority to fine first-time offenders, hand down a one-year suspension for a second violation, and permanently shut down a facility with a third violation.

According to the legislation, USDA would be required to release the names of establishments that have received recalled products. That has been a touchy issue surrounding last month's Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. recall that involved 143 million pounds of beef. Two years ago, USDA proposed this very rule, but it was never approved.

On a different, but related note Colorado State Sen. Jim Isgar has introduced a bill in the state's general assembly to require the humane treatment of farm animals. He's trying to prevent a ballot initiative from animal-rights activists. "This will not be a bill that all the rural people will love, but the agriculture groups understand this is a step we can take to prevent a (ballot) initiative," said Isgar.

Colorado Senate Bill 201 would require veal calves and gestation sows to be kept in housing that allows them to stand up and turn around. The Humane Society of the United States has started a ballot initiative on the same topic. The group has indicated it will drop its ballot initiative if Isgar’s bill passes.

Also, in California, HSUS has collected nearly 800,000 signatures to place a ballot initiative that would allow voters to decide whether to ban gestation-sow stalls, veal crates and cages in chicken layer operations. A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to get he measure placed on California's November ballot.

The ballot initiative is called the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. If passed, it would take effect in 2015, and would prohibit producers from confining egg-laying hens, gestating sows and veal calves in cages that severely restrict the animals' normal movements. A counter group, called Californians for Sound Farm Animal Agriculture, was formed last fall the animal activists efforts toward the ballot initiative. CSFAA has expressed its alarm and concern at the prospect of voters dictating farming practices.