In an effort to prevent a ballot initiative authored by animal-rights activists, Colorado Sen. Jim Isgar has introduced a bill to require the humane treatment of farm animals. Senate Bill 201 would require pregnant sows to be kept in housing that allows increased freedom of movement. The Humane Society of the United States has started its own ballot initiative on the same topic.

Isgar is Majority Caucus Chair, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee and a lifelong rancher. He represents District 6 in Southwest Colorado. "This will not be a bill that all the rural people love, but the agriculture groups understand this is a step we can take to prevent a (ballot) initiative," said Isgar. "When we end up with initiatives, they're not worded well." Isgar's bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.

Humane Society representatives have written their ballot initiative and face several hearings before they can start circulating petitions to get on the November ballot. Farm-animal confinement is a top priority for the Humane Society, says the group’s Senior Director Paul Shapiro. "The real problem is intensive confinement of animals in cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives," Shapiro said. In addition to veal calves and pigs, the ballot initiative also seeks better treatment of hens in "battery cages," small wire cages that don't let the chickens move around. Isgar's bill does not address the treatment of chickens, but the Humane Society still supports his bill, Shapiro said.

The group will drop its ballot initiative if Isgar's bill passes, he said. Pork producers would see the most changes. Colorado has 150,000 breeding sows, and many are kept in gestation crates, Shapiro said. The crates prevent sows from rolling over and crushing their offspring. The bill allows sows to be placed in crates 12 days before they give birth. The Colorado Pork Producers Council announced late last year that it will begin phasing out gestation crates in response to public concerns.

Retailers such as Safeway and Burger King are moving away from producers who use gestation crates, Shapiro said. They have been banned in Florida, Arizona, Oregon and the European Union, and the Humane Society is backing a ballot initiative in California this year on gestation crates. If Isgar's bill passes, gestation crates would be phased out in 10 years.

Source: Durango Herald.com