Farmers have found a new four-letter word: HSUS, as in the Humane Society of the United States, says a report in the Des Moines Register.

The organization, with a budget of $130 million this year, has the livestock industry on its heels by winning ballot measures restricting how animals can be housed and through a series of undercover investigations of packinghouses and farms, most recently at a series of Iowa egg operations.

What the industry's response should be occupied much of an annual two-day conference held this week by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a coalition of industry groups, including producers, meatpackers and feed companies.

A ballot measure that voters approved in California by 63 percent to 37 percent in 2008 requires hogs, hens and other livestock to be given more space, and the Humane Society is gathering signatures for a similar measure in Ohio. Similar measures carried in Florida and Arizona.

"Look at the margin of victory," Michael Zumwinkle, director of government relations for meatpacking giant Cargill Inc., told the industry representatives. "In each and every case, the margin of victory was resounding. That ... is the challenge we face."

The Humane Society's undercover work also is forcing the industry to spend money it may not have otherwise.

Pork processors, for example, are divided over the sow-housing issue. Two of the leading processors are moving away from the crates. The nation's No. 1 pork processor and hog producer, Smithfield Foods, is phasing out the use of the crates in its sow operations. Rival Cargill Inc. announced last year that it had reached a goal of having at least half its contract farms no longer using the crates.

"The Smithfield decision was based on what our customers wanted," said Don Butler, director of government affairs for Murphy-Brown LLC, Smithfield's hog-production division. "They asked for it, and we're trying to give them what they asked for."

He said Murphy-Brown had converted a relatively small percentage of its sow operations so far to the new type of housing because of the recent downturn in the hog industry but was now pressing ahead with the conversion, expected to cost $300 million.

Critics of the sow stalls say they are inhumane because they don't give the animals enough room to turn around.

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Source: Des Moines Register