Smithfield Foods officials have moved its charge that Iowa’s ban on packer ownership of livestock is unconstitutional to the federal-court level.

The legal question being argued is whether Iowa can keep meatpackers from owning livestock in the state. The case also raises the debate on the structure of agricultural production and individual states’ attempts to ensure that independent producers can compete with vertically integrated companies like Smithfield.

In it’s complaint against the law, Smithfield says vertical integration allows it to maintain “a high degree of quality control…to produce a consistently excellent line of value-added pork products and processed meats for national and international consumption.”

Smithfield’s lawyers say the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution by interfering with interstate commerce and imposes a “taking without compensation” issue. The law also discriminates against Smithfield because cooperatives and other businesses with more than 60 percent farmer ownership are exempt from the ban, say Smithfield lawyers.

Smithfield’s challenge is the first constitutional challenge to Iowa’s corporate farming law. The law was first passed in 1975 and amended in 1988 and again earlier this year to also ban packer financing of livestock operations.

The law prohibits beef or pork processors from owning, controlling and operating livestock operations. It also says a producer cannot enter into contract feeding arrangements with Iowa hog producers.

Iowa is one of nine Midwestern states that have statutory limitations on how agriculture is structured. The Iowa law has been used as a model for other states.

Des Moines Register