Smithfield Foods has had its day in Iowa court, and the ruling went the pork producer/processor’s way. At issue was Iowa’s law that prevents pork packers from owning livestock in the state. Smithfield, the nation’s No. 1 pork producer and processor, charged that the Iowa law infringes on interstate commerce.

On Jan. 22, a federal Judge in Iowa ruled that the law is unconstitutional. Judge Robert Pratt struck down the law that bans packer livestock ownership in the state.

Pratt’s decision stated that the ban "unconstitutionally discriminates against out-of-state interests in favor of local ones. The statute blatantly protects the rights of Iowans to engage in conduct forbidden to out-of-state entities," including Smithfield.

While this is a win for Smithfield, the battle isn’t over. Iowa’s Attorney General, Tom Miller, is disappointed by the ruling, and says he will appeal the case. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is co-sponsoring a bill in the Senate for a nationwide ban on packer livestock ownership, said it’s now even more urgent for Congress to address this issue. 

"This ruling can only be viewed as devastating to family farmers in Iowa," says Curtis Meier, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “The law was intended to allow packers to be packers and let farmers raise pigs." He points to the fact that it had unanimous support in passing the Iowa Legislature and that “a broad coalition of farm groups defended” the law. “Obviously, this court did not understand Iowa’s intent or approach,” he added.

The packer livestock ownership ban is part of Iowa’s 1975 corporate farming law. It was amended in 1988 and again last year to include the packer livestock ownership provision. This marks the first legal challenge to the state’s corporate farming law, which has served as a model for other states. Last May, a similar state law in South Dakota was overturned. It is now in a federal appeals court.

Richard Poulson, Smithfield’s general counsel, said the Iowa judge’s decision reaffirms the company’s position that "restrictive laws do nothing more than harm the people they are designed to protect."