Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, the sponsor of LB 176, argued during legislative floor debate that lifting the ban would end the attrition of hog production in the state.
“States with no packer bans are growing in hog production. Iowa, right next door, is number one in hog production with nearly ten times the hog production of Nebraska and South Dakota’s hog production grew five percent last year,” Schilz told colleagues. “The packer ban is not saving small farms and Nebraska is losing to our neighboring states who don’t have the ban.”
Opponents mounted a filibuster against the bill, but it was broken without a vote to spare, 33-to-12 with two senators not voting. The Unicameral advanced the bill to final round on a 32-to-12 vote with three senators not voting.
Opponents focused on one company in particular: Smithfield Foods, an American subsidiary of a Chinese packing company.
Schilz objected to how opponents characterized the company.
“And I keep hearing this argument and it really causes me consternation,” Schilz said. “Smithfield is a Nebraska company. Smithfield was here way before, even when it was Farmland if anybody remembers Farmland, okay. Smithfield has a facility here in Nebraska, in Crete. They employ thousands of people.”
The legislative debate pitted rural legislators against each other, offering two very different views on how lifting the packer ban would impact Nebraska agriculture. Supporters said it is necessary to spur growth in the state hog industry. Opponents countered that it would end independent hog production, ushering in corporate hog farms.
“If you look at what happened in the chicken industry, you can see where the hog industry is going. And a few years behind that, it will be the cattle industry that goes that way,” Senator Al Davis of Hyannis, a leading opponent of the bill, warned. “So virtually no chickens are raised independently anymore; just for the niche markets, that’s the only place.”
Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids left a meeting with lobbyists for Smithfield Foods unimpressed.
“One of the things that runs through my mind: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Sullivan told colleagues. “Don’t threaten me with the fact that these processing plants could conceivably leave our state. Don’t give me the idea that this might be some property tax relief. All of those are red herrings.”
Sullivan contended hog producers will become mere serfs, taking on all the risks of raising hogs while the packer takes the profits.