Iowans push for packer ban at federal level -- Lawmakers renew their efforts after a judge overturns a state ban on livestock ownership.

January 24, 2003

By Jerry Perkins

Register Farm Editor

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jperkins@dmreg.com

Des Moines Register

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A federal judge's ruling that threw out Iowa's state law banning packer ownership of livestock has lit a fire under efforts to get a ban imposed nationally.

Judge Robert Pratt ruled Wednesday that Iowa's ban on packers owning livestock violated the U.S. Constitution by regulating interstate commerce, a power that the Constitution grants only to Congress.

Pratt's decision will build support in Congress for a national ban, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., said Thursday.

"I think the court decision will help," said Grassley, who reintroduced legislation last week in the Senate that would make it unlawful for a packer to own, feed or control livestock intended for slaughter. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., cosponsored the bill.

"This court case says that if you are to have a packer ban, you have to have it imposed nationally by Congress and not by the states," Grassley said.

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's largest hog producer and pork processor, challenged the Iowa law.

U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., said Thursday that he is seeking cosponsors for a bill similar to Grassley's and Harkin's bill. He expects to introduce the legislation in the House as early as next week.

Last year, the U.S. Senate approved similar legislation as part of the new farm law, but it was removed from the final version because of opposition in the House.

"The court's decision will stir up support," Boswell said. "We're going to push for a packer ban as much as we can."

Boswell said he expected to receive Republican support for a national packer ban from lawmakers from other Midwestern states where livestock production is an important part of the economy.

Boswell noted that Bob Goodlatte, who recently took over as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, comes from Virginia, where Smithfield has its corporate headquarters. Goodlatte couldn't be reached for comment.

"I don't know how (Goodlatte) will respond, but I think there will be strong feelings" of support for a packer ban, Boswell said. "This court decision gives us a prod."

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack called Thursday for Iowa's congressional delegation to support a federal ban.

"We must protect family farmers," he said. "The best way to do that is to ensure a competitive playing field."

At the Iowa statehouse, leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature said Thursday that they were still assessing the court decision, but said they hoped Congress will provide a national solution.

Democratic legislative leaders called for a national packer ban, but said immediate legislative action should be taken to revise the state's ban on packers owning livestock in a way that could pass legal muster.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has said that he intends to appeal Pratt's ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Roger McEowen, a legal expert on the issue, said Thursday that he believes the federal appeals court might overturn Pratt's decision.

"I"m not certain the appeals court will agree" with Pratt, said McEowen, a lawyer and agricultural law professor at Kansas State University.

"I think the appeals court will analyze the Iowa statute and see that Smithfield can do business outside the state of Iowa where other states don't have these laws. They just can't do those things in Iowa," said McEowen, who graduated from Iowa State University and the Drake University law school.

The constitutionality of a similar South Dakota law already is being considered by the appeals court. The decision in that case will give a strong indication of how it will see the constitutionality of the Iowa law, McEowen said.

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