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California livestock law spurs group to seek protection for state farmers

BY KYLE ARNOLD Modified: February 4, 2009 at 4:48 am •  Published: February 4, 2009
Oklahoma farm and livestock groups are making a pre-emptive strike against animal rights activists.

On the heels of a California initiative passed by voters in November, a handful of farm groups — backed by key lawmakers — are trying to pass a state law that would give the Legislature exclusive right to make laws about farm animal treatment.

"In an ag state like Oklahoma, the Legislature knows how best to take care of the animals,” said Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and sponsor of the House version of the bill.

The California law puts restrictions on the poultry industry, such as giving chickens more living space, and contains other measures related to the confinement of pigs and calves.

Oklahoma agriculture groups fear that supporters of the California law, such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, will try to put a similar question on Oklahoma’s ballot.

Similar livestock treatment laws have been passed elsewhere, including Florida and Arizona.

Restrictions in such laws result in "a very inefficient way to raise livestock,” said Sam Knipp, spokesman for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which is spearheading the effort.

Livestock is a $2 billion industry in Oklahoma, and the state is second in the nation in the number of cattle, trailing only Texas.

Armes is confident that, with his chairmanship, the bill will glide through the legislative process. Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus, is sponsoring a similar bill.

The Humane Society has no plans to bring up a similar law in Oklahoma any time in the near future, said Cynthia Armstrong, the organization’s state director. Armstrong said the Humane Society supports the principles of the California law and that the group will fight against the Oklahoma bill on grounds that it takes away voters’ rights.

PETA does not plan to initiate a voter petition in Oklahoma but would certainly support one if it were introduced, said Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for the group.

Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Scott Dewald said more restrictions on the treatment of animals are unnecessary and would put the state at a competitive disadvantage.

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