- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers moved one step closer Tuesday to lifting the state’s ban on meatpacker-owned hogs, despite objections by senators who say it protects small and independent producers.

The measure won first-round approval on a 28-10 vote after supporters managed to overcome an eight-hour-long filibuster.

Opponents in the Legislature said the bill would allow major corporations, such as the Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, to squeeze out small and independent farmers and control the supply chain. They pointed to the poultry industry, where consolidations have given a handful of processors substantial leverage over producers because of their market dominance.

“Who are we really trying to help here?” said Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids. “… I’d suggest to you this would make producers little more than serfs.”

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said he introduced the bill to keep Nebraska’s hog industry on pace with nearby states South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, where it has grown faster.

“Nebraska is not keeping pace with those leading hog-producing states,” he said.

Schilz said the bill lets farmers contract with whomever they wish and follows the trend of farms growing larger to stay competitive. In addition, he said consumers have come to expect the “quality, quantity and consistency” that large companies provide.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who frequently advocates for smaller government and a free market, said the bill would allow packers to control the market and influence prices.

“You cannot claim that cradle-to-grave livestock farming is free market. It isn’t,” Groene said.

The bill has divided farm groups. The Nebraska Pork Producers, the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture have endorsed the legislation; the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, the Center for Rural Affairs and the Nebraska Farmers Union oppose it.

Senators voted 34-9 to end the filibuster, one more than the minimum required. Two more votes on the bill are required before it goes to Gov. Pete Ricketts.

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The bill is LB176

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