Pork Producers Have a Stake In Immigration Policy

Immigrant labor is a part of today’s U.S. pork industry—from farm to packing plant. Brian Sexton

Published on: Jun 12, 2007

Directors of the National Pork Producers Council, meeting last week at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, endorsed legislation calling for major reform of United States immigration policy. Jill Appell, an Illinois hog producer and president of NPPC, said NPPC's 14-member board voted to support a bill that has been introduced in Congress which seeks to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.

The NPPC board, meeting at the 19th annual World Pork Expo at the state Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, decided to take a stand on the immigration issue because hog farmers and packing companies both need a reliable source of labor.

NPPC endorses immigration bill
Pork processing plants in Iowa and other states have a large Hispanic work force and some hog producers hire immigrants to work on hog farms. "Pork producers need immigration reform so we have a stable work force," says Appell. "We need workers in packing plants and on farms and comprehensive immigration reform can address the pork industry's needs."

Raids like the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency made on packing plants in Iowa and elsewhere last winter disrupted markets for livestock farmers. Appell points out that Swift & Company, a large American packer, said its plants didn't return to normal employment levels for three months and Swift lost a lot of money. Swift was sold to a Brazilian company last month.

The NPPC directors endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. NPPC directors want to see security tightened at U.S. borders, and for the U.S. to provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million people that are in the United States illegally. NPPC wants employers to check the legal status of all employees through a data base that would be kept on all immigrants.

Pork producers discuss ethanol
The NPPC board also discussed high corn prices that are being driven by the continuing increase in ethanol production. "Pork producers are pro-renewable energy, but we do have some concerns. Our basic concern is the availability of corn," she says. "We need to make sure there is a balance established so that there is feed available for our hogs. The last problem we need is to not be able to find corn when we need it."

Is the livestock industry going to evolve away from using so much corn and find something else that's a little bit cheaper to use in rations along with corn? "That is one of the things we need more research on," says Appell. "Not only on how to use the distillers grains but other things we can use as a feed source."

Congress is getting ready to write a new farm bill in 2007. Congress is asking the livestock industry how livestock producers view renewable fuels. "One of the things we've told Congress very clearly is that we want a balance between the use of corn for fuel as well as feed," she says. "We're very open to what kind of balance we need but also we want to make sure we have that balance and have the feed available for our pigs."

Animal welfare issues debated
Farmers in Iowa take pork production pretty much for granted. But there are some states that are pushing legislation which would force pork producers to raise hogs differently. "These animal welfare issues and legislative proposals are something we have to deal with," says Appell.

Two states have already banned the use of sow crates for gestating sows. There are other states that are contemplating similar legislation. "Our position is that there is more than one way to raise pigs," she says. "Producers need to decide what is best for the pig and what is best for the particular system. Particular types of systems to raise hogs should not be legislated."

There is some consumer concern about the appearance of sow stalls—they look like they may be hard on the sows. "But people need to understand the reasons why hog producers switched to using sow stalls," says Appell. "Sow stalls are friendlier to the welfare of the sows than having sows in groups. Stalls are more animal friendly compared to having sows in groups where the sows tend to fight and beat up one another. When you raise sows in pens where they mix and mingle, they often fight and there can be broken bones and lacerations."

If sows aren't separated there can also be nutrition problems because the sows in groups don't share their food and the bigger sows keep the smaller sows from getting enough to eat. "We need to deal with these issues. The animal welfare lobby isn't going away," says Appell.

- Brian Sexton is the 2007 Wallaces Farmer summer intern and a student at Iowa State University.