Senate bill would restrict who can perform farm inspections

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—An Indiana lawmaker wants to stop other states from telling Hoosier farmers how to run their businesses.

Senate Bill 489, authored by Wadesville Republican Sen. Jim Tomes, would give the state Board of Animal Health exclusive authority over inspecting facilities that produce eggs, dairy products and raise livestock or poultry. That means other states that purchase Indiana products and animal welfare activists would no longer be able to conduct their own inspections.

A local agriculture expert, Craig Curry, explained to the Senate Agriculture Committee Monday that out-of-state regulations impact the Hoosier farm businesses.

Agriculture expert Craig Curry testified in support of Senate Bill 489 because he said Hoosier farmers shouldn’t have to follow other state regulations to sell their products outside Indiana. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com

For example, Indiana hatcheries produce eggs that are purchased out of state, particularly from California. In order for California to purchase Indiana eggs, the requirements for how the chickens are raised and how the eggs are produced, must also meet California standards––not just Indiana standards, he said.

“What happens when I have 49 states with 49 different sets of rules that say, I think you should do it this way?” Curry said. “How does a producer follow 56 different rules?”

The proposed legislation would alleviate the confusion by requiring those other states to conduct their inspections only through the Indiana Board of Animal Health, which would inspect for violations against Indiana agriculture regulations.

Forrest Lucas, founder and owner of Protect the Harvest and Lucas Oil, said the different changes made by outside states can be difficult for farmers to keep up with.

California has changed its cage laws for hens twice within the past few years. The state first required facilities to double the size of the cages for hens, calves and pigs, which took effect in 2015. Last year, the state passed a proposition where all hens must be cage-free, and all eggs sold in California must be cage-free by 2022.

“What’s going to happen after that? If you get these chickens, you got the cages and special barns built?” Lucas said. “They can change it again.”

The question among members of the committee was if SB 489 would have a negative impact on Hoosier farming businesses because states might take their business elsewhere, Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said.

“They’re going to be shopping for states that are going to allow them to come do this,” Taylor said.

Curry argued that the other states would comply with Indiana’s inspections and standards because they still need the state’s products. He said California produces around two billion eggs now, but they need nine billion.

Joe Miller, general counsel for Rose Acre Farms, located in Seymour, said the company is the largest family-owned egg producer in Indiana, and its business would be hurt if SB 489 became law.

Rose Acre Farms contracts with many companies out of state, and they are required to meet the outside state’s standards in order to sell eggs there. He said he thinks the legislation would be great as a federal regulation, but there are unintended consequences at the state levels.

“We would not be able to produce eggs in this state,” Miller said. “We’re going to be cut out.”

The bill would additionally stop inspections from individuals, government groups or any other entity, including animal welfare activist organizations.

John Bolin, of Martinsville, is a former police officer, and he formerly worked for an animal welfare organization. He resigned upon discovering the ethical violations made within the group, he said. He rose in support of the bill because he said these organizations do not need access onto farms.

The people in these organizations present themselves as professionals on animal health, but they are pushing an agenda, he said. As he discovered, the leaders of the group he worked for did not care about citizens’ rights or the farmers involved, and state board has had to intervene on their attempts to seize animals in the past.

“I’m ashamed I went to work for this organization,” Bolin said. “They don’t need to be on the farms in this state.”

The vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Colleen O’Brien, said in a written statement that the organization does not believe its work would be affected by SB 489 in Indiana.

The current legislation states that there would be no fiscal impact if passed. Sarah Simpson, director of legal affairs and enforcement at the animal health, said the language is not clear on whether the bill would increase the work of the board.

The bill states the board would conduct inspections for other state companies, if required, which could require more time and more employees, Simpson said.

“There is nothing in this bill that addresses the need to fund the personnel costs for additional inspections,” she said.

The committee withheld a vote in order to further review the language in the bill.

Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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