Oklahoma Attorney General Wrong on Extreme Confinement Issues, Attempts to Overturn Massachusetts Law

Oklahoma Attorney General Wrong on Extreme Confinement Issues, Attempts to Overturn Massachusetts Law

Kirkpatrick Policy Group

KPG Rejects Argument Presented in Legal Filing

(OKLAHOMA CITY) — We disagree. While Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has fought for many worthy causes, his recent statement touting his amicus brief that seeks to overturn a Massachusetts farm-animal welfare law is predicated on a flawed understanding of the U.S. pork production industry. The law Drummond targets was approved by 78 percent of Massachusetts voters in 2016, and its legal premise has been upheld as a proper exercise of state authority by the Supreme Court of the United States.

“As a matter of education, we wish to correct the record and provide more context around this vital issue of importance to Oklahoma farmers and consumers, who demand more transparency and humane conditions for farm animals,” says Kirkpatrick Policy Group volunteer board member Louisa McCune. “In Oklahoma, 95.4 percent of all hogs live on thirty-three industrial farms. The state’s competitive hog market is a thing of the past. Oklahoma lost more agriculture jobs during the 1990s—when large-scale swine farming began en masse—than during the Dust Bowl era. This matters to the future of Oklahoma agriculture. Laws in other states won’t hurt Oklahoma’s pork industry nearly as much as lack of competition at home. Imprisoning pregnant sow pigs in cages scarcely larger than their own bodies doesn’t help Oklahoma pig farmers.”

The Massachusetts law, known as Question 3, requires that uncooked pork sold in the state come from breeding sow pigs that were raised with enough space to stand up, spread their limbs, and turn around freely, luxuries that gestation crates for pregnant pigs do not afford. The law also applies to veal calves and egg-laying hens. It went into effect in August 2023, after being delayed by legal challenges from industrial pork operators. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld California’s nearly identical law in May 2023. Drummond was one of twelve state attorneys general that filed an October 10 amicus brief in a Massachusetts lawsuit, arguing that Question 3 would hurt Oklahoma pork producers.

“The U.S. Supreme Court already settled this matter,” said Dr. Thomas Pool, DVM, a lifelong Oklahoma beef and dairy cattleman. “This amicus brief amounts to political pandering to an American industry dominated by Chinese and Brazilian companies. It is unsettling that the Oklahoma AG would seek to overturn an American election and let loose Chinese-owned pork producers to operate with impunity.”

According to the National Farmers Union, recent trends have concentrated the U.S. pork industry’s slaughter and processing sectors. The four-firm concentration ratio (CR4), a metric that specifies the market share for the top four firms in an industry, has risen sharply among domestic pork processors. The CR4 for U.S. pork increased from 33 percent in 1976 to 70 percent in 2018. In 2022, estimates indicate that the top four U.S. pork companies – WH Group/Smithfield (China), JBS USA (Brazil), Hormel (USA), and Tyson (USA) – amounted to 75.8 percent of domestic production. Economists say that a CR4 between 40 – 70 percent is considered an oligopoly, and a CR4 between 70 – 100 percent is considered a monopoly. Foreign entities are controlling the U.S. pork industry and its lobby. Why protect them?

While eleven states have banned gestation crates, California and Massachusetts are the only two that restrict the in-state sale of pork from producers relying on immobilizing crates. A mere 6 percent of U.S. pork production is needed for compliance under the court-approved laws. According to a recent report published by Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, there is already ample crate-free supply capacity to meet that demand. The bans in those two states do not apply to sausage, hot dogs, or other products not considered “whole pork meat.”

In reality, how much Oklahoma pork is actually sold in Massachusetts? According to a USDA report, in 2022, the state produced 1,988,362,000 pounds of pork. According to the Oklahoma Pork Council, the state exports roughly two billion pounds to foreign markets. That doesn’t leave much left to sell to Massachusetts. Considering these facts, it is misleading to say that Oklahoma pork producers would be significantly hurt by these new regulations. There are forty-eight other states and the rest of the world that Oklahoma pork producers can sell to—and do. The largest pork producer in Oklahoma, Seaboard Farms, exports its Guymon-produced pork to China, Japan, and South Korea.

About 40 percent of the nation’s six million breeding sows now live in group housing, a shift due to policy changes, corporate requirements, and consumer demand, Pool said. The vast majority of Oklahoma’s 470,000 breeding sow pigs live on farms using gestation crates. Kirkpatrick Policy Group calls for an end to this cruel practice. Oklahomans agree. During a recent survey, 91 percent of state residents polled felt strongly there should be policies in place requiring food animals enough space to move.

Crate-free pork production is the future, and Kirkpatrick Policy Group aims to pave the way as it advocates for two bills in the Oklahoma Legislature that will help state pig farmers make the transition. HB 2438, by Representative Jason Lowe, and SB 66, by Senator George Young, would provide grants for the renovation and improvement of breeding sow pig housing facilities. These bills represent pro-business policies that create jobs and economic opportunities in rural Oklahoma.

Kirkpatrick Policy Group respects Attorney General Drummond and the good things he has done for Oklahoma. We ask that he use his considerable influence and voice to speak to the facts of this issue and avoid the political bidding of the state and national pork lobby.

Kirkpatrick Policy Group is a non-partisan, independent, 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization established in 2017 to identify, support, and advocate for positions on issues affecting all Oklahomans, including concern for the arts and arts education, animals, women’s reproductive health, and protecting the state’s initiative and referendum process. Improving the quality of life for Oklahomans is KPG’s primary vision, seeking to accomplish this through its values of collaboration, respect, education, and stewardship.