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Pennsylvania farmers weigh in on EATS Act, animal welfare

The Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act would bar states from passing laws that affect agricultural production in other states. The act has gotten support from some lawmakers and animal agriculture leaders in Pennsylvania, who are concerned that the passage of the act would undermine markets that have opened for producers willing to make changes to their animal housing practices.

Brad Clemens, president of Clemens Food Group, says the EATS Act would undermine years of work the company has put in to prepare for California's Proposition 12, which establishes more stringent animal housing requirements for meat sold in the state. Clemens says his company has already transitioned all its sows and market hogs to the so-called "Ohio standard," which mandates all pigs live in an environment that allows them to lie down fully on their side without having to lie on each other and be able to easily stand up at all stages of production.

Brent Hershey, owner of Hershey Ag in Marietta, Pa., raises 3,200 sows and 80,000 market hogs per year. He says that two years ago, he did an experiment by eliminating gestation crates and replacing them with sow condos. He did this by cutting three crates and combining everything into one single pen, or cutting four crates into one single pen.

The transition has been both positive and negative, Hershey says. The number of finishing market hogs dropped significantly, he says, and the sow herd had to be moved off-site. As a result, new gestation barns are now having to be built. He estimates it costs about $700 per sow for the improvements.

For anyone hoping to transition to larger pens, Hershey says they should expect a reduction in herd size of about 35%, if they are just retrofitting an existing barn, and extra costs with having to build new barns.

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