An Iowa federal judge's ruling in late January, striking down a long-standing law against packer ownership of hogs, has state organizations upset.

In his comments, Des Moines Judge Robert Platt ruled that Iowa's ban on packers owning livestock violates the U.S. Constitution by regulating interstate commerce, an authority only provided to Congress.

“We've long had a policy (since 1975) that we don't want packers to own livestock in the state of Iowa,” says Curtis Meier, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. He says if the Jan. 22 ruling is allowed to stand, it will be devastating to family farmers because it impedes market access, especially for smaller producers.

Meier operates a diversified farming business near Clarinda with his son and son-in-law, including a 140-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, a cow-calf operation and corn and soybean production.

IPPA delegates, at their recent annual meeting, voted to require packers slaughtering 100,000 or more hogs annually to control no more than 60% of their daily slaughter through ownership or captive supply agreements, for no longer than seven days prior to slaughter.

Delegates to the recent American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting narrowly approved a resolution ending its historical support for a ban on packer feeding of livestock. However, the group passed a resolution calling for a task force to study the impact of packers on livestock prices and effectiveness of mandatory price reporting.

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) delegates in December reaffirmed a policy supporting restrictions on packers or food processing companies owning or operating livestock production facilities.

IFBF President Craig Lang calls Judge Pratt's ruling “extremely disappointing” and says it has the potential to undermine the economic viability of Iowa's livestock farms and its rural communities.

IPPA and IFBF officials vow to support efforts by the Iowa attorney general's office to appeal the judge's ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, MO.

The ruling is expected to fuel efforts in Congress for a national ban on packer ownership, according to Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who recently reintroduced a bill making it unlawful for a packer to own, feed or control livestock intended for slaughter. The bill is co-authored by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

Smithfield Foods and two related hog producers, Murphy Family Farms (MFF) and Prestage-Stoecker Farms, sued the state after Smithfield acquired MFF with several large operations in Iowa three years ago. Murphy tried to divest its hog operations by selling them to Prestage-Stoecker. But Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller called the transaction a “sham” and attempted to block the sale.

Miller plans to seek a stay prohibiting packer ownership until the appeals court rules.