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N.J. Farm Animal Protections Upheld

By LINDA A. JOHNSON
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 20, 2007; 2:11 AM

NEWARK, N.J. -- A coalition of animal rights and food safety groups are stinging from a legal setback in their efforts to toughen New Jersey's standards for the humane treatment of farm animals.

A state appellate court unanimously decided Friday to reject the coalition's attempt to block new state standards which it claims are flawed.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, following a directive from the state Legislature, developed and adopted regulations governing humane care, raising and marketing of domestic livestock, affecting animals from poultry and rabbits to pigs and cows. Some of the regulations were adopted in June 2004 and others more recently.

The Farm Sanctuary, a half-dozen other animal welfare groups, organic consumers groups and individual farms appealed the regulations, arguing some allowed inhumane practices.

Farm Sanctuary said in a statement that it was disappointed by the appellate court's ruling.

"The department defined 'humane' as 'marked by compassion, sympathy and consideration for the welfare of animals,' but then produced standards that fly in the face of that definition and allow intolerable animal abuse," said Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary president.

Among the practices the groups cited in their appeal were: cutting tails off dairy cows to facilitate milking, confining pregnant pigs and veal calves in crates barely larger than their bodies, force-feeding ducks and geese to expand their livers to produce foie gras, and transporting emaciated animals and "downed ones," those unable to stand, to slaughter for human food.

Dr. Nancy Halpern, the state veterinarian, said downed cows cannot legally be taken to slaughter in this country and other animals could only be slaughtered if there were no concerns about disease and they could be transported humanely, not by dragging them.

She said trimming cow tails had been widespread years ago but now is done only occasionally. There are no veal-raising operations in New Jersey, Halpern added, and she is unaware of any farms that confine pregnant pigs in crates.

No foie gras is currently produced in New Jersey, although legislation to ban the practice was proposed last fall.

"We try to include even the contentious situations (in the rules) and made sure we review the available science within this country and other countries as well," Halpern said.

Tricia Ritterbusch, a spokeswoman for Farm Sanctuary, said that the groups had fought the regulations, even though New Jersey is not a major farm state and some of the practices questioned do not go on here, because it is the first state to enact such regulations.

"It sets a precedent for the rest of the country," she said, noting that while veal calves are not raised in New Jersey it is one of the top states for slaughtering veal.

Ritterbusch said another practice the group had protested, starving chickens that have stopped laying eggs to get them to resume laying, already has been phased out in New Jersey. Halpern said farmers may only change lighting conditions or the type of feed chickens receive to induce laying again.

___

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ The North Carolina Pork Council has asked legislators to create a pilot program that would test the feasibility of converting hog waste into electricity.

Raleigh-based utility Progress Energy said Monday it would participate in the program if legislators approve it. Murphy-Brown LLC, the Warsaw-based livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., and others developed the technology to capture methane gas from the farms' anaerobic treatment systems and convert it into electricity, the council said.

"This pilot program will help us see if it will be possible for producers to sell energy at a rate that allows them to justify the capital investment and cover the operating expenses for these projects," said R.C. Hunt, president of the North Carolina Pork Council and a contract hog producer.

Under the program, Progress Energy would purchase the electricity generated at about 18 cents per kilowatt hour _ significantly more than the 4.5 cents to the 5.5 cents usually paid by other non-utility generators, said Dana Yeganian, a Progress Energy spokeswoman.

The proposal would call for a seven-year pilot in which Progress Energy would start buying no later than late 2012, Yeganian said.

© 2007 The Associated Press