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March 13th, 2002 Chris Lydgate | News Stories
 

Pig in a Pokey

     
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Well, there goes Saturday night.

If voters approve a proposed ballot measure, Oregonians will no longer be able to engage in the "cruel and inhumane confinement of pigs."

If approved, Initiative 179 would force farmers to give pigs enough room to "turn in a complete circle without touching any side of the enclosure," unless the pigs are within a week of giving birth or are nursing. Offenders could be punished by a fine of up to $20,000.

Petitioner Dr. Rich Wernick, a rheumatologist at Providence Portland Medical Center, declined to comment on the proposal. However, it appears to be modeled after a similar measure in Florida, where advocates complain that industrial farms shut pigs in tiny crates for years, leading to "physical and psychological maladies."

Local pig farmers say they use narrow pens, known as gestation crates, to prevent pregnant and nursing sows from rolling over on their piglets. "Some sows are clumsy or just lousy moms, and they'll step on a few and crush them," says Jacinta Duyck of Duyck's Peachy-Pig Farm in Hillsboro.

A typical sow will spend roughly five weeks in a crate until her piglets are weaned, Duyck says. Sows are usually bred twice a year. "I see their point, but the pigs don't spend that long in the crate," Duyck says. "They've got plenty of room; they just can't turn around all the way."

It's unclear whether the proposal would have much impact at small farms such as Peachy-Pig. The real target appears to be the factory farms, which don't exist in Oregon.

In fact, Oregon's pig industry is wallowing in decline. Between 1989 and 1999, the state's annual "pig crop" dwindled from 171,000 to 59,000 head. Duyck, for example, used to keep 200 farrowing sows; now she's down to 15.

Secretary of state Bill Bradbury has not yet approved Initiative 179 for circulation. Advocates hope to qualify it for the ballot in November.

 
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