Sheep producers in Iowa may be able to launch a marketing campaign like the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” promotion because of a bill that has cleared the Iowa House and Senate.

The legislation would allow sheep producers in Iowa to vote to boost the fee they pay when selling a lamb, ram or ewe. It’s 10-cents per animal today, but the referendum could raise that to 25-cents per animal. Senator Joe Seng, a Democrat from Davenport, expects the sheep industry to use the money for something rivaling “the other white meat” promotion.

“You hear of all the pork promotion,” Seng said. “I think that it’s needed possibly to raise the awareness of the healthy attributes of sheep.”

Lamb has fewer calories and less fat than beef and pork. Seng suggests promoting lamb as a menu option might boost the number of Iowa farmers who raise sheep.

“When I drive up to Des Moines, there is only one herd of sheep that I go by on the interstate,” Seng said.

The bill did not win unanimous approval in the Senate, however. Sixteen senators voted against the idea. Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines, questioned why Republicans wanted to force sheep producers to pay this promotional fee while Republicans resist efforts to do the same when it comes to labor union dues.

“I would hope that my good Republican friends onm the other side of the aisle that care so much about ‘Right to Work’ would vote this bill down,” Dearden said. “You’re forcing people to pay dues. Isn’t that horrible?”

A farmer who is also a state senator said the sheep promotional fund allows farmers who don’t want to pay the fee to pay it when they sell their animals, but then apply to have it refunded. Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, opposed the idea of a mandatory fee, even with the potential of a refund.

“I think if they want to pay extra because they want to promote themselves, then they should do that,” Chelgren said. “No one’s stopping them from giving extra money, but the very fact that we’re asking them to go ahead and mandate that they contribute by the people who vote for it — I don’t believe in tyranny by the majority.”

But a majority of senators voted for the bill, which had already won approval in the House. It’s now up to Governor Branstad to decide if he supports the concept.

AUDIO of Thursday’s Senate debate of House File 2459.