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For a long time, the ag industry didnt seem to see a way to slap away the Humane Societys whip hand. But within the past year, through social media, influence peddling and, most recently, preemptive political maneuvering, farmers big and small have begun to circle the wagons to protect their livelihood.
In Ohio last year, for instance, commodity groups organized to pass a ballot measure instituting a politically appointed board with regulatory authority over all farm-animal welfare issues. The tactic was a direct response to the Humane Societys announcement that it intended to make Ohio its next battleground.
This year lawmakers in at least nine other states are considering adopting similar boards.
It wont be possible for the Humane Society to win over the entire nation via its current tactic, because 26 U.S. states dont permit ballot initiatives. As the nonprofit continues to strategize, Pacelle is tight-lipped on details. Its like chess, he says. You have to see what the other guy does before you make your move.
As the battle goes on, the question remains: Who should decide what we put on our plates? Politicians? The 2 million farmers and ranchers who produce the food? Or the 307 million Americans who buy it?
They got body-slammed in the legislature, Hall recounts. But they were very patient. They knew exactly what they was going to do one way or another. Wayne is sharp as a tack thats one thing about him. He aint no dummy.
The Humane Society was mobilizing to turn back an industrial tide that had been rising for more than 60 years. Ever since World War II, agriculture in the U.S. had been decreasingly diversified and increasingly consolidated into ever-larger corporations.
As Singer writes in Animal Liberation, agriculture had turned into agribusiness.
Old-school animal husbandry gradually gave way to higher-tech operations. Livestock that previously foraged for feed were warehoused inside concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, where food delivery was mechanized and regulated (and manure amassed through the floor).
The system was efficient in more ways than one. It allowed for few variables, lowering costs and virtually guaranteeing that every porterhouse on every American plate could be counted upon to look and taste pretty much the same.
But to make the animals as productive as possible in the modern environment, a few twists of nature were necessary. For one, livestock had to be bred more quickly and slaughtered sooner. Traits like aggressiveness had to be selectively bred out so animals would reside calmly in a cage or crate or on a paved feedlot.
Its a system that was initially trumpeted for democratizing what previously had been a luxury and then largely ignored.
Only relatively recently have the perceived horrors of the factory farm begun to percolate through popular parlance. Best-selling reportage such as Eric Schlossers Fast Food Nation and The Omnivores Dilemma, written by Michael Pollan, not to mention the 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc. all cast livestock confinement in a negative light and sounded alarm bells for human health by showing how CAFOs and the antibiotic-laced diets required to keep livestock healthy in crowded environments may be contributing to the spread of virulent new superbugs.
In the view of the Humane Society, a nation that had lost touch with its food supply was primed for an intervention.
As the stripped-down wording of the public referenda demonstrate, the nonprofits current agenda is straightforward: Animals are entitled to a place to stand up, lie down and turn around freely, and fully extend all limbs.
Florida made for an attractive guinea pig.
Ranking 33rd in hog production, the state lacked an obvious deep-pocketed opponent for the Humane Societys End Factory Farming campaign. Moreover, its population centers are stacked predominantly on the urban coasts, far from farmlands.
On November 5, 2002, a state constitutional amendment passed with 55 percent of the vote, banning crates for pregnant sows. (The apparatus doesnt permit the occupant to turn more than its head.)
According to the farm bureaus Hall, the new law only affected one farm and 3,000 hogs.
Four years later that farmer had abandoned the pork trade for the peanut business. The Campaign for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers reckoned he was the perfect spokesman for its Hogwash! commercials opposing Proposition 204, the Humane Societys second attempted ballot measure.
This time the animal-welfare group sought to criminalize crates for pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal. (The latter, prized for their pale white flesh, typically are tethered at the neck to fencing that prevents them from acquiring any red muscle mass.) For its TV ads, the Humane Society tapped no less a lightning rod than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, often described as the toughest sheriff in America.