The Humane Society Began Its Battle with Farmers Right Here in Florida
Around about the lunch hour in Vale, South Dakota, on February 5, a 33-year-old cattle rancher finished a morning of blogging, then stepped outside with a bottle of wine and a Flip video camera.
Hello, my name is Troy Hadrick. Im a fifth-generation United States rancher in South Dakota, the man ad-libbed to the camera while standing amid a small clutch of cattle. I recently found out that Yellow Tail wines is going to be donating $100,000 to the wealthiest animal-rights organization in the world, the Humane Society of the United States a group who is actively trying to put farmers and ranchers out of business in this country. That being said, I cannot and will not support a company who is doing such a thing. This is the only thing I know to do now with this last bottle of Yellow Tail wine that was in our house.
In his cowboy hat and Carhartt jacket, Hadrick paused to cock the bottle of white at shoulder height, flick his wrist and send the contents pouring to the snow-covered earth like a stream of piss.
Humane Society vs. Farmers
I hope you will do the same, he concluded. Thank you for supporting American agriculture and the family farmers and ranchers in this country.
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Five minutes later, his 54-second Yellow Tail Fail clip posted to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, Hadrick finished his chores and skedaddled with his family to the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo. Back online that night, he was shocked at the viewing stats for his maiden voyage on Internet video.
First it was 500. Then several thousand. The tally kept climbing until, as Jim Klinker, the Arizona Farm Bureaus chief administrative officer, terms it, Yellow Tail done turned its tail and run!
Within two weeks the Australia-based wine giant announced it was rescinding the remainder of its $300,000 pledge to the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society.
The frustration shared by Hadrick and others had been bottled up for some time, but not in recent memory had a Humane Society donor buckled under such public pressure. Only a week later, Tennessee-based Pilot Travel Centers announced it would stop collecting Humane Society donations at its chain of roadway rest stops. Then the Dallas-based Mary Kay cosmetics company publicly clarified that a personal donation by an employees wife to the Humane Society had been misconstrued by the group as a corporate sponsorship.
Hadricks social-media sensation seemed to represent a tipping point in a battle that has had modern food producers playing defense for nearly a decade. Its farmers vs. activists. Agriculture vs. animal rights.
On one side: a phalanx of corporation- and family-owned farms that operate on large economies of scale, raising 10 billion animals a year and producing an affordable food supply for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
On the opposite side: the Humane Society, founded in 1954 as a protector for all animals, from dogs and cats to seals and whales to hens and cattle.
Never known for radical tendencies, the nonprofit had a mild-mannered reputation when it came to farm animals until its president and chief executive officer Wayne Pacelle grabbed the bull by its horns about a decade ago and launched an End Factory Farming campaign to wipe out the practice of lifelong livestock confinement in densely packed or restrictive crates and cages.
Under Pacelles direction there have been no protests, no threats to human life or other such fur-flinging, none of the shock and awe that has earned notoriety for other animal-rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Instead the Humane Society has favored a more political route. One strategy has been that of shareholder activism: purchasing minority stakes in publicly traded businesses such as Steak n Shake, then pressuring management to alter its buying practices.
But the groups primary m.o. is even more direct: Ask American voters whether, in Pacelles words, animals built to move should be allowed to move.
Pacelle (pronounced puh-cell-ee), who got the first so-called factory farm law passed in Florida eight years ago via a ballot initiative, has since chalked up wins in six additional states. Others are taking note: Last year lawmakers in four more states introduced copycat legislation.
Groups like the National Rifle Association have been using the political system for decades with a lot of success, observes Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and author of the seminal Animal Liberation, published in 1975. I think the Humane Society finally thought: Were as big as them in terms of public support; why dont we use some of that political clout?
The state-by-state offensive is considered far more winnable than getting a law passed through Congressional agriculture committees or a regulation adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture. [That agency is] concerned primarily with food safety, Marcia Kramer, legislative director of the Chicago-based animal-advocacy group National Anti-Vivisection Society, says of the USDA. Its easier to convince a voting population that this should be changed than a committee and an industry whose livelihood depends on producing as much as fast as they can and for the least possible cost.
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?
Frankie Hall figures 1999 marked the first time he and Wayne Pacelle came to the table about legislation to target confinement hog farming. As the Florida Farm Bureaus director of agriculture policy tells it, Pacelle wanted help passing a law at the state capitol. If that were to fail, Hall recalls the Humane Societys then-chief lobbyist explaining, the group would seek a vote of the people.
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.
Arizona was home to zero veal production. It was the nations 28th-ranked hog producer. On November 7, 2006, the ballot measure passed by a wider margin than Floridas: a 62 percent majority.
By all accounts (even those of the opponents) the Humane Societys political strategy was brilliant. Rather than march straight into Illinois the biggest pork-producing state that allows ballot measures the group had gone for what Mace Thornton, spokesman for the D.C.-based American Farm Bureau, calls the low-hanging fruit.
While the farm bureau certainly was paying attention, Thornton adds, the Humane Society wasnt really considered a force to be reckoned with until after Arizona. The pressure and the importance of the issue has been ratcheted up in each state since, he says.
Case in point: California.
In February 2008 a slaughterhouse in southern California shut its doors following a six-week undercover investigation by a Humane Society worker. The staffer had witnessed workers dragging downer cattle animals too ill or injured to stand and forcing them onto the kill line with electrical prods, chains and forklifts, surreptitiously recording the activity on video.
The revolting footage, says Pacelle, made me want to vomit.
The Humane Society presented the video to state prosecutors, who issued criminal animal-cruelty charges against some of the plant employees. Because downer cattle are considered potential transmitters of E. coli and mad cow disease, the revelation also led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.
It would have been a public-relations coup for any animal-rights group, not to mention one gearing up for its biggest anti-factory farming showdown yet.
California is the United States fifth-largest egg producer, and this time the Humane Society aimed to outlaw not only pig and veal crates, but also battery cages tightly packed pens used in industrial egg production. The initiative was certified for the November 08 ballot, a day when voters would flock to the polls to pick the next U.S. president.
Russell Simmons, Alicia Silverstone, Hilary Duff, Robert Redford and other A-listers lent their celebrity to the cause. Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi hosted a Bel-Air gala that netted more than $1 million to finance the campaign.
Californians for Safe Food, the opposition, collected its campaign funds primarily from the egg industry.
Two weeks before the election, Oprah Winfrey featured both sides on her eponymous daytime television show. Prime-time advertisements bombarded viewers. As in the previous race, the Yes for Prop 2! campaign showed footage of pigs gnawing at metal crates, veal calves struggling to stand while tethered to their pens and chickens fighting for space to flap their wings. Californians for Safe Food countered with warnings that food prices would rise, eggs would be trucked in from Mexico and food safety would be compromised.
By election day the two sides had spent about $10 million apiece.
The Humane Society swayed 63.5 percent of the voters.
As Arizona had learned, you cant begin to fit 50 years of animal science on a bumper sticker or a 30-second spot, says the Arizona Farm Bureaus Jim Klinker. All the other side had to say was, The pig cant turn around. The pig cant turn around. Their side is so easy to sell to an urbanized public. [People] just dont think thats fair for the pig.
Fewer than eight blocks of D.C.s infamous K Street separate the Humane Society and HumaneWatch.org, each home to a 21st-century town crier broadcasting his message far beyond the Beltway via the blogosphere.
The substance of the messages is literally poles apart HumaneWatch.org bills itself as the watchdog of the Humane Society but to the analytical eye, the parallels between each bloggers desire to earn credibility with his audience are strikingly similar.
One points out his Yale University degree, the other his Dartmouth College bona fides. One sports an image of himself cradling his cat. (Though technically he and his ex now share the cat in a joint custody arrangement.) The other is depicted getting kissed by a dog. (Its unclear whose dog; when asked he becomes visibly irritated and refuses to comment.)
Pacelle (the former) and HumaneWatchs David Martosko (the latter) may author their own blogs, but behind each cyber-outpost is a well-oiled political apparatus. And in their writings and talking points, the men keep tabs on one another like hawks.
Pacelle and Martosko have never met. But they did share the same air three years ago during a Congressional hearing on animal welfare. In testimony that day, Martosko offered to treat Pacelle to a meal of the most humanely raised veal on the planet under one condition: Pacelle would have to eat it in front of a few dozen cameras.
Martosko knew Pacelle wouldnt bite. Hes a vegan.
Has been since 1985, when he founded Yales first animal-rights group after seeing hog farms with a college buddy from Iowa and mulling over mans authority to exert power over animals in a way that contradicted the latters nature.
The sentiment was strong from the beginning, from the age of three or four, Pacelle explains during an interview in the Humane Societys headquarters. But there was no epiphany. No moment where I shot a bird and saw the last gasp of the animal as I walked up to him or her.
At 44, Pacelle is lean and long-limbed, with the facial architecture of a cover boy: dark complexion, a thick, slate-hued mane and a smile that seems to sparkle. He may have experienced an entire spectrum of human-animal interactions, from gliding across ice floes with baby seals to being threatened by bear hunters, but hes not exactly a spirited storyteller. Universally described as a gifted communicator, his speech is measured, his diction precise.
When he was younger, he was concerned about animal issues but he wasnt out there saying, We have to do something radical or violent, observes Singer, the Princeton University bioethicist. I dont think hes dispassionate. I think he realizes that to be politically active you have to be calm and take the long-term view.
After ten years as its lobbyist, Pacelle became head of the Humane Society in 2004. For decades the group had focused primarily on issues like fur trapping, cockfighting and hunting. His pitch for the top job, he says, centered on curbing the most serious abuses in the field of industrialized agriculture by using the political system.
For some activists, spray-painting fur wearers or protesting a biomedical company in the buff might have come easier than scaling the rungs of bureaucracy. But the hardball approach seems to fit Pacelles temperament. My father was a high school football coach, and I was a competitive tennis player, he explains. Im a sore loser.
To hear Martosko tell it, Pacelle draws his sword for the money $228,981 in 2008, according to IRS records and the opportunity to manhandle companies.
In an interview at the Starbucks below his office, having declined a request to meet at work, the 39-year-old Martosko details his own youth in the Drew Carey suburbs of Cleveland, opera studies at Dartmouth and a current paycheck that he is contractually obligated not to disclose, but one he says doesnt afford him fancy stuff like foie gras. (He has never tried it.)
Martosko is husky, though not Drew Carey-size, his delivery breathless and buoyant. He is an opposition researcher for Richard Berman, a controversial lobbyist whose firm manages the Center for Consumer Freedom, whose funders come from the food and restaurant industries, though Berman declines to identify them.
CCF hatched the HumaneWatch.org website in late 2008 but let it lie dormant until February of this year, just as the Humane Societys 2010 legislative push got under way. The site is becoming a clearinghouse for social-media uprisings against the Humane Society, all of which Martosko catalogues in catchy, snarky prose.
He says the animal-rights movement reminds him of a religion. Every animal is a person and every person is an animal, and were no better than they are, he mimics. Thats their creed. I dont agree with it, but I find it fascinating to watch how they live out their faith.
The prevailing sentiment among activists and scholars is that man does not have dominion over animals. As sentient beings, they deserve freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; from pain, injury and disease; from fear and distress; and the freedom to express normal behavior.
So: Is that animal welfare, or is it animal rights?
According to Peter Singer, animal rights is a convenient catchall for Americans, because, he says, They imbibe their Bill of Rights with their mothers milk. In reality, explains the Australian philosopher, that descriptor is too absolutist. Realistic progress for animals, Singer says, can only be incremental.
Frivolous though it may seem, the distinction between welfare and rights is important to people like Pacelle and Martosko, for whom message means everything. Pacelle eschews the rights terminology.
Which makes Martosko detect a conspiracy.
He believes Pacelle is intentionally softening his rhetoric in order to disguise his belief that animals have the moral right to not be eaten. Pacelle, he is convinced, is an animal-agriculture abolitionist who wishes veganism upon everyone.
The rhetoric resonates: Martosko is in demand among commodity groups around the nation to teach the industrial lot that its not enough just to tell the truth about yourself. You also have to tell the truth about your opponent.
Via blog posts, bus-stop billboards and full-page ads in the New York Times and USA Today, HumaneWatch.org aims to be the go-to resource for that effort, not by offering a defense of industrial food production but by launching a frontal attack on the Humane Society.
Martoskos favorite nugget so far consists of recent telephone-polling data showing that 59 percent of the 1,008 Americans queried believe the Humane Society contributes most of its funds to shelters that help dogs and cats. Not so, says Martosko, pointing to IRS records showing that less than 1 percent of the groups expenses go to hands-on dog and cat sheltering.
Pacelle counters with a laundry list of HSUS programs dealing directly or indirectly with sheltering and pets, and he challenges Martosko to show evidence of deceptive fundraising practices.
As for the absurd notion that hes out to abolish livestock production, Pacelle is dismissive. We are an organization with 11 million supporters, and David Martosko gets his money from a handful of animal-abuse companies, and he wont disclose who they are. His group has not cared for one animal, sheltered one homeless person or provided a cure for one disease. They are an entity that works to subvert the work of organizations trying to benefit a civil society.
Hes a paid gun.
Nine hundred miles from Washington, D.C., in the tiny town of New Florence, Missouri (population 735), a farmer is gearing up for his spring lambing season, solidifying plans to sell his product at farmers markets in St. Louis 80 miles to the east and fretting that his state is next on the Humane Societys war map.
Taking up this profession, you have to fight the weather, you have to fight disease, you have to fight so much, says Dave Hillebrand. You shouldnt have to worry about the next piece of legislation coming down the pike.
The Humane Society is seeking a November ballot measure in Missouri to outlaw so-called puppy mills. But its an incursion that has the states ag rank and file fearing the group will tackle farming and ranching next. Lawmakers are so rattled that the Missouri House of Representatives has issued a preemptive strike: It passed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban anyone from seeking a ballot measure concerning crops or livestock if it is not based upon generally accepted scientific principles.
Hillebrand, though, is no industrial farmer. His 700 sheep nosh on fescue and perennial rye, sea salt and kelp. His operation involves no confinement. For the past ten years, Hillebrands flock has had more than 160 acres to mow.
Yet hes just as scared as his large-scale competitors that broadly written laws formulated by outsiders could spell practices that are cost-prohibitive or that go against the grain of animal husbandry. If they dictate to me how to treat my animals, says the sheep man, Ill pull the plug.
Its not knee-jerk libertarianism, insist fellow small-scale farmers around the nation. The food system in this country quite frankly sucks in every way possible, starting with food-safety issues, the whole nine yards, observes Iowa Farmers Union president Chris Petersen, who pasture-raises hogs on the Iowa-Minnesota border. Now, whether its Food & Water Watch or Humane Society at the national level, I think theyre doing a lot of good work. At the same time, though, theyre interfering.
Politics is a delicate art, Petersen elaborates. Outside groups cant parade into a state raising hell for old-school animal husbandry. Let me give you an example, he says. Bobby Kennedy Jr., who I am the best of friends with I can call him on his cell phone! he came to Iowa in 2002 and stepped in it real bad when he said CAFOs are a bigger threat to Americans than Osama bin Laden. It was a year before we recovered from that deal! Farm Bureau and all them guys were so mad. We lost a whole bunch of meat out of our back-end cheeks for that one.
Petersen reserves the right to weigh in on the Humane Societys agenda he cant opine before talking to them, he says. But the larger point stands. The activists need to engage all kinds of farmers when trying to cut deals and remember the cardinal rule in politics: The locals know best.
Look at Ohio, he adds. I absolutely dont like the way Humane Society rolled into that state and basically ignored the people doing things the right way.
By the right way, Petersen means the Ohio Farmers Union. In February last year, the Humane Society asked the Ohio Farm Bureau to help craft an anti-confinement law and shepherd it through the state legislature. The nonprofit didnt invite the Farmers Union to the table, neither to weigh in nor to help broker a compromise when the talks broke down.
Farm bureau spokesman Joe Cornely recalls the rendezvous with the activists all too well. Mr. Pacelle basically said, This is what were going to do. You can help us, or fight us. Well, its not a negotiation when somebody says, These are the terms of your surrender!
The states commodity groups decided they werent going to play ball. Instead, with the farm bureaus help, they launched their own ballot-measure campaign to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a politically appointed regulatory group with full authority over animal-welfare issues.
The measure passed handily last November, and the tactic is now being copied in at least nine other states.
Its a development many animal-welfare advocates find troubling.
The problem is that some of the language in these bills calls for including generally accepted farm-management practices and that includes confinement farming. So they want to codify that as an accepted standard, says Kramer, at the National Anti-Vivisection Society. It would make it harder to change later on, or to bring suits against a particular farm that was excessively harming animals.
Ohio is the nations second-largest egg producer and ranks ninth in hog production. Those and other industries last year spent more than $4 million on the standards-board campaign and theyll likely have to open their checkbooks once again this election cycle.
We didnt spend one dime to oppose [the board], says Pacelle. We didnt like it. We thought it was clearly an attempt to block a constitutional freedom and an attempt to lock up existing practices. He adds: They spent $4 million passing it, and theres still a [ballot] measure.
The Humane Society is currently collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment that would require the Ohio livestock board to enforce anti-confinement standards for hogs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. The amendment would also outlaw dragging around downer cows and require all sick farm animals to be humanely euthanized. If it passes, the industry would have to meet all standards by 2016.
Advocates of fair trade decry the populist tactics. The Humane Society is dividing people and making our jobs a lot harder, says Tim Gibbons, communications director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. Theyre causing the industry to say, Youre either for us, or youre for the Humane Society. And thats not the truth.
Gibbons says the D.C. group has put independent farmers, many of whom oppose confinement, between a rock and a hard place. To support the Humane Society would be to incur the wrath of big ag in their state and potentially endanger their businesses, Gibbons asserts. But endorsing livestock boards could subject the small farmers to costly, burdensome regulations favored by big ag and similarly endanger their livelihood.
You dont have to be either/or, Gibbons insists. There is another position out there, and thats having independent family farmers raising livestock ethically on open, competitive markets. Its good for a state, and for farmers, and our national security, and for a whole multitude of reasons its good for the economy.
Troy and Stacy Hadricks spiel begins with a photo of a busty babe in a lemon-yellow bikini.
Do you see this woman in yellow up here, holding the sign saying, KFC tortures chicks? Troy asks his audience. Shes a protestor for PETA, and shes probably the only chick getting tortured right there. You want to know why? You see that snow on the ground? Thats Juneau, Alaska. Not so warm. And I dont think shes got her winter thong on.
Its a mild March night on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Thanks to the forgiving Red River, the Hadricks Real Enemies of Agriculture talk this year hasnt been flooded out, and the couple has the next 90 minutes to show the up-and-comer ag crowd the face of the opposition, then equip them with a defense arsenal.
Troy runs down a roster of activist groups PETA (They say slavery was as bad as livestock handling), the Humane Society (Dont tell me theyre not a vegan organization! Look at the recipe section on their website), the Animal Liberation Front (These are the guys that blow up professors houses) before Stacy names the ag communitys worst enemy:
Sorry, guys. No offense to anyone here in the room, but its you and me.
The couple launched its motivational-speaking business, Advocates for Ag, four years ago. The premise is simple: With modern food production under attack, somebody needed to school farmers and ranchers in public relations. As the Hadricks like to say, Those of us in agriculture are kind of like Sasquatch or Bigfoot: Everybodys heard of one but never seen one before.
The couples antidote is to talk, teach and touch. Stacy tells the NDSU students, Troy and I truly believe that conversations with one person at a time can change the perception of agriculture.
The Hadricks came to this vocation after an extended conversation with one influential person in particular.
Back in 2001 their neighbor heard from a journalist friend looking to learn about modern cattle ranching. Before long the New York Times Magazine writer was set up with Stacys father and uncle, who own and operate Blair Ranch, on which the extended family lives.
The reporter decided to buy a steer from the Blairs but have them take care of it as they would their own. This way he could follow the typical beef cow from birth to slaughter and gain an understanding of the business slim profit margins.
The animal No. 534 as the ranchers referred to it spent its first six months on the grassy ranch in Vale before getting trucked to a crowded Kansas feedlot, where over the next eight months it fattened to 1,200 pounds on a diet of corn and antibiotics.
Then it was off to the slaughterhouse to be stunned to death and processed.
The opportunity to put beef on the front page of the New York Times wow! recalls Troy. We wanted to do the best possible job that we could.
But the morning the article appeared in the Sunday magazine, the ranchers felt like theyd made a huge mistake by showing how the proverbial sausage gets made. It sent shock waves through the entire beef industry, Hadrick explains to the Fargo audience. Cash prices dropped. Futures dropped. Packing plants and feed yards worried about protests. And every single person who read that article had their perception of reality shifted in the wrong direction.
Their phone started ringing. Hadrick recounts how he was called a rotten, horrible, disgraceful human being and told hed rot in Hell. Somebody wanted to buy a steer and put it on a farm sanctuary in New York to live out the rest of its natural course, he says, adding, We told him the steer was on its natural course. Its a steer.
Hadrick had been a 25-year-old ranch hand at the time, taking care of No. 534 and corresponding regularly with that now-famous scribe:
Adding insult to injury, says Hadrick, are Pollans hugely successful Omnivores Dilemma which was derived from the seminal Sunday-magazine article his appearances on national television programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show and his lucrative speaking gigs across America. (Pollan commands $20,000 a speech; the Hadricks get $2,000 to $3,000).
Perhaps worst of all was the floating of Pollans name in the mainstream press as a potential U.S. agriculture secretary. Hes not an expert, Hadrick sums up for the Fargo crowd. You are. And youve got to get out and tell your story so some journalism professor at UCBerkeley that would be Pollan doesnt do it for you.
After the session the Hadricks describe how their feeling of betrayal by Pollan propelled them into activism. He called [the day after the article appeared] and said, I guess youre not too happy with me, Troy recalls. He ended up talking with my father-in-law and basically admitting, you know, that to make it a good story that people would read, he had to sensationalize it.
Through an assistant, Pollan declined to be interviewed for this article.
Advocates for Ag urges farmers and ranchers to take every opportunity at state fairs, meat counters, even at ride lines at Disney World to tell consumers one-on-one about the animal care and science that go into producing cheap meat. That way when the curtain goes up on a movie like Food Inc., viewers will have heard the other side from the horses mouth.
Just because youre a big farm doesnt mean you dont care about your animals, Hadrick emphasizes. Is it negligence when a rancher brings a calf into the house on a winter night and warms it with a blow dryer? Or uses ultrasound to monitor a pregnant heifer? Its so frustrating for us to hear people say were abusing our livestock, says the rancher.
The Hadricks say their speaking has accelerated over the past year and a half. Theyve been to both coasts and up and down the nations midsection, speaking to meat cutters, veterinarians and farmers of all stripes, handing out I Met a Rancher Today stickers at every stop.
Stacy works a nine-to-five job at the state ag departments extension office, is studying for a masters degree and keeps house with three kids. Troy toils on his blog, where he runs down press on everything from poverty to activist outrage at the sport known as donkey basketball. He has been urged to shoot another clip like the Yellow Tail rant, but the right opportunity hasnt come along yet.
Though they miss day-to-day ranching, for now this is the right tack, the Hadricks say even though beef cattle arent a current Humane Society target.
Say tomorrow they got pig crates, veal crates and [chicken] cages banned throughout the country, Troy posits. Theyre not just going to stop there and say, OK, we met our goals. Theyre going to say, Whats next? If we dont talk about the care that hog and chicken and veal producers put into their animals, then there wont be anybody left to help stand up for us when its our turn.
Call it the Colorado compromise.
In early 2007 Wayne Pacelle ran into Colorado governor Bill Ritter and announced his intention to go for the jugular in his state. Ritter persuaded Pacelle to meet with farmers instead. After the first tête-à-tête, at a Colorado steak house, it was clear a negotiator would be needed.
Enter Bernard Rollin.
They had 12 million bucks allocated to do this referendum, and the livestock association told me that their people told them that if they dont fight it, theyll lose three to one, and if they do fight it, theyll lose two to one, recalls Rollin, a professor of philosophy and animal science at Colorado State University. They didnt have the money to fight it, so they asked me to fight it. Well, I had never met Wayne Pacelle. I work alone.
Two months later Im on a panel with Pacelle and he came over and said, I really admire your work, Ive used it, and so forth. And I said, Then with all due respect, dont screw me in my own state.
The conversation eventually concluded, according to Rollin, with Pacelle acquiescing. He said, OK, if you can broker a deal, Ill cancel the referendum. And 150 hours of unpaid time later, we had the deal. My wife will still tell you how many dinners I ate with one phone in each ear and the face in the plate.
Rollin is an unusual animal, as it were. He authored the first ethics textbook for veterinarians and was an architect of a federal law enforcing certain standards for animals used in research labs. A New York Jew who settled in Colorado 40 years ago, hes a weightlifting enthusiast who owns three motorcycles and flips the bird at helmet laws.
When it comes to livestock, Rollin enjoys cred both with the independents and with the industry. He has some attitude, but hes a great person and I respect him well, says Ivan Steinke, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council. Hes an ethicist and when I say ethicist, he doesnt dis. He just believes theres proper procedures and ethics in production agriculture and whether youre a cow, calf or dairy man, or hog operator or poultry guy, we have the responsibility to do it in a certain way. [Bernie and I] dont agree on 100 percent of the issues, but we can debate them.
Ask Rollin whose side hes on and the response is easy: Im in it for the animals.
He traces his approach back to an ancient, biblical social contract of animal husbandry, suggesting that those who are good to animals will have animals that are productive for them. In Rollins view, science and technology have no place in the discussion.
The example I always use is: Just because I own my own motorcycle doesnt mean I can ride on the sidewalk at a hundred miles an hour or throw wheelies on Main Street. The line we hear all the time is, I own those animals, I can do whatever I goddamn please. Thats not true particularly not now.
Societal mores are changing, Rollin notes, and in response some food corporations are beginning to stipulate that livestock be raised a certain way. Smithfield, a hog packer, has a long-term plan to phase out gestation crates on all its corporate-owned and subcontractor-operated farms. Burger King and Wal-Mart are buying more cage-free eggs.
Life is like an ox cart thats going to move along. You can stop when it stops, and drink when it drinks. Or you can be dragged and beaten and be bloody, Rollin sums up. You can do this on your own or get legislated by people who dont necessarily understand the issues.
With Rollin playing referee, Colorados pork producers won a few concessions: ten years to phase out the pig crates, for one; and a loophole that allows sows to stay semi-crated until confirmed pregnant, which can take a month. The Humane Society also agreed not to push the battery-cage issue, leaving the egg industry unaffected.
For now, anyway.
California agribusiness may have thought it had seen the last of the activists for a while after the 08 vote. Yet the group returned to the state capitol last year pushing a ban on another industrial practice it finds abhorrent. This time the dairy industry was the target.
And the politicking was successful. In October Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law banning tail docking, the amputation of a milk cows tail, which is commonly performed without anesthetic. Some dairymen have long believed tail docking improves hygiene, udder health and the quality of the milk produced, though scientific research has not borne out those theories and the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the practice.
Meanwhile, after the Humane Society told Michigans agriculture industry last summer that it wanted changes there, the large-scale egg and pork producers took a page out of Ohios playbook and attempted to put a livestock-standards board in place. But state legislators wouldnt green light it.
So the industry switched strategies and took a cue from Colorado, brokering a phase-out of crates and cages.
Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, says his members are ecstatic, very upbeat, very happy, dead confident they did the right thing.
Byrum adds, The irony is if [the anti-confinement ballot measure] passes in Ohio, those farmers will have to comply with the provisions quicker than we will here in Michigan.
Will Ohio be the game changer?
The industry certainly hopes so. One good sign, says Joe Cornely, the states farm bureau spokesman, is that neither gubernatorial candidate supports the Humane Societys campaign.
But Wayne Pacelle says hes more confident than ever. We are pro-farmer. And were pro-animal. And we dont see any incompatibility between those two positions.
According to ag-industry vet Wes Jamison, an associate professor of communications at Palm Beach Atlantic University, the campaign will come down not to facts, but to messaging.
Animal agriculture has either tried to argue science, or economics, or food security. Theyve done everything but the moral argument for what they do with animals. And if they cant make the moral case, they will lose in the long run.
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