December 1, 2006
By Mike Barnett
In the not too distant past, farmers and ranchers were recognized for their efforts in providing quality food products at affordable prices to our nation's population. Their values were understood and appreciated.
More and more it seems, family farms and ranches are being cast as "industrial" machines intent only on raking in profits without regard to the land, crops and/or livestock they raise.
In turn, animal rights and environmental groups have traditionally been cast as either bothersome "quacks" on the outskirts of society that really do little harm, or as radical extremists intent on changing the world through violence or destruction.
Times are changing my friends, and the implications are not good for agriculture. Look no further than the last election to see how animal rights and environmental groups are learning to go mainstream.
On Nov. 7, voters in Arizona approved Proposition 204, which prohibits veal crates for calves and gestation crates for pigs. A similar initiative was passed regarding gestation crates in Florida in 2002, and was successful in eliminating the small pig industry in the Sunshine State.
The Humane Society (not to be confused with local groups that run animal shelters), Arizona Humane Society, Animal Defense League of Arizona and Farm Sanctuary led the charge to pass Proposition 204. According to the Animal Agriculture Alliancea broad-based coalition of individual producers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry and retailersThe Humane Society alone contributed over $800,000 to back the ballot initiative.
Arizona voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 204 by a 61.5 percent to 38.5 percent margin.
Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers said agriculture was outspent by national animal rights groups by a three to one margin on television and radio advertising. He said there is no doubt those groups will head toward other states and then onto the national level.
In a message to state Farm Bureaus, Rogers quoted Peter Singer, Princeton professor and animal welfare activist, who was interviewed in a recent Time magazine. Singer told Time, once the Arizona initiative passes, "then the movement will roll on." According to the article: "The eventual goal of animal activists?" Federal legislation banning cruelty to farm animals."
Of course, nothing of that sort could ever happen in Texas. Or could it?
Consider the legislation passed recently in the House of Representatives regarding horse processing in Texas for human consumption overseas. Thankfully, most of the Texas delegation opposed that measure.
It passed, however, at the national leveldriven by public sentimentand two of the facilities that process horses in Texas could face closure if the bill passes in the Senate. The point is, public sentiment toward "protecting" animals is real and waiting to be tapped. And there are many groups such as The Humane Society that are all too willing to tap it.
The Humane Society's number one target, according to their website, is "factory farming." Although they don't define what a factory farm is, they advocate choosing "cage-free" animal products, or better yet, choosing a vegetarian option. And The Humane Society of the United States is just one of the groups pushing the animal welfare cause.
Farmers and ranchers know that the animals they raise are not abused. Telling that story to the general public, however, is getting harder and harder.
As Arizona Farm Bureau President Rogers said, animal rights groups are becoming "more emboldened than ever and they have a new allythe conservative voter who believes there is a moral issue in some of our husbandry practices."
The passage of Proposition 204 should be a wake-up call for animal agriculture. The votes in Florida in 2002 and in Arizona during this last election have given the animal rights groups a blueprint for success and will inspire them to go after loftier targets.
Agriculture needs to get its act together and develop a new game plan to counter these animal rights groups.
The alternativebeing legislated out of businessis not an option. It is, however, a very real possibility.