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Its Florida again: Activists targeting Arizona
By Gary Truitt
The state of Florida is the home of Disney World, where nothing is real and everything is planned, scripted and automated. Florida is also the home of the hanging chad and right-to-life court battles. It also has the distinction of being the place the animal rights activists scored their first ballot box victory. Now they are moving on to Arizona for yet another attack on animal agriculture.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary, two of the most well-funded and radical animal rights groups, have once again joined forces to support the Animal Defense League of Arizona. On September 10, this group of misguided bleeding hearts kicked off a petition drive to place an amendment on the November 2006 ballot. The amendment would outlaw the use of gestation crates by pork producers and veal crates by veal producers.

These are the same folks who spent $465,000 to successfully pass a ballot amendment in Florida in 2002 that gave constitutional rights to pregnant sows. Like Florida, Arizona has a very small pork industry and a very large senior citizen population. These are two of the reasons the activists have targeted that state.

They are trying to win in a few easy states to gain momentum and set a precedent before they attack a major livestock state like Iowa or Indiana, said David Martosko, with the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a nonprofit group on the front lines of the battle against bunny huggers.

This strategy is obvious from the ADLA website that refers to the precedent setting citizen initiative passed in Florida in 2002 as a reason for the Arizona effort.

So, how are the pork and veal industries reacting to this threat? Are they organizing local farmers, pouring money into public information campaigns in Arizona, or making producers in other states aware of this threat?

No, in fact, as far as I can discover, they are doing next to nothing. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) does not even list animal rights as a critical issue on their website. The Arizona Farm Bureau website makes no mention of the petition drive in their state.

I could not find a website for the Arizona Pork Producers Association. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) does have a nice one-page fact sheet on gestation housing for swine on their website. It is direct and not too technical, but does not contain any links to other sources.

Too often, it is only when an animal rights issue becomes front-page news that livestock groups react. If we would get involved early in the game, we might be able to keep some of these issues from becoming news. If we stop a petition drive in the beginning, we can keep the issue off the ballot.

The key to winning against the well-organized and well-funded propaganda machine is consumer education. If we tell people more about how we raise and treat animals, they will be less likely to believe the hysterical ranting of the activists.

Martosko had less than kind words for the effort farm groups have made in the area of consumer education. He cites the Internet as an example, Go to any search engine like Google or Yahoo and type in the word gestation crate. The first 50 to 100 matches you get will be from animal activists.

I tried it on Google and got 40,500 matches. As I waded through the list, I got to a USDA research paper on animal housing about item 40 and did not get to a farm organization link until number 60. All of the other sites and links were from animal rights groups. Even at www.pork.org - the official site of the National Pork Board - there is no front-page information on animal care. A search of the phrase gestation crates produced 331 results most of which were technical research papers from universities. None were directed at consumers.

While there are many other areas in which farm groups and livestock organizations are addressing the animal rights issue, the lack of a strong internet presence on this issue is a glaring weakness; especially since the Internet is increasingly the place people go to get information or do research.

The seeming lack of a well-funded and coordinated response to this latest ballot box challenge is also disturbing. The NPB is beginning to address this issue, last week they announced the hiring of a full time animal welfare specialist. Sherrie Niekamp will be responsible for the development and implementation of animal welfare programs and coordinating checkoff animal welfare research, according to a NPB statement. In an interview, she discussed how animal rights groups were working more on the local level and how producers needed to respond to these challenges.

Many times on these pages I have urged the farm community to take the animal rights threat seriously. Until we do, and mount a strong response with plenty of dollars behind it, we will see more situations like Florida and Arizona.

Published in the November 16, 2005 issue of Farm World.

11/16/2005