Millions spent to push for change at ballot box
By STEVE BROWN
California egg farmers and Ohio hog farmers know the Humane Society of the United States well.
In 2008, HSUS and related individuals contributed $4.1 million -- nearly half the total spent -- to push Proposition 2, a ballot measure to regulate how egg-laying chickens are treated.
The initiative requires that by Jan. 1, 2015, no farm animal will be confined or tethered in a way that prevents it from lying or sitting down, standing up, turning around or fully extending its limbs without touching another animal or an enclosure such as a cage or stall.
Still at issue is how much space is required. J.S. West, a commercial egg producer, filed a lawsuit in December 2010 seeking clarification on exactly what type of housing is acceptable. Its colony housing system provides 116 square inches per hen. But HSUS argues that Proposition 2 was "crystal clear" in requiring cage-free environments.
After collecting signatures for a similar ballot measure in Washington state, the egg industry and HSUS earlier this year agreed to seek federal legislation specifying how chickens are treated. Legislation is yet to be introduced in Congress.
Kelli Ludlum, public policy specialist at the American Farm Bureau, said it has been hard to find common ground with the HSUS.
"We agree with activists on the importance of providing healthy conditions," she said, "but their issues aren't based on real sound science. Animal scientists and managers know that gestation stalls can be implemented in a way to improve animal welfare."
HSUS has ignored that science, she said, and management of animals is not the organization's ultimate goal.
"The agenda is ending the consumption of meat products," she said.
The HSUS website calls for a "humane eating" campaign, specifically less consumption of meat, avoiding products from production systems HSUS disapproves of, and ultimately replacing meat and animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives.
Dave Warner, director of communications for the National Pork Producers Council, said the HSUS activities have had "a negative effect on food-animal-producing industry."
"In California, an awful lot of farrowing operations have moved out of the state," he said. "Those jobs have moved out to Idaho, I understand. The industry may be finished in California."
He said HSUS is also moving into states with more pork production.
In 2010 the HSUS, Ohioans for Humane Farms, Ohio agriculture leaders and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland agreed to phase out swine gestation crates over the next 15 years.
Animal activists such as the HSUS are not familiar with modern farm operations, Warner said.
Ludlum said being so far apart philosophically leaves no room for compromise.
"You have to come in with the notion of improving animal welfare, but (their) goal is to eliminate animal agriculture and producers' livelihoods," she said. "A ballot campaign doesn't provide an environment for dialogue, but a competition with winners and losers, and it doesn't improve animal welfare."