Animal rights groups strike again

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


Anti-animal agriculture group Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States are teaming up in Washington state on a new ballot initiative dictating how egg-laying chickens should be housed.

The initiative follows on the heels of Proposition 2 in California, where they pulled out all of the stops to smear the poultry industry and animal agriculture in general. The Washington state campaign is sure to offer more of the same.

Among their tactics will be painting animal agriculture with a broad brush, portraying all farmers and ranchers as uncaring and abusive toward their poultry and livestock.

Another tactic will be to say that the proposition won't affect the price of eggs or other food. The Washington proposition would also impose its standard on out-of-state producers that sell eggs in Washington. That means the price of every egg sold in Washington will go up, making food even more expensive for low-income families struggling through the deepest recession in decades.

Still another tactic is to be non-specific. The California proposition was purposely written unclearly so no one can reasonably be expected to meet its conditions.

The ultimate goal is to take away the option of eating meat. Farm Sanctuary in its position statement says it opposes eating meat and supports only a vegan diet. This proposition may be initially aimed at chickens, but the sponsor's ultimate goal is to take meat and eggs off the dinner table.

HSUS is a well-funded political machine. With annual revenue of $135 million, the group's goal is to reshape agriculture according to its specifications. In California, Florida, Ohio and Michigan it has bullied farmers and ranchers, forcing them either to accede to its wishes or face costly initiative battles.

HSUS has already been pushing Washington egg producers to cave in to its demands, or face an initiative that will target a well-meaning but generally misinformed public.

"We are generally reluctant to proceed with ballot initiatives, and prefer negotiated agreements, as we achieved not too long ago with agricultural leaders in Michigan," HSUS said in a call to arms on its website. "But when talks fail, we are left without other options."

Those are not the words of compromise.

To their credit, egg producers have resisted, instead relying on common sense and practical experience. While HSUS argues the current chicken houses cause stress, producers know that stressed birds do not lay eggs. If HSUS is correct, the producers ask, where do all of those eggs come from?

Washington producers have responded to the threats from Farm Sanctuary and HSUS by saying they would prefer that the Legislature set up a system that requires the state Department of Agriculture to determine how poultry should be handled. That makes more sense than allowing anti-agriculture groups from the East Coast to dictate it.

If HSUS is a bully, then Farm Sanctuary is absolute in its stated goal of ending animal agriculture. "The days of factory farming are numbered and we believe we will live to see a time when factory farming is history," the group's position statement states. "That day is within our reach and it will mark a great victory on the political front."

Make no mistake about it. Anyone involved in animal agriculture -- producers, suppliers and others -- has a huge stake in this. Even those producers who have free-range poultry, backyard growers, organic producers and others should be forewarned. They are not exempt from the whims of groups like these.

They do not seek compromise. They seek to impose their will on animal agriculture.

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