Farmers get a bad rap. They work their fingers to the bone to feed us, and most Americans have never even met one. They sink their savings into one of the riskiest investments known to man, and all most consumers can seem to do is gripe about the price of breakfast. And to add insult to injury, the wealthy animal rights industry – led by vegetarian activists at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – wants to put most of them out of business. Because, you know, they cheerfully fill our refrigerators with meat and dairy foods.
HSUS has flexed its (unearned) reputational muscles in Maine, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and California – tying the hands of ranchers, egg farmers, and pork producers at every turn. But in Missouri, there may be reason to be optimistic.
HSUS is currently pushing a ballot initiative in the Show-Me State that threatens to regulate dog breeding out of existence by making it illegal to own too many animals. (And guess who decides what "too many" means?) We can see the writing on the wall: HSUS will certainly leverage a November 2010 victory to target livestock farmers next. Who’s going to sink their life savings into hog farming if a group of carpet-bagging DC bunny-huggers can limit how much bacon and ham a farmer can produce?
At the Missouri Farm Bureau’s annual meeting last month, farmers got an earful about what HSUS has planned for them. Chris Chinn, a Missouri hog producer and national advocate for livestock owners, talked about a new "SWAT" program she helped develop. (SWAT stands for "Spokespersons Working for Agriculture Together.") Chinn’s goal is to help farmers and ranchers communicate reliable information to consumers about how animals are really treated before they become two-piece dinners and rump roasts. SWAT training includes classes that teach farmers how to handle media situations and stay on topic. "We don’t want to play defense, we want to be proactive," said Chinn. "We want to get out there ahead of HSUS and tell our story."
Farmers are mobilizing against HSUS in Ohio too. In November, HSUS suffered a landslide setback in the Buckeye State with the passage of Issue 2. This measure created a state livestock board to oversee animal welfare policy, while limiting the influence of out-of-state radicals like those at HSUS.
HSUS did not mount a significant campaign against Issue 2, but it’s working behind the scenes to make the measure’s voter-approved policies irrelevant. Consider Ohio House Bill 341, which HSUS is pushing hard. It would force Ohio’s new livestock board to mimic everything California voters did in 2008 when they passed the heavily HSUS-financed "Prop. 2."
Will this end-run around Ohio voters succeed? Possibly. HSUS needed four full pages to list all its lobbying activities in its 2008 tax return. The group is everything you think of when you imagine the phrase "moneyed special interest." And remember: HSUS president Wayne Pacelle boasted that California’s Prop. 2 was a blueprint for the rest of the nation.
If HSUS buys itself some power over Ohio agriculture, it will take over farm policy and regulate livestock producers to death. Which, come to think of it, is what HSUS is after in the first place. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
And as long as we’ve got your attention, take five minutes today and hug a farmer. Go on. It’s a nice gesture. And so is throwing that HSUS fundraising letter in the trash.
Do it. You heard us.