How Colorado cooled the controversy between the Humane Society and big agriculture

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On November 5, 2002, a state constitutional amendment passed with 55 percent of the vote, banning crates for pregnant sows. (The apparatus doesn't permit the occupant to turn more than its head.) According to Hall, the new law affected only one farm and 3,000 hogs.

Four years later, that farmer had abandoned the pork trade for the peanut business. The Campaign for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers reckoned he was the perfect spokesman for its "Hogwash!" commercials opposing Proposition 204, the Humane Society's second attempted ballot measure.

This time the animal-welfare group sought to criminalize crates for pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal. (The latter, prized for their pale white flesh, typically are tethered at the neck to fencing that prevents them from acquiring any red muscle mass.) For its TV ads, the Humane Society tapped no less a lightning rod than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, often described as "the toughest sheriff in America."

Arizona was home to zero veal production. It was the nation's 28th-ranked hog producer. On November 7, 2006, the ballot measure passed by a wider margin than Florida's: a 62 percent majority.

By all accounts (even those of the opponents), the Humane Society's political strategy was brilliant. Rather than march straight into Illinois — the biggest pork-producing state that allows ballot measures — the group had gone for what Mace Thornton, spokesman for the D.C.-based American Farm Bureau, calls the "low-hanging fruit."

While the farm bureau certainly had been paying attention, the Humane Society wasn't really considered a force to be reckoned with until the Arizona vote. "The pressure and the importance of the issue has been ratcheted up in each state since," Thornton says.

Case in point: California.

In February 2008, a slaughterhouse in southern California shut its doors following a six-week undercover "investigation" by a Humane Society worker. The staffer had witnessed workers dragging "downer" cattle — animals too ill or injured to stand — and forcing them onto the kill line with electrical prods, chains and forklifts, surreptitiously recording the activity on video.

The "revolting" footage, says Pacelle, "made me want to vomit."

The Humane Society presented the video to state prosecutors, who issued criminal animal-cruelty charges against some of the plant's employees. Because downer cattle are considered potential transmitters of E.coli and mad cow disease, the revelation also led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.

It would have been a public-relations coup for any animal-rights group, not to mention one gearing up for its biggest anti-factory farming showdown yet. California is the United States' fifth-largest egg producer, and this time the Humane Society aimed to outlaw not only pig and veal crates, but also "battery cages" — tightly packed pens used in industrial egg production. The initiative was certified for the November '08 ballot, a day when voters would flock to the polls to pick the next U.S. president.

Russell Simmons, Alicia Silverstone, Hilary Duff, Robert Redford and other A-listers lent their celebrity to the cause. Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi hosted a Bel-Air gala that netted more than $1 million to finance the campaign.

Californians for Safe Food, the opposition, collected its campaign funds primarily from the egg industry.

Two weeks before the election, Oprah Winfrey featured both sides on her daytime television show. Prime-time advertisements bombarded viewers. As in the previous race, the "Yes for Prop 2!" campaign showed footage of pigs gnawing at metal crates, veal calves struggling to stand while tethered to their pens, and chickens fighting for space to flap their wings. Californians for Safe Food countered with warnings that food prices would rise, eggs would be trucked in from Mexico, and food safety would be compromised.

By election day, the two sides had spent about $10 million apiece.

The Humane Society swayed 63.5 percent of the voters.

As Arizona had learned, you can't begin to fit fifty years of animal science on a bumper sticker or a thirty-second spot, says the Arizona Farm Bureau's Jim Klinker: "All the other side had to say was, 'The pig can't turn around. The pig can't turn around.' Their side is so easy to sell to an urbanized public. [People] just don't think that's fair for the pig."

Fewer than eight blocks of D.C.'s infamous K Street separate the Humane Society and HumaneWatch.org, each home to a 21st-century town crier broadcasting his message far beyond the Beltway via the blogosphere.

The substance of the messages is poles apart — HumaneWatch.org bills itself as the watchdog of the Humane Society — but the parallels between the bloggers are strikingly similar. One points out his Yale University degree, the other his Dartmouth College bona fides. One sports an image of himself cradling his cat (though technically, he and his ex now share the cat in a "joint custody arrangement"); the other is depicted getting kissed by a dog. (It's unclear whose dog; when asked, the blogger becomes visibly irritated and refuses to comment.)

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Kristen Hinman
Contact: Kristen Hinman

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