Petersen reserves the right to weigh in on the Humane Society's agenda — he can't opine before talking to them, he says. But his larger point stands. The activists need to engage all kinds of farmers when trying to cut deals and remember the cardinal rule in politics: The locals know best. "Look at Ohio," he adds. "I absolutely don't like the way the Humane Society rolled into that state and basically ignored the people doing things the right way."
By "the right way," Petersen means the Ohio Farmers Union. In February last year, the Humane Society asked the Ohio Farm Bureau to help craft an anti-confinement law and shepherd it through the state legislature. The nonprofit didn't invite the Farmers Union to the table, either to weigh in or to help broker a compromise when the talks broke down.
Farm bureau spokesman Joe Cornely recalls the rendezvous with the activists all too well: "Mr. Pacelle basically said, 'This is what we're going to do. You can help us or fight us.' Well, it's not a negotiation when somebody says, 'These are the terms of your surrender!'"
The state's commodity groups decided they weren't going to play ball. Instead, with the farm bureau's help, they launched their own ballot-measure campaign to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a politically appointed regulatory group with full authority over animal-welfare issues. The measure passed handily last November, and the tactic is now being copied in at least nine other states.
It's a development many animal-welfare advocates find troubling.
"The problem is that some of the language in these bills calls for including 'generally accepted farm-management practices' — and that includes confinement farming. So they want to codify that as an accepted standard," says Kramer, at the National Anti-Vivisection Society. "It would make it harder to change later on, or to bring suits against a particular farm that was excessively harming animals."
Ohio is the nation's second-largest egg producer and ranks ninth in hog production. Those and other industries last year spent more than $4 million on the standards-board campaign — and it's likely they'll have to open their checkbooks once again this election cycle.
"We didn't spend one dime to oppose [the board]," says Pacelle. "We didn't like it. We thought it was clearly an attempt to block a constitutional freedom and an attempt to lock up existing practices. They spent $4 million passing it, and there's still a [ballot] measure."
The Humane Society is currently collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment that would require the Ohio livestock board to enforce anti-confinement standards for hogs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. The amendment would also outlaw dragging around downer cows and would require all sick farm animals to be "humanely euthanized." If it passes, the industry would have to meet all standards by 2016.
Advocates of fair trade decry the populist tactics. "The Humane Society is dividing people and making our jobs a lot harder," says Tim Gibbons, communications director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. "They're causing the industry to say, 'You're either for us, or you're for the Humane Society.' And that's not the truth."
Gibbons says the D.C. group has put independent farmers, many of whom oppose confinement, between a rock and a hard place. To support the Humane Society would be to incur the wrath of "big ag" in their state and potentially endanger their businesses, Gibbons asserts. But endorsing livestock boards could subject the small farmers to costly, burdensome regulations favored by big ag — and similarly endanger their livelihood.
"You don't have to be either/or," Gibbons insists. "There is another position out there, and that's having independent family farmers raising livestock ethically on open, competitive markets. It's good for a state, and for farmers, and our national security — and for a whole multitude of reasons, it's good for the economy."
Troy and Stacy Hadrick's spiel begins with a photo of a busty babe in a lemon-yellow bikini.
"Do you see this woman in yellow up here, holding the sign saying 'KFC tortures chicks'?" Troy asks his audience. "She's a protester for PETA, and she's probably the only chick getting tortured right there. You want to know why? You see that snow on the ground? That's Juneau, Alaska. Not so warm. And I don't think she's got her winter thong on."
It's a mild March night on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Thanks to the forgiving Red River, the Hadricks' "Real Enemies of Agriculture" talk this year hasn't been flooded out, and the couple has the next ninety minutes to show the up-and-comer ag crowd the face of the opposition, then equip them with a defense arsenal.