Longform

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

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The Hadricks say their speaking has accelerated over the past year and a half. They've been to both coasts and up and down the nation's midsection, speaking to meat cutters, veterinarians and farmers of all stripes, handing out "I Met a Rancher Today" stickers at every stop.

Stacy works a nine-to-five job at the state ag department's extension office, is studying for a master's degree and keeps house with three kids. Troy toils on his blog, where he runs down press on everything from poverty to activist outrage at the "sport" known as donkey basketball. He has been urged to shoot another clip like the Yellow Tail rant, but the right opportunity hasn't come along yet. Though they miss day-to-day ranching, for now this is the right tack, the Hadricks say — even though beef cattle aren't a current Humane Society target.

"Say tomorrow they got pig crates, veal crates and [chicken] cages banned throughout the country," Troy posits. "They're not just going to stop there and say, 'Okay, we met our goals.' They're going to say, 'What's next?' If we don't talk about the care that hog and chicken and veal producers put into their animals, then there won't be anybody left to help stand up for us when it's our turn."


Call it the Colorado compromise.

In early 2007, Wayne Pacelle ran into Colorado governor Bill Ritter and announced his intention to go for the jugular in his state. Ritter persuaded Pacelle to meet with farmers instead. After the first tête-à-tête, at a Colorado steak house, it was clear a negotiator would be needed.

Enter Bernard Rollin.

"They had 12 million bucks allocated to do this referendum, and the livestock association told me that their people told them that if they don't fight it, they'll lose three to one, and if they do fight it, they'll lose two to one," recalls Rollin, a CSU professor of philosophy and animal science. "They didn't have the money to fight it, so they asked me to fight it. Well, I had never met Wayne Pacelle. I work alone.

"Two months later I'm on a panel with Pacelle, and he came over and said, 'I really admire your work, I've used it,' and so forth. And I said, 'Then with all due respect, don't screw me in my own state.'"

The conversation eventually concluded with Pacelle acquiescing. "He said, 'Okay, if you can broker a deal, I'll cancel the referendum.' And 150 hours of unpaid time later, we had the deal," Rollin remembers. "My wife will still tell you how many dinners I ate with one phone in each ear and the face in the plate."

Rollin is an unusual animal, as it were. He authored the first ethics textbook for veterinarians and was an architect of a federal law enforcing certain standards for animals used in research labs. A New York Jew who settled in Colorado forty years ago, he's a weightlifting enthusiast who owns three motorcycles and flips the bird at helmet laws. His next book, an autobiography, will be titled Putting the Horse Before Descartes.

When it comes to livestock, Rollin enjoys cred with both the independents and the industry. "He has some attitude, but he's a great person, and I respect him well," says Ivan Steinke, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council. "He's an ethicist — and when I say 'ethicist,' he doesn't dis. He just believes there are proper procedures and ethics in production agriculture, and whether you're a cow, calf or dairy man or hog operator or poultry guy, we have the responsibility to do it in a certain way. [Bernie and I] don't agree on 100 percent of the issues, but we can debate them."

Ask Rollin whose side he's on, and the response is easy: "I'm in it for the animals."

He traces his approach back to an ancient, biblical social contract of animal husbandry, suggesting that those who are good to animals will have animals that are productive for them. In Rollins's view, science and technology have no place in the discussion.

"The example I always use is: Just because I own my own motorcycle doesn't mean I can ride on the sidewalk at a hundred miles an hour or throw wheelies on Main Street," he says. "The line we hear all the time is, 'I own those animals, I can do whatever I goddamn please.' That's not true — particularly not now."

Societal mores are changing, Rollin notes, and in response, some food corporations are beginning to stipulate that livestock be raised a certain way. Smithfield, a hog packer, has a long-term plan to phase out gestation crates on all its corporate-owned and subcontractor-operated farms. Burger King and Wal-Mart are buying more cage-free eggs. "Life is like an ox cart that's going to move along," Rollin sums up. "You can stop when it stops and drink when it drinks, or you can be dragged and beaten and be bloody. You can do this on your own or get legislated by people who don't necessarily understand the issues."

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Kristen Hinman
Contact: Kristen Hinman

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