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

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With Rollin playing referee, Colorado's pork producers won a few concessions: ten years to phase out the pig crates, as well as a loophole that allows sows to stay semi-crated until "confirmed" pregnant, which can take a month. The Humane Society also agreed not to push the battery-cage issue, leaving the egg industry unaffected.

For now, anyway.

California agribusiness might have thought it had seen the last of the activists for a while after the '08 vote. Yet the group returned to the state capitol last year pushing a ban on another industrial practice it finds abhorrent. This time the dairy industry was the target.

And the politicking was successful. In October, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law banning "tail docking," the amputation of a milk cow's tail, which is commonly performed without anesthetic. Some dairymen have long believed tail docking improves hygiene, udder health and the quality of milk produced, though scientific research has not borne out those theories and the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the practice.

Meanwhile, after the Humane Society told Michigan's agriculture industry last summer that it wanted changes there, the large-scale egg and pork producers took a page out of Ohio's playbook and attempted to put a livestock-standards board in place. But state legislators wouldn't green-light it. So the industry switched strategies and took a cue from Colorado, brokering a phase-out of crates and cages.

His members are "ecstatic, very upbeat, very happy, dead confident they did the right thing," says Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. "The irony is, if [the anti-confinement ballot measure] passes in Ohio, those farmers will have to comply with the provisions quicker than we will here in Michigan."

Will Ohio be the game-changer?

The industry certainly hopes so. One good sign, says Joe Cornely, the state's farm bureau spokesman, is that neither gubernatorial candidate supports the Humane Society's campaign.

But Pacelle says he's more confident than ever: "We are pro-farmer. And we're pro-animal. And we don't see any incompatibility between those two positions."

According to ag-industry vet Wes Jamison, an associate professor of communications at Palm Beach Atlantic University, the campaign will come down not to facts, but to messaging. "Animal agriculture has either tried to argue science or economics or food security," he says. "They've done everything but the moral argument for what they do with animals. And if they can't make the moral case, they will lose in the long run."

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Kristen Hinman
Contact: Kristen Hinman

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