Country Corner

Proposition B was only a beginning

Livestock producers face an organized and well-funded animal rights movement

In the time since we last printed a forage and livestock issue of Today’s Farmer, livestock producers have seen some strange times. After years of what seemed to be low-grade and far-away strafing by the animal rights movement, producers in MFA’s trade territory got a stark, first-hand introduction to animal rights pressure tactics as the Humane Society of the United States successfully ushered Proposition B into being.

While Proposition B spelled out inexecutable regulations and restrictions for even top-notch pet breeders in Missouri, it managed to pass thanks to an experienced cadre of HSUS organizers and plenty of money to sway the general public. It showed just how quickly a force such as HSUS can affect state and local politics. Proponents of Prop B scoffed when they heard arguments about the proposed legislation being a slippery slope for agricultural livestock regulations and restrictions. It was a dismissive scoff, too—indicating a mind already aligned or an ignorance of potential outcome—a scoff that turned out to be indicative of the ballot box.

Agricultural interests, of which MFA was the only agriculture supplier, joined together to fight the ballot initiative, but spent time organizing among themselves while HSUS was already campaigning to the general public.

In the effort to win public opinion, it’s difficult enough to rationally explain your position once the emotion and drama of an animal rights campaign is underway. It’s nearly impossible to do so when your opponents have already established a strategy and been on a romp through the state’s media, and especially the state’s urban media. Reactionaries will forever be on a back foot. 

Thus, one of the most important lessons for agriculture is that the time to coalesce is well ahead of any potential crisis or interference from outside pressure groups like HSUS.

The struggle over Prop B also served as notice that agriculture no longer carries the narrative in the city. Agriculture has become a culture foreign to urban folks. Voter maps showing counties that said “yes” to Prop B had very non-mysterious blobs of color around our urban centers—which in a ballot initiative’s plebiscite means multiple rural counties are needed to cancel out just one suburb.

The difficulty of breeding pets, even when a majority of producers offer more than adequate care, is that a few pictures of a derelict breeder sets the mood.
Everyone loves cute little puppies, so it’s hard to blame a nominally informed suburbanite if she didn’t vote for “puppy mills” as HSUS and its proponents masterfully framed the debate.

Unfortunately, a few derelict livestock producers ensure a looming probability that honest cattle and hog producers face the same challenges. Piglets are cute, too. As are lambs, calves and kids. Fair warning.

Of course, Missouri’s congressional delegation saw the folly that Proposition B meant for honest and licensed pet breeders in the state. It moved to moderate the language of the ballot initiative and succeeded.

As a vote on the bill to amend Prop B approached, an agricultural rally that gathered on the south lawn of the Missouri Capitol was an impressive sight (more organized and seemingly genuine than the HSUS crowd outside the Governor’s mansion the same day). Still, passing a bill to amend a ballot initiative was a rare moment in time and not a trend or defense for the future.

It may have even been a Maginot Line. In reaction to the compromise brokered by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and key legislators, HSUS along with a commingling of other animal rights groups, term-limit advocates and tax reformers have gone back to the popular referendum well. They are gathering signatures to amend Missouri’s Constitution with something called the Voter Protection Act.

The goal is to make plebiscites more effective and guard their outcome against modification by elected officials.
That’s the second great lesson of Prop B: compromise is not an option with dedicated animal rights groups.

Look for more news on the Voter Protection Act in coming days. And listen with a skeptical ear. If you want to see what the whim of an annual roster of plebiscite votes can do to a state, gaze far west at that bastion of commonsense law and fiscal responsibility, California.

H.L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

They got it there. Let’s not get it here.

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