The thousands and thousands of farms that dotted the countryside in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were for the most part family-run operations that usually had a few pigs, some cows, chickens and row crops.

Today, such farms are almost anachronisms. The world is a much bigger place, and the farms of yesteryear have adapted to accommodate a more global world. While the majority is still run by families, farms have gotten larger and embraced modern technologies and production methods, allowing fewer to feed a growing world. So pork production operations have evolved to meet the tremendous domestic and international demands for abundant, safe, high-quality meat products.

But some critics of modern livestock production are trying to force us to return to the farms of yesterday. Chief among them is the animal-rights movement, led by the Humane Society of the United States. In 2004, Wayne Pacelle, the new president, sent a memo to all HSUS staffers articulating his vision for the organization’s future, ordering that it “will focus on farm animals.” (In 2005, HSUS hired Compassion Over Killing co-founder Paul Shapiro to manage its “Factory Farming Campaign.”)

Rest assured it’s not just rhetoric that HSUS and other groups are using in their efforts. They are actually pouring millions of dollars into public relations campaigns, state ballot initiatives, and state and federal lawmakers’ election coffers.

According to ActivistCash.com, HSUS is “big, rich and powerful,” with assets of $113 million. It spent $1.7 million in 2006 on an Arizona ballot initiative to ban gestation-sow stalls. Its political action committee, Humane PAC USA, contributed nearly $300,000 to state and federal candidates in the 2005/2006 election cycle.

Their efforts are paying off. In addition to winning in Arizona, HSUS was successful in Florida in 2002, as voters there approved an amendment to the state constitution banning gestation-sow crates. This past June, Oregon’s governor signed into law a bill to outlaw sow stalls.

Now the activists are targeting California. In July, HSUS began the process to get an initiative to ban gestation-sow stalls on the state’s November 2008 ballot. Activists will need to gather signatures from 434,000 registered California voters (there are about 16.6 million of them) and submit them to the state by late June 2008. Efforts to ban sow stalls in Colorado also are underway.

Animal-rights groups aren’t stopping there; they’re taking their fight to the U.S. Congress. Again, led by HSUS, their sites are set on the 2007 Farm Bill or agriculture funding provisions. They are pushing to add legislation to prohibit fatigued hogs from entering the food supply, to restrict the use of certain antibiotics in livestock and to stop the federal government from purchasing meat from farms that use individual sow housing methods.

As pork producers, you know such efforts are misguided. On the fatigued-hogs issue, it’s well documented that some pigs will lie down and refuse to move for a period, after even an hour-long ride to the packing plant. Those same pigs will recover after given adequate rest. Further, USDA inspectors check all hogs for their fitness to enter the production line. The pork industry also has a Trucker Quality Assurance program that educates truckers on proper handling, loading and transporting of hogs, with attention to biosecurity and animal well-being.

As for antibiotics, the industry’s “Take Care: Use Antibiotics Responsibly” program, which includes judicious use guidelines, promotes the protection of public health, and animal health and well-being. The Pork Quality Assurance Plus program educates producers on responsible animal care by applying scientifically sound practices, including proper housing, management, nutrition, as well as disease prevention and treatment.

When it comes to sow housing, you know first-hand that management, not the type of housing, is most important to ensure animal well-being. Again there is documentation from leading animal scientists, who say the evidence shows that sow physiology and behavior are essentially equivalent in well-managed gestation-sow stalls and group pens.

The U.S. pork industry will continue to develop and implement progressive programs and production methods that help you ensure your animals’ well-being. The National Pork Producers Council will continue to fight initiatives to ban sow stalls and other ill-advised schemes, and it will tout the pork industry’s innovative animal well-being programs, such as PQA Plus and TQA.

But you also need to convey to the public and to policy makers, loudly and often, that you raise hogs in a humane, compassionate and socially responsible manner; and that, while it’s nice to remember the farms of yesteryear, meeting the demands for abundant, safe, high-quality pork means there’s no going back.