Florida and voting just don’t seem to mix well. But this time, the results directly and negatively impact pork production.
For nearly a year, pork-industry eyes have watched Florida in disbelief as animal-rights activists worked to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to ban gestation-sow crates in the state.
Amendment 10 passed with 54 percent of the votes.
Not by accident, the animal-rights activists picked an easy target in Florida, which ranks 38th in U.S. pork production, with 40,000 total hogs. Only two producers in the state use gestation crates, both of which have or are planning to exit pork production.
A ballot initiative’s success or failure often hinges on the summary presented to the voters. Too often it’s the first time voters have read anything about the issue. They will make a split-second decision, with long-term effects.
Here’s the summary that Florida voters saw on Nov. 5:
“Animal Cruelty Amendment: Limiting Cruel and Inhumane Confinement of Pigs During Pregnancy. Inhumane treatment of animals is a concern of Florida citizens; to prevent cruelty to animals, and as recommended by the Humane Society of the United States, no person shall confine a pig during pregnancy in a cage, crate or other enclosure, or tether a pregnant pig on a farm so that the pig is prevented from turning around freely, except for veterinary purposes and during the pre-birthing period.”
Who wouldn’t vote “yes” to that? Perhaps the real surprise is that 46 percent of the voters chose “no.”
Of course, there’s more to this issue than voters’ desire to free Florida sows. From the beginning, this was designed as a test case. The animal-rights activists wanted an easy victory so they could then take their agenda on the road. Fifteen other states allow voters to amend their constitutions; most others allow ballot initiatives to enact a variety of laws.
“We think a successful Florida initiative will encourage citizens in other states to push for similar reforms,” says Michael Makarian, president of the Fund for Animals.
Rest assured that those pushing the hardest will not be citizens within a state. It will be the Fund for Animals and Farm Sanctuary, both based in New York, and the Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, D.C. Those groups doled out 70 percent of the $1.4 million spent on the Florida effort.
“Support for this initiative (Amendment 10) is one part of HSUS’s larger Halt Hog Factories campaign, in which we are working with other animal-protection organizations, environmentalists, small farmers and community groups to combat large-scale, industrial hog operations and to promote more sustainable and humane farming practices,” HSUS says on its Web site.
The National Pork Producers Council, several state pork producer associations, the state and national Farm Bureau Federations, the Center for Consumer Freedom and other ag-based groups attempted to counter the activists’ campaign, but those efforts fell short.
“Animal rights is big business run by people with big agendas and big wallets,” says David Martosko, CCF’s research director. “Their goal is total animal liberation.”
Like big business these days, there are some financial questions looming over the activists’ Florida victory.
The state Elections Commission has charged Farm Sanctuary and its president with 210 counts of breaking campaign finance laws.
“Farm Sanctuary is a well-financed, sophisticated, well-organized and experienced political organization,” the commission reported.
There also are some questions about signatures that the activists gathered to get Amendment 10 on the November ballot. State officials received several complaints from tourists who were solicited for signatures.
Whether any of those issues will change the outcome of the vote is unlikely.
Instead, you can expect animal-rights activists to take their gestation-crate agenda on the road, and that may mean similar activities will surface in your state.
This is only the beginning.