Here’s a question, what do Arizona and Florida have in common?

Both feature warm-weather climates; both attract retired folks, especially those from the northland. Beyond that, the two state profiles take different paths. One is tropical, the other is arid; one is in the Southeast United States, the other is in the Southwest.

Oh yeah there is one more common denominator; both states are a minor player in terms of U.S. pork production. As a result, animal- rights groups have focused on them as an avenue to end the use of crates for gestating sows.

We all know the outcome in Florida. After collecting enough public signatures, a vaguely worded question concerning the use of sow-gestation stalls was placed on the state’s November 2002 ballot. In the end, voters elected to amend the state constitution to outlaw gestation stalls and crates. Florida’s two primary pork producers eventually closed their doors.

Since then, the animal activists have tried to replicate that strategy elsewhere, with no real success. But persistence is their lifeblood, and they are back at it. 

Today, a mirror effort to the Florida campaign is actively underway in Arizona. The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, Humane Society of Arizona and the Animal

Defense League of Arizona have rallied their troops and settled in for a fight. They’ve collected more than one-quarter of the 200,000 signatures needed by July 6, to place the

gestation-crate challenge on the state ballot this November.

Say what you will about the animal rights activists, but they are a savvy group, and they have a well-connected network. In comparison, agriculture has lacked that focused unity. At least until now.

Having caught wind of the activists’ plans, a group of the state’s agricultural leaders first met last September. From that meeting surfaced the Campaign for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers (http://www.azfarmersranchers.com). This multi-species organization includes such groups as the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, United Dairymen of Arizona and the Arizona Pork Council.

But it’s not just Arizona’s agricultural sectors that are taking on this battle. State pork producer groups have stepped up, including Washington, Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, California, North Carolina and many, many others.

All of these groups know that no state or agricultural sector is an island. While the activists’ current efforts focus on scoring a victory in a “weak” pork production state and setting a precedent for future actions, those agricultural-based groups rightly view this latest effort as an attack on all of agriculture.

CAFR has hired a professional campaign management firm to develop tactics and educate the state’s voters about the animal rightists’ motives; that their agenda runs much deeper; and that Arizona and the pork industry are just the latest battlegrounds.

The coalition has conducted public-opinion research to get a feel for how voters view agriculture, pork production, animal activists and much more. It is mobilizing speaker bureaus and grassroots producers to reach out to the public and the media. Paid venues such as television and radio advertisements are other necessary options that CAFR will pursue.

In all, the estimated price tag is about $1 million to fight the Arizona gestation-crate ballot initiative. The pork industry is providing at least half of those funds.

The National Pork Producers Council has developed the Animal Welfare Defense Fund (go to www.nppc.org) designed to build a war chest to defend current and future anti-meat and radical animal-rights initiatives.

Groups, individuals, allied industry, anyone with an interest in animal agriculture—no, make that agriculture in general—can and should contribute. It is in your best interests.

While the activists are trying to expand their Florida precedent into Arizona, agriculture is setting a precedent of its own. That includes a unified, organized effort to protect agriculture, and ultimately consumers, against activist groups set on destroying your good name and your business.  

Said one Arizona producer: “It’s going to be a tough fight, but I hope in the end, they (activists) find they picked on the wrong state.”