Saturday, May 25, 2013

An Intelligent and Politically Savvy Adversary

Modern Farmer interviews Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of HSUS.  Among the interesting nuggets:
 The veal industry has voluntarily moved in the direction of no crates. And the industry is already about 75 percent converted. The egg industry has taken a bit of a non-linear path. We were really advocating for a cage-free product. But we did make an agreement – which has yet to be enacted — to significantly expand the size [of the cages] and to provide enriched colony cages. That’s significant movement by the industry to accept a wholly different production system.
We’re still very much at odds with the confinement sector of the pork industry.  Despite the large number of companies that have agreed to begin phasing out purchasing pork from producers who confine the sows, the industry is continuing to stand its ground and fight.
Also, on ag-gag laws:
Dr. Temple Grandin told me she believes ag-gag bills are the dumbest thing agriculture has ever cooked up. As she sees it, it almost amounts to an admission of failure. The suggestion is that if the public sees what’s actually happening inside these facilities, they’re not going to like it.
A lot of the big farm groups have strong ties to state lawmakers. So I think tactically it’s an attempt to play to the their strengths. But the whole thing really rings false with the American public. It seems like it’s a cover-up. And what happens is HSUS investigations are discussed as part of the debate. So the public ends up hearing about downer cows being dragged to slaughter, they hear about hens dying and being mummified in cages, and they hear about sows injuring themselves by pushing against the bars of their cage every day.
And, finally, his most haunting point:
Industrial agriculture is a powerful enterprise in our country.  While their system was reigning, in a sense, they had their way to do whatever they wanted. But in the last 40 years we’d seen 91 percent of pig farmers, 88 percent of dairy farmers go out of business, and more than 95 percent of egg producers go out of business. So it hasn’t worked out well for the family farmer to have this hyper-industrialized production system. And politically speaking it means that their numbers are shrinking. You have many fewer farmers now than you had in 1975, 1985, even 2000. So it means that their political influence is inevitably on the decline.
They can trade on some of their past associations and political strengths, but it’s going to run out. The better strategy is a way forward that allows for successful production agriculture that also attends to the needs of animals, protects the environment, and produces safe food.
Way too many farmers, and way too many of the ridiculously conservative politicians that farmers and other rural folks elect assume that Pacelle and his supporters are ignorant, naive fools who can't take on farmers politically.  As Pacelle points out in the interview, farmers and politicians claim that HSUS is going to force us all to become vegetarians.  Mr. Pacelle is way too smart to try that.  Instead, he is busy presenting the worst cruelties of confinement agriculture to the millions and millions of folks who treat their dogs and cats like they are their own children.  And bullying tactics like ag-gag laws make farmers look even more idiotic and crooked.  Farmers and politicians may dismiss those folks who buy into HSUS's arguments against the worst of the confinement practices as gullible fools, but they are dismissing a large percentage of their customers, and doing it at their own peril.  Meanwhile, the folks at McDonalds, Applebee's and Costco realize that they can't write off those consumers, and are moving on, knowing that there will be farmers who will change to satisfy their massive food needs.

Why are farmers playing into Pacelle's and the HSUSs' hands?  I would suggest three reasons: resistance to losing capital investment in confinement facilities (the most understandable), laziness (the vice many of us are guilty of), and plain, old stubbornness.  This final reason (there are some others, but those seem like the biggest) is the one where the overlap of conservative politics and agriculture is so noticeable.  Picking a losing fight against the majority of the country on a shift in cultural values is a hallmark of the politicians farmers elect.  Whether it is gay marriage, evolution, the existence of global warming or animal welfare, these folks are actively trying to subvert the will of the majority, even when it is pretty clear they will lose.  William F. Buckley's standing athwart history yelling "stop" is a really good way to get run over.  And the more often you fight on the wrong and losing side of an issue, the more likely the majority of the population will assume you are wrong when you take another stand.  It doesn't help that as Obama proposes to do things the way Republicans have historically suggested we do, the Republicans claim those are the most terrible ideas ever.  If conservatives, be it farmers or Republicans or the Catholic bishops (think birth control) don't start a journey back toward the majority of the population, their causes will eventually shrivel and die.  The Barack Obamas and Wayne Pacelles and Richard Dawkinses of the world will easily be able convince the majority of the population that conservatives are insane loons.  Don't make their work any easier by proving them right.  You may not like where the majority of the population is on issues, but they are the majority, and the more people you alienate, the less likely you have success with any of your causes.  Please, stop the craziness.

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