Two frogs fell into a deep cream bowl. One was an optimist; the other a pessimist.
The gloomy frog quickly gives into his perceived fate, sinks and drowns. Meanwhile, his optimistic companion resolves to go down trying. So he swims and kicks until his actions churn the cream into butter. He then crawls onto the firmed surface and hops out of the bowl.
A tale about two frogs may seem like an odd way to begin a speech to producers, but that’s the metaphor that David White, executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition, invoked to his audience of South Dakota cattlemen in December. Referencing his experiences with anti-agriculture activists in his home state, White asked the producers, “What kind of frog are you?”
White knows of what he speaks; he headed the campaign that helped pass Issue 2 in Ohio in 2009, a ballot initiative establishing the Ohio Livestock Standards Care Board. The campaign to pass this proactive animal-welfare initiative cost producers a whopping $4.7 million. But some 50,000 yard signs later, as well as 12 city rallies, a new website, a surge of conversations on social media sites, walking the streets and gaining strong bipartisan support; he got the job done.
It seemed agriculture was finally getting things figured out by taking ownership of the animal welfare debate, reclaiming it after anti-agriculture groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) snatched up the term to use in their own campaigns. Yet, even after Issue 2 passed, the battle wasn’t over. On June 30, 2010, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board compromised with HSUS and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to introduce new production practices in a good-faith agreement, ultimately putting off an HSUS ballot initiative in 2010 that would have cost both sides $10-15 million.
“Would you bet $15 million on a roll of dice in Vegas on a 50-50 chance of winning? The positive part of this good-faith agreement was avoiding an expensive, ugly campaign. It also recognized the validity of the board, allowing it ample time to work. However, it doesn’t eliminate future changes in the livestock industry, nor HSUS’s goal to abolish animal agriculture and eliminate meat, dairy and eggs from the American dinner table,” White says.
Not worried about the threat of HSUS in your state? Just ask the ranchers bullied by HSUS in Florida, California, Arizona, Oregon, Michigan, Colorado and Massachusetts what they think. They know the deck isn’t stacked in our favor. With an annual budget of $130 million and 11 million supporters, it’s not if HSUS will come to your state, but when.
So what’s the key to taking on the rich and powerful HSUS when it comes knocking on your pasture gate? White offers two key lessons Ohioans learned through Issue 2.
“First, you need unity and organization; everyone must talk and work together. Second, ranchers must own the animal welfare issue. If you aren’t explaining what you’re doing on your ranch, then who is? And, how accurate are their statements about you?”
So, what kind of frog do you want to be? Will you put your livelihood at the mercy of costly regulations that groups like HSUS want to impose on your family business? Or, will you slowly churn the cream into butter, gathering up resources, organizing a plan and creating a proactive approach to this issue?
It’s time farmers and ranchers reclaim the legacy we’re so proud of and take ownership in the way we care for animals. That’s the kind of frog I’m going to be; I hope you will be, too.
Editor’s note: How do farmers and ranchers define animal welfare? Watch “NCBA Video: Redefining Animal Welfare”  on BEEF TV.