There's a scene in the movie, “Goldfinger,” where James Bond is spraddled across a table with a laser beam moving up from his feet to cut him in half. His nemesis stands on a balcony above, watching 007's impending demise. A nervous Bond asks, “What is this, Goldfinger? Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger shoots back, “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”
One could say the scene is analogous to the assault U.S. livestock production faces from animal-rights groups. We can talk, we can compromise, but the end game is our demise.
In California last month, 61% of voters approved a state proposition to ban modern confinement housing for egg-laying hens, sows and veal calves in the Golden State by 2015. Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have passed similar laws for swine and veal.
Supporters of Proposition 2, promulgated by the anti-meat groups Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary, said the initiative would guarantee farm animals a better life. Opponents argued the measure would actually undermine animals' health, close California's egg industry and force livestock and poultry operations to move out of state or close.
The measure passed despite opposition by California's governor, the state's major dailies and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
HSUS has indicated it intends to carry this and similar measures to other states. It plans to focus on states with ballot initiatives, avoiding those where legislatures have the time to do due diligence relative to the scientific facts. With an estimated annual budget of around $130 million, according to Steve Kopperud of Policy Directions, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based agricultural advocacy firm, HSUS obviously is well armed for the battle.
It would be easy for cattle producers to dismiss the issue as other sectors' problem, but the eventual goal of these groups is the end of livestock farming. For perspective, the total annual budget of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association is $9 million.
“It's time to put away our product and issue differences,” Kopperud says. “Because I assure you, if they take down poultry, if they take down pork, they will take down beef.”
Kopperud recommends producers talk with their legislators. “Everyone who has a freshman going into Congress, your first order of business is to call or make an appointment, somehow educate their field office that this is an issue for you and your family. We unite, we defend, we get proactive. It's the only way we survive.”
Another step is to get involved in telling your story within your community. Surveys show American consumers trust American farmers. While lobbying and dollars are certainly important, putting a local face and perspective on American meat production can go a long way toward countering animal-rights propaganda.
The strength is on our side; we just need to use the tools at our disposal. 007 would love our odds.
BEEF retools for January
BEEF magazine rolls out an entirely new look with our January 2009 issue. The retooling coincides with our 45th year of publication and includes a new cover look (here's a sneak peek), new typefaces and fonts, and redesigned departments and feature pages. Look for it in your mailbox next month.