Established animal-welfare groups that have pushed landmark ballot initiatives and efforts to curb so-called “factory farms” around the U.S. appear to be keeping a distance from livestock breeding and slaughter bans proposed in 2022 initiatives in Oregon and Colorado.
The Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored successful livestock confinement measures in California in 2008 and 2018, is “not involved with either of these proposed initiatives” set for next year, spokeswoman Sarah Schweig told Farm Progress in an email.
Likewise for the Washington, D.C.-based Food and Water Watch and a coalition of groups called Stand Up to Factory Farms, which are pressing Oregon lawmakers for a moratorium on approvals of large dairies.
“I’ve heard from our coalition partners and it looks like neither they nor Food and Water Watch are involved with” Oregon’s Initiative Petition 13, spokeswoman Jessica Gable said in an email.
Grass-roots activists are recruiting volunteers and starting to gather signatures for IP13 and Colorado’s Initiative 16, both of which would redefine artificial insemination and castration of livestock as sexual assault. Oregon’s proposal would also criminalize the slaughter of livestock, while Colorado’s would prevent it until the animal has lived at least one-quarter of its natural lifespan, which for cattle would be about five years.
Oregon’s proposed Abuse, Neglect, and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement Act would need 112,000 signatures by next summer to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. Colorado’s Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) initiative would need 125,000 signatures to qualify.
“At the bottom of every one of these ballot initiatives is an animal rights group that’s driven by a larger strategy, but it’s not as coordinated on the surface as people would like to think it is,” said John Robinson, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s senior vice president of membership and communications.
The initiatives’ supporters are “similar in their messaging tactics and driven by a larger conversation that’s not easily linked to one group,” Robinson told Farm Progress.
The Oregon proposal’s sponsor, a group called End Animal Cruelty, was started last year, according to its Twitter feed. The campaign’s leader, Portland animal activist David Michelson, has described himself on social media as a former psychologist and public health worker. He told a Facebook host in January that he became a vegan and animal activist after watching the 2018 documentary “Dominion,” which chronicles animal abuse.
According to Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office, Colorado’s Initiative 16 is led by two activists – Broomfield’s Alexander Sage, a machine-learning engineer and volunteer at the Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary; and Brent Johannes, who has demonstrated on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Oregon’s Michelson recently told Portland’s KBOO-FM he is working through ActBlue, an online fundraising platform for progressive causes, to raise money for his campaign. Neither state’s campaign has responded to Farm Progress’ online requests for comment.
Battle lines drawn
Among the latest is American Agri-Women, whose president, Karolyn Zurn, said on April 27 the Colorado proposal “is deceiving the voters to achieve an anti-meat agenda.”
Related: Nation's eyes on Colorado meat fight
Mindy Patterson, animal welfare chair for American Agri-Women and president of The Cavalry Group, agreed.
"Initiative 16 is being promoted in a way that will intentionally mislead voters by playing on their emotions through the use of pictures and video taken vastly out of context,” she said. "Initiative 16 is a recipe for starvation as it will tighten the noose on food producers across the state of Colorado and force them out of business."
The NCBA is serving as “a clearinghouse of information” as it coordinates with state cattlemen’s associations and ranchers to fight the measures, Robinson said.
Individual producers are speaking out against the proposals, too. Janell Reid, a third-generation Colorado cattle rancher, said Initiative 16’s passage “would result in the complete elimination of livestock breeding, ranching, and animal agriculture” in the state.
“Practices which ensure the health and safety of both people and animals would be redefined as ‘cruelty’ by this agenda-driven lie known as Initiative 16,” she said.
'We'd have to adjust'
Derrick Josi, owner of the Wilsonview Dairy in Tillamook County, Ore., said in a blog post that IP13 is “full of contradictions, open-ended definitions, and to be frank, a load of never-stepped-foot-on-a-farm declarations.”
Josi’s farm breeds its cows through artificial insemination, as does the “vast majority” of dairy farms that are concerned about farmer and cow safety, better management and improved herd genetics, he argued.
If IP13 passed, the dairy would have to start using herd bulls again, although the initiative “is so vague that I’m not sure on exactly how we continue,” Josi told Farm Progress in a message on LinkedIn. He doesn’t think he’d take the business out of Oregon.
“We’d have to adjust,” he said. “It would be hard to relocate all the infrastructure that’s been built up.”
[This story has been updated to clarify the role of ActBlue.]