Animal extremists succeed in banning gestation stall use in Arizona.

Pigs for Farmer John (PFFJ), Snowflake, AZ, and other agricultural groups mounted a valiant effort to defeat Proposition 204, banning the use of gestation stalls and veal crates in Arizona effective the end of 2012.

But those efforts were shot down by “shrewd political strategists and effective communicators armed with loads of ready money, who had the luxury of a largely urban population of voters,” says Steve Duchesne, consultant for Clougherty Packing Co. of Los Angeles, CA. He is also a spokesman for PFFJ, the largest hog operation in the state and openly targeted by activists in offering the initiative.

Since the initiative was passed (62 to 38%), PFFJ must “look very closely at its business options in the years ahead” to decide what is best for the 13,500-sow operation that markets about 250,000 hogs annually to the Clougherty plant, he adds.

Both PFFJ and Clougherty are subsidiaries of Austin, MN-based Hormel, which purchased the joint businesses in 2004. Farmer John is the brand of pork produced at Clougherty and is sold mainly in southern California and Arizona.

PFFJ houses most of its gestating sows in individual stalls, but a number are also group-housed in pens.

“Sows are housed in stalls for some very good reasons. They provide very clear benefits to the sows, keeping them free from injury caused by other sows, ensuring that the sow is able to receive a full ration and providing access to fresh water throughout the day,” explains Duchesne. Stalls also enable workers to care and treat sows and quickly detect physical ailments, he adds.

Duchesne reports the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary poured more than $2 million into the campaign, more than twice the amount spent by the Arizona Coalition of the Arizona Pork Council (APC), Arizona Cattlemen's Association (ACA), United Dairymen, Arizona Farm Bureau and Arizona Poultry. National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), corn and soybean growers and countless individuals also contributed.

Hard-Learned Lessons

The spokesman says the lessons learned from this hard-fought campaign are that the activists are not going away anytime soon, and that they probably won't wait another four years to start their next fight if the political environment is right for them. Four years ago, they led the first successful effort, facing virtually no opposition, to ban gestation stalls in Florida.

Tom Miller, APC executive director, agrees agriculture put up a good fight against Proposition 204. He called the effort “the greatest cooperative effort by American agriculture since I became involved in the Arizona pork industry in 1967.

“My plea is for all pork producers and meat and dairy animal producers to move this to a high priority on their list of concerns,” says Miller. He served as NPPC president in 1987-88, and has held many leadership roles in Arizona, where he raised pigs until 1990.

“It's likely this ban will be pushed in other states or possibly included in the 2007 Farm Bill,” adds NPPC President Joy Philippi, a pork producer from Bruning, NE.

She shunned the despicable behavior displayed by animal activist groups involved in the Arizona stall ban initiative. Written death threats were sent to some coalition members and the offices of the ACA were vandalized.

“We were shocked and dismayed that animal rights extremists resorted to threatening people who opposed this ill-advised new law,” says Philippi. “There is never room for threats or violence in the democratic process, and we support the FBI in its investigation and prosecution of these unlawful acts.”

Duchesne says activists broke into one of PFFJ's sow units one night, taping and later airing a video on a Web site purportedly showing sows in distress in stalls. He says it is ironic that activists claiming to support animal welfare would break into a farm, violating strict biosecurity standards and putting animals at risk of a potential disease outbreak.