Florida voters, swayed by a $1.4 million advertising blitz by animal rights activists, passed an amendment to the state constitution banning the use of sow gestation stalls.
The Florida Farm Bureau Federation didn’t have any money to spend to fight passage of Amendment 10, says Frankie Hall, assistant director of Agricultural Policy. But farm supporters did have the backing of the "vast majority of the editorial boards (newspapers) across the state," he says.
Sadly, in the end, voters were influenced by what they thought was a chance to protect animals from cruelty – when the amendment had nothing remotely to do with that issue, stresses Hall. The vote was 55% for the amendment and 45% against it.
The activists also suggested that passage of the amendment would protect citizens from the influx of corporate hog farming. The state of Florida lacks the infrastructure to support large hog operations, he points out.
The new amendment will have little or no impact on hog farming, declares Hall. The only two producers in the state using gestation stalls are planning to phase out their operations, he adds. The amendment goes into effect in 2008.
"We are going to see a lot more of these attempts – this is just the first wave," observes Hall. But he warns activists will face a much harder time getting this type of message passed in other states.
Kathy Chinn, chairman of the National Pork Board’s Animal Welfare Committee, says it is too bad so many of Florida’s voters lacked the benefit of scientific information or understanding of animal care practices.
"They don’t understand that our livelihood depends on the welfare of our animals, and individually housing sows greatly enhances their welfare," she states. "Sows are protected from the aggressive nature of their neighbors."
The campaign to ban gestation stalls in Florida was spearheaded by the animal rights group Farm Sanctuary. The group has been charged with 210 counts of illegal election activities in that campaign.
The Swine Care Handbook produced by the National Pork Board bases gestation stall welfare on the ability of the sow to lie down comfortably and not have their teats extend into the next stall.
The Pork Board allocated about $400,000 on animal welfare projects in 2002, with four projects looking at different types of gestation sow housing systems.
Any recommendations for change will depend on performance-based objectives and not emotional arguments, emphasizes Chinn.
Kathy and Gary Chinn run a 2,000-sow, totally confined, farrow-to-finish operation at Clarence, MO. Kathy says the family just added 200 stalls to house replacement gilts so that individual care could be provided.