Many of you have no doubt seen the movie 'Saving Private Ryan,' where a small band of soldiers are detailed to find and bring back Private Ryan, the last remaining family member after his brothers, unbeknownst to him, have already been killed in battle fighting in World War II. The mission was to send Ryan home to safety so that his parents wouldn't lose all their sons to war. Along the way, the search party encountered incredible obstacles, and suffered casualties of their own.
So what's the connection to animal agriculture in 21st century America? It may be a stretch, but it appears that a small, but determined band of Ohioans are making a stand to save 'Private Sow,' where Private Sow represents animal agriculture as we know it. The enemy, animal welfare groups that say one thing in mixed company but outright promote a meatless society on their Websites and amongst each other in publications and propaganda, have already won significant battles. Animal agriculture went down to a crushing defeat when California voters unwittingly passed Proposition Two last fall.
Carrying the full weight of law, it means that by 2015, chickens and hogs and all other animals, with a few exceptions, must have room to stand and extend their limbs without touching another animal. For all practical purposes, it will mean the demise of the egg-laying industry in a key ag state - California. Until then, the animal welfare fighters were waging skirmishes in states where the opposition was weak or non-existent, winning symbolic battles in Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. But now they're emboldened, and the battle for Ohio is on.
As soon as the impact of the Proposition Two vote in California settled in, rumors began circulating that Ohio would be the next battleground. Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States, masquerading as those who do good for abandoned animals in local humane societies across the country, adopted the puppy mill bill cause in Indiana, hoping to get a foot inside the door toward more meaningful legislation at a later date, such as banning gestation crates for sows. The puppy mill bill passed, but only after it was so watered down that it does only what it should do, punish abusive dog breeders. Indiana Farm Bureau and a few key legislators, including Brent Steele, Bedford, stood resolute, helping hold the door shut even though HSUS tried its usual tactics, including getting on the good side of the press, one-sided commercials and the like.
Indiana doesn't have ballot initiatives. But Ohio does. So those watching the battle brew expected HSUS would make sure some sort of language banning gestation crates was on the 2010 ballot or voters to approve. The documentary on HBO television this spring, about an abusive hog operation, replayed more than a dozen times, just happened to be shot in Ohio.
What Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, and his 400,000 members in Ohio didn't anticipate was an end run by a bunch of courageous animal industry veterans and the Ohio Farm Bureau. Currently, they have a constitutional amendment working its way through the Ohio legislature that would set up an animal care board. If the legislature passes it, it could be on the ballot this November as a proposed constitutional amendment. If passed, it would take a lot of steam out of HSUS' claim that Ohio is ignoring horrific animal production practices.
Of course, HSUS is crying foul, and vowing to go ahead with their constitutional amendment anyway. Saving anything worth saving is never easy. But here's to hoping the brave Ohioans battling a fight many people, even many farmers, don't yet know exists, can hold firm against the HSUS onslaught.
If you want to learn more from someone in the eye of the storm, read Tim White's blog. He's a fellow Farm Progress editor, in charge of Ohio Farmer magazine. Find that website at: www.ohiofarmer.com.