Battle looms over sow stall proposition in Arizona

A severed cow leg is placed on a sign in Flagstaff denouncing Prop. 204, which would force the pork industry in Arizona to use new methods to house sows used for breeding.

Arizona Capital Times
August 18, 2006

A match-up between two noted Republican political consultants has added increased interest among Capitol insiders to an upcoming ballot proposition that would further regulate Arizona’s pork industry.

To fight the initiative that could ban the use of a restrictive crate that houses sows used for hog breeding, the Campaign for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers hired Copperstate Consulting, a firm founded by former state Republican legislator Stan Barnes.

On the other side, the Arizonans for Humane Farms recently secured the services of Jay Heiler, a former Governor Fife Symington chief of staff-turned-consultant, and local insiders are eager to watch their colleagues compete.

Mr. Heiler is described as a “hang ’em high, law and order Republican,” by attorney Lee Miller.

“It’s shaping up as the most interesting ballot proposition,” said Mr. Miller. “It’s got two ultra-competitive consultants and emotion-driven opportunities for advertising.”

And both consultants are talented, said public relations consultant Wes Gullett, also a former Symington chief of staff and deputy campaign director for Sen. John McCain.

He believes at the moment that Mr. Heiler, a consultant for the international firm APCO Worldwide, has the edge, judging from poll numbers that placed support for the ballot initiative at approximately 80 percent.

In March a study found that 78 percent of 527 randomly selected respondents likely to vote in the 2006 Arizona general election are in favor of the initiative. The survey was conducted by the Social Research Laboratory at Northern Arizona University and had a plus/minus 4.3 percent margin of error.

Though not impossible, reversing that statistic will prove to be a challenge, said Mr. Gullett.

“A no vote is easier to get, but when you start at 80 (percent) it’s harder to drop to 49 (percent),” said Mr. Gullett, who supports the proposition. “Stan has got the tough job.”

Yet Mr. Gullett does not count out Mr. Barnes’ firm, which is using Ian Calkins to help the farmers and ranchers coalition. He thinks a recently introduced campaign to beat the initiative could prove effective.

While supporters of Prop. 204 have been silent since turning in 218,000 signatures in support to the Secretary of State’s Office in early July, Copperstate Consulting has taken the initiative and unveiled a one-word, two-syllable campaign: hogwash.

“I think the hogwash line is a good one,” said Mr. Gullett. “Half the battle of initiatives is cutting through so people can understand them quickly. And I think they’ve accomplished that.”

The black and yellow “hogwash” signs, and television and radio advertising began appearing in early August, and in April the Campaign for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers began pushing industry workers to help defeat the proposal by writing

letters to the press and conversing with
citizens unfamiliar with food production.

Since then dozens of letters bashing the proposal in Arizona have appeared in newspapers across the state, ranging from large dailies to small university campus publications and industry magazines.

An unlikely union?

Conservative support for the initiative and animal rights should not be surprising because of the limited scope of the proposition and the reasonable demand that sows are given more space, said Cheryl Naumann, chairwoman for Arizonans for Humane Farms. The slaughter of animals
would not be outlawed.

“It’s an animal welfare initiative, not an animal rights initiative,” said Ms. Naumann, a self-described conservative Republican from a Texas cattle ranching family. “This is a conservative effort to do one thing — to allow the animals to turn around.”

One member of Arizonans for Humane Farms said the hiring of Mr. Heiler is more reflective of the widespread support Prop 204. enjoys than a fight fire-with-fire strategic move.

“Animal protection issues are interesting and we have supporters throughout the spectrum,” said Stephanie Nichols-Young, an attorney and volunteer for the Animal Defense League of Arizona, adding, “We felt he was a qualified guy and would do a good job for the campaign.”

With friends like these…

But the proposition is not about the welfare of the animals, rather a radical vegetarian plan using phony claims of animal cruelty to add additional expense to an industry already grappling with global market forces, said Jim Klinker, chairman of the Arizona Farmers and Ranchers.

In early August the Farmers and Ranchers campaign committee issued a press release quoting a member of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who voiced support for the initiative in a local newspaper.

Supportive feelings by a group like PETA should not resonate positively with voters, said Mr. Calkins, a former chief lobbyist for the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

“I think generally voters view PETA as a negative,” he said. “They’re known for their extreme tactics.”

Recently, Bruce G. Friedrich, a vice-president of PETA, wrote a letter to the Catholic Sun describing the treatment of animals in the restrictive gestation crate as an insult to God, and evidence of a “nihilist view of the creation that treats God’s creatures so hideously.”

But the initiative’s supporters are keeping their distance from PETA, which in 2003 drew widespread condemnation for a campaign comparing the slaughter of animals to victims of World War II Nazi death camps.

“Our campaign is made up of very conservative animal welfare groups and we’d like to keep it that way,” said Ms. Naumann.

Records kept by the Secretary of State’s Office show that PETA has not contributed funds to the campaign of Arizonans for Humane Farms.

In November 2002, Farm Sanctuary, an animal rights group that provides major funding to the Arizonans for Humane Farms, helped pass a similar initiative banning gestation crates in Florida.

This year, the group also urged its members to support legislation in Colorado that would strengthen penalties for odor emission violations from hog farm operations.

Farm Sanctuary also operates a Web site decrying “factory” farms for alleged mistreatment of egg-laying hens, dairy-producing cows, chickens, turkeys and farm-raised fish.

Mr. Calkins provided the Arizona Capitol Times with a photo of a roadside Prop 204 sign in Flagstaff that had been adorned with a severed cow’s leg and an unintelligible message concerning a fast food chain, but it is not clear who is responsible.

The Catholic Church is not taking a position on the initiative, said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.

The Campaign for Arizona includes the United Dairymen of Arizona, the Arizona Farm Bureau, the Arizona Pork Council, and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association. Mr. Klinker is also the executive secretary of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation.

Arizonans for Humane Farms is a conglomerate of animal-orientated groups such as the Animal Defense League of Arizona, Arizona Humane Society, Humane Society of the United States, and Farm Sanctuary.

A 2004 report released by the Arizona Department of Agriculture states 180 hog farms exist in Arizona, representing less than 1 percent of the 69,420 hog farm operations in the United States.

The state’s hog inventory was estimated at 150,000, with 16,000 of that number used for breeding. The report estimates the 2004 value of the hogs at $16.5 million and the industry’s gross income was $41.6 million, a 31 percent increase from the prior year.

Typically, the gestation crate is used by larger hog farms. In Arizona, only one hog operation — Pigs for Farmer John in Snowflake — uses the devices that pig farmers say are required to protect the sows and their young.

The/ White Mountain Independent/ reports the farm occupies 3,600 acres in Snowflake and the Hormel Foods subsidiary owns approximately 13,500 of the sows used for breeding in Arizona.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security in 2004 placed Snowflake’s civilian workforce numbers at 1,745.

The White Mountain Regional Development Corporation reports that as of November 2005, Pigs for Farmer John employed 130 full-time and four part-time employees.

Arizona’s agricultural and livestock industries have a $9.2 billion direct and indirect economic impact, according to a 2004-based study released in May by University of Arizona.