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Animal Rights On The March

Published May. 21, 2010 | Discuss this article on Facebook

National Journal Magazine via | by Paul Starobin  | May 22, 2010

Suppose you were a furry or feathery creature, confined to a cramped crate or a tiny cage, with your sole purpose in life to produce eggs for some human's plate -- or to end up on that plate yourself. Don't you think your keepers should at least provide you with enough room to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and stretch your limbs?

Well, you don't get to vote on this question. American members of species homo sapiens are voting on this matter, however, and they seem to favor awarding you these minimal rights, available to any convicted murderer on death row. In 2008, a California ballot initiative to write the "turn around freely, lie down" language into law for farm animals passed with 63.5 percent of the vote, despite intense opposition from agricultural interests arguing that complying with this costly standard would drive producers out of the state.

OK, that's California, on the Left Coast. But Ohio, a heartland state in which agriculture is a $93 billion-a-year business and provides jobs to one in seven workers, is expected to put similar language before its voters in November. The measure would cover 27 million egg-laying hens and 170,000 breeding pigs -- and probably tens of thousands of veal calves. The vast number of the hens and majorities of the pigs and calves raised in the state are confined to quarters that don't meet the proposed minimum standards.

So, is Ohio's agricultural industry confident of defeating this initiative, for which animal-advocacy groups are busy collecting signatures? "Hell no," Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said in an interview. Even though farmers are gearing up to spend $10 million or so on a public-relations and advertising campaign to persuade voters to vote no on the question, they expect the national coalition of advocacy groups to spend at least as much money to rack up yes votes. "We're in the big leagues here," Cornely said.

He's right about that. Animal rights, circa 2010, is a sophisticated, well organized, mainstream movement -- with far-reaching implications for ordinary Americans and American businesses. So far, the movement's greatest successes have come at the state level, but activists have now firmly trained their sights on Washington.

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