Ballot measures again prove to be the most effective weapon against systemic animal cruelty

Overshadowed by the national news about the very consequential national election of November 6th was the take-away that animal advocates decisively won two far-reaching ballot measures against greyhound racing and factory farming. Voters in Florida approved Amendment 13 against greyhound racing with an attention-grabbing 69 percent of the vote, while Californians approved Prop 12 with 62 percent to restrict the sale of meat and eggs from farms that rely on extreme confinement. It was the second consecutive cycle that saw lopsided outcomes in favor of animal welfare ballot measures.

The leadership now guiding Animal Wellness Action has helped engineer ballot initiative strategy and execution in the contemporary era — and with extraordinary results. Direct democracy on animal issues has been the most effective and high-impact pathway for generating reforms for animals, and no cause or industry has had a higher rate of winning campaigns over a quarter century.

We’ve used the ballot initiative process to help finish off waning industries and to institute pioneering changes to entrenched industries that had previously swatted away calls for change in state legislatures. Take cockfighting for example. Animal advocates launched ballot measures in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma to outlaw barbaric staged fights between animals when lawmakers in these states quietly or outspokenly killed off proposed bans. Those ballot initiative wins against cockfighting set up federal legislative successes to have a national ban on animal fighting; it also isolated the remaining two states, Louisiana and New Mexico, that have no initiative process and helped create pressure for successful legislative action.

Similarly, the ballot initiative process has been used to deal blows to the steadily declining greyhound racing industry. In 2008, voters approved a measure in Massachusetts to ban greyhound racing, and 10 years later, voters decided to shut down two-thirds of what remained of the industry by passing a constitutional amendment to ban the practice in Florida. These wins, especially the one in Florida, give us momentum to close out an archaic industry that long ago lost its appeal to consumers.

Ballot measures also became the means to establish the first public policies against extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. In Florida, voters banned gestation crates in 2002 — enacting the nation’s first anti-confinement law. Four years later, Arizona voters banned gestation crates and veal crates, and in response pig-producing giant Smithfield Foods pledged to phase out gestation crates in its operations in 10 years. The American Veal Association said its members would stop using confinement stalls over that same time frame.

Then California passed Prop 2 in 2008, banning veal and gestation crates and battery cages in one of the nation’s biggest egg-producing states. State lawmakers followed up by stopping the sale of eggs into the state that come from battery cages. This created the political opportunity for animal protection advocates and the egg industry to join together and ban battery cages nationwide. But other barnyard groups, fearing the precedent of federal action against confinement systems in agriculture, fought it and stymied progress on the bill.

That obstructionism turned out to be a fortunate circumstance. Once Congress decided not to act, major food retailers stepped in. Within the last half dozen years, nearly 300 of the biggest names in food retail made pledges to stop purchasing pork or eggs from farms that relied on extreme confinement and to commit to cage-free procurement practices.

Subsequent ballot measures, including a Massachusetts 2016 measure and this year’s Prop 12 in California, have strengthened the in-state prohibitions on confinement and restricted sales of factory farmed products in these major markets, requiring producers to start tearing down the confinement farms and building cage-free operations in their place.

Wildlife protection ballot initiatives have been the key way around stubborn-minded state legislatures and fish and game commissions dominated by trophy hunters, trappers, and their allies. State wildlife agencies too often have been coopted by the industries and became service agencies for even the most extreme segments of the hunting community. That’s precisely why animal protection advocates launched ballot measures to curb terrible abuses, such as the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, baiting and hounding of bears and mountain lions, aerial gunning of wolves, and other unsporting and inhumane methods. They’ve also used it to hold the line when the agencies and their allies in the hunting lobby tried to expand hunting opportunities, by allowing mourning dove hunting and wolf hunting in Michigan where these practices had been banned for decades.

Animal Wellness Action, as a new organization, tapped into the experience of its leadership to help drive key successes on the November ballot, and there’s much more to come. We’re poised to continue to use the process of direct democracy to drive reforms when state legislatures cave in to special interests and refuse to act for the public good. All the while, animal protection advocates, in working with voters, are reminding politicians that the American public is solidly on the side of animals and that it’s time for them to act and enact reforms that help animals and people.

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