After 146 years, the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending the greatest show on Earth. Last week’s announcements cited many reasons for the closure, but it seemed many circled back to issues with activist groups. These groups had been holding ongoing protests at performances around the country and were successful in ending certain popular acts. While there are very distinct differences between a circus and a family farm; it’s a reminder of the influence activists can have on what many consider an American institution.
Activists are becoming smarter when choosing their battles by taking small steps to much bigger and much more detrimental goals for agriculture. Instead of attacking family farms producing hogs in Iowa, activist chose to start a legislative movement in states where hog production is less known. There are several examples like the fight to eliminate gestation stalls, activists targeted 10 states like Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Hog production in these states is much less important than Midwest states, and most voters have no connection to local hog farmers in their communities.
Then look at the ballot initiative in California to ban poultry cages. That law rippled across the country because it applied to all eggs sold in California. The voters in one state, mostly unfamiliar with the care and husbandry of chickens, changed the way egg producers do business across the country. The activists agenda was able to creep across the country unchecked then by a majority of voters or lawmakers.
It’s important that farmers stay in tune to what is going on in the state and federal legislatures this time of year. While agriculture groups have their own policy proposals to make food production better and safer for our consumers, we can’t lose sight of activists’ proposals. Their wish lists are long and come on many fronts. Many proposals do not attack their goals directly, but lay the ground work to erode the ability of hard working farmers to raise livestock to feed the world.