From factory farming to wildlife trafficking, ballot measures to affect the lives of millions of animals
When voters cast their ballots in this general election, they won’t only be making critical decisions about who will represent them in the White House, Congress, and state and local offices. In a number of states, citizens will also vote on ballot initiatives concerning the humane treatment of animals—deciding whether to adopt policies on factory farming, wildlife trafficking, and other animal protection issues. Other measures, which seek to stifle voting rights, will determine whether we’ll even be able to conduct future ballot measures to benefit animals.
Since the early 1990s, The HSUS and allied organizations have been involved in about 50 statewide ballot contests, and voters have sided with animals about 70 percent of the time. They’ve banned cockfighting in three of the last states where it remained legal (Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma), set humane treatment standards for dogs in the largest puppy mill state (Missouri), stopped extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (Arizona, California, and Florida), and adopted new policies to restrict greyhound racing, horse slaughter, body-gripping traps and poisons, trophy hunting of bears, cougars, and wolves, and more. When politicians in the state legislatures have been held captive by special interests—such as agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby, or even organized cockfighting groups—animal advocates have petitioned to put these questions directly to the people, so that the law can speak for animals at risk.
This year in Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, which would phase out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in small crates and cages in which they’re virtually immobilized for their entire lives, and remove inhumane and unsafe products from the Massachusetts marketplace. More than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot, and it’s backed by the MSPCA, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, and hundreds of Massachusetts veterinarians and family farmers. Question 3 codifies the voluntary commitments already occurring in the marketplace, with McDonald’s, Walmart, and 200 other major food retail brands pledging to change their procurement practices and source only cage-free eggs and meats. So many of the state’s major newspapers, including The Boston Globe, Berkshire Eagle, Cape Cod Times, and Lawrence Eagle Tribune, have endorsed the measure.
In Oregon, voters will weigh in on Measure 100, which will help save endangered sea turtles, elephants, rhinos, and other wild animals threatened with cruel poaching and extinction. Every day close to 100 elephants are killed in Africa, and their tusks hacked off to supply the black market for ivory trinkets. Poachers poison watering holes with cyanide, killing hundreds of elephants at once. Organized criminal gangs and armed rebels use military weapons to kill wildlife for the multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade. Measure 100 will ensure that Oregon does not provide a market for endangered species products resulting from wildlife poaching and trafficking. If passed, Oregon will join California, Washington, Hawaii, and other states in shutting down local markets for those who seek to profit from this destructive wildlife trade. Just about every paper in the state – from The Oregonian to the Eugene Register Guard to the Medford Mail Tribune — backs the measure, and the NRA and other special interests which have fought similar reforms know they are outmatched and aren’t even mounting a serious campaign.
In Oklahoma, there is, however, a major battle, as family farmers, municipal governments, animal advocates, and a broad coalition of other forces are taking on Big Agriculture’s campaign to deregulate agriculture in the state from this point forward. Their overreaching and dangerous and anti-democratic measure, State Question 777, would create a “right to farm” in the state constitutional amendment, forbidding any reasonable standards to place restraints on agriculture, unless there is a “compelling state interest.” Rather than “right to farm,” it’s really more accurately described as a “right to harm” – forbidding local governments, the state legislature, or even the people (through the initiative process) from placing any restraints on any form of agriculture. The measure would protect corporate interests and foreign-owned Big Ag entities at the expense of Oklahoma’s family farmers, land, and animals. The measure is so broadly worded that it could prevent future restrictions on any “agricultural” practice, including puppy mills, horse slaughter, and raising gamefowl for cockfighting. Even the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau admitted that the language referencing a “compelling state interest” is flawed, and said, “I wish that language weren’t in there.” So far, every major paper in the state, including The Oklahoman, Tulsa World, Enid News & Review, Talaquah Daily Press, and Muskogee Phoenix, opposes 777.
Those aren’t the only states where voters will see and act on ballot issues related to animals. Californians will vote on Proposition 67 to protect the state’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which wash into our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans, where they are ingested by or entangle sea turtles, otters, seals, fish, and birds. Some ocean animals mistake the bags for food, fill their stomachs with plastics, and die of starvation. Montanans will vote on I-177, which would restrict the use of cruel steel- jawed leghold traps and wire snares on public lands. In Colorado, Amendment 71 would make it next to impossible for citizens to have a say on future constitutional ballot measures, including those dealing with animal protection. The HSUS favors the California and Montana measures, but strongly opposes the Colorado measure as an attack on citizen’s voting rights.
When you enter the voting booth or send in your mail ballot this November, make sure you don’t stop after making your choices in the candidate races. Continue down the ballot and review the animal issues at stake. Especially in states with the ballot and referendum option, you have a critical role in promoting the humane treatment of animals and protecting these creatures from cruelty and suffering, and also in preserving your rights to participate in democratic decision-making in future elections.