By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
“They spent $4 million passing it,” he adds, “and there’s still a [ballot] measure.”
The Humane Society is currently collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment that would require the Ohio livestock board to enforce anti-confinement standards for hogs, veal calves and egg-laying hens. The amendment would also outlaw dragging around downer cows and require all sick farm animals to be “humanely euthanized.” If it passes, the industry would have to meet all standards by 2016.
Advocates of fair trade decry the populist tactics. “The Humane Society is dividing people and making our jobs a lot harder,” says Tim Gibbons, communications director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. “They’re causing the industry to say, ‘You’re either for us, or you’re for the Humane Society.’ And that’s not the truth.”
Gibbons says the D.C. group has put independent farmers, many of whom oppose confinement, between a rock and a hard place. To support the Humane Society would be to incur the wrath of “big ag” in their state and potentially endanger their businesses, Gibbons asserts. But endorsing livestock boards could subject the small farmers to costly, burdensome regulations favored by big ag—and similarly endanger their livelihood.
“You don’t have to be either/or,” Gibbons insists. “There is another position out there, and that’s having independent family farmers raising livestock ethically on open, competitive markets. It’s good for a state and for farmers and our national security, and for a whole multitude of reasons, it’s good for the economy.”
* * *
Troy and Stacy Hadrick’s spiel begins with a photo of a busty babe in a lemon-yellow bikini.
“Do you see this woman in yellow up here, holding the sign saying, ‘KFC tortures chicks’?” Troy asks his audience. “She’s a protestor for PETA, and she’s probably the only chick getting tortured right there. You want to know why? You see that snow on the ground? That’s Juneau, Alaska. Not so warm. And I don’t think she’s got her winter thong on.”
It’s a mild March night on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Thanks to the forgiving Red River, the Hadricks’ “Real Enemies of Agriculture” talk this year hasn’t been flooded out, and the couple has the next 90 minutes to show the up-and-comer ag crowd the face of the opposition, then equip them with a defense arsenal.
Troy runs down a roster of activist groups—PETA (“They say slavery was as bad as livestock handling”), the Humane Society (“Don’t tell me they’re not a vegan organization! Look at the recipe section on their website”), the Animal Liberation Front (“These are the guys who blow up professors’ houses”)—before Stacy names the ag community’s worst enemy:
“Sorry, guys. No offense to anyone here in the room, but it’s you and me.”
The couple launched its motivational-speaking business, Advocates for Ag, four years ago. The premise is simple: With modern food production under attack, somebody needed to school farmers and ranchers in public relations. As the Hadricks like to say, “Those of us in agriculture are kind of like Sasquatch or Bigfoot: Everybody’s heard of one but never seen one before.”
The couple’s antidote is to “talk, teach and touch.” Stacy tells the university’s students, “Troy and I truly believe that conversations with one person at a time can change the perception of agriculture.”
The Hadricks came to this vocation after an extended conversation with one influential person in particular.
Back in 2001, their neighbor heard from a journalist friend looking to learn about modern cattle ranching. Before long, The New York Times Magazine writer was set up with Stacy’s father and uncle, who own and operate Blair Ranch, on which the extended family lives.
The reporter decided to buy a steer from the Blairs but have them take care of it as they would their own. This way, he could follow the typical beef cow from birth to slaughter and gain an understanding of the business’ slim profit margins.
The animal—“No. 534,” as the ranchers referred to it—spent its first six months on the grassy ranch in Vale before getting trucked to a crowded Kansas feedlot, where, over the next eight months, it fattened to 1,200 pounds on a diet of corn and antibiotics.
Then it was off to the slaughterhouse to be stunned to death and processed.
“The opportunity to put beef on the front page of The New York Times—wow!” recalls Troy. “We wanted to do the best possible job that we could.”
But the morning the article appeared in the Sunday magazine, the ranchers felt they’d made a huge mistake by showing how the proverbial sausage gets made. “It sent shock waves through the entire beef industry,” Hadrick explains to the Fargo audience. “Cash prices dropped. Futures dropped. Packing plants and feed yards worried about protests. And every person who read that article had their perception of reality shifted in the wrong direction.”
Their phone started ringing. Hadrick recounts how he was called a “rotten, horrible, disgraceful human being” and told he’d rot in hell. “Somebody wanted to buy a steer and put it on a farm sanctuary in New York to ‘live out the rest of its natural course,’” he says. “We told him the steer was on its natural course. It’s a steer.”