* * *

Call it the Colorado compromise.

In early 2007, Pacelle ran into Colorado governor Bill Ritter and announced his intention to go for the jugular in his state. Ritter persuaded Pacelle to meet with farmers instead. After the first tête-à-tête, at a Colorado steak house, it was clear a negotiator would be needed.

Enter Bernard Rollin.

“They had 12 million bucks allocated to do this referendum, and the livestock association told me their people told them that if they don’t fight it, they’ll lose three to one, and if they do fight it, they’ll lose two to one,” recalls Rollin, a professor of philosophy and animal science at Colorado State University. “They didn’t have the money to fight it, so they asked me to fight it. Well, I had never met Wayne Pacelle. I work alone.

“Two months later, I’m on a panel with Pacelle, and he came over and said, ‘I really admire your work; I’ve used it’ and so forth. And I said, ‘Then with all due respect, don’t screw me in my own state.’”

The conversation eventually concluded, according to Rollin, with Pacelle acquiescing. “He said, ‘Okay, if you can broker a deal, I’ll cancel the referendum.’ And 150 hours of unpaid time later, we had the deal. My wife will still tell you how many dinners I ate with one phone in each ear and the face in the plate.”

Rollin is an unusual animal, as it were. He authored the first ethics textbook for veterinarians and was an architect of a federal law enforcing certain standards for animals used in research labs. A New York Jew who settled in Colorado 40 years ago, he’s a weightlifting enthusiast who owns three motorcycles and flips the bird at helmet laws.

When it comes to livestock, Rollin enjoys cred both with the independents and with the industry. “He has some attitude, but he’s a great person, and I respect him well,” says Ivan Steinke, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council. “He’s an ethicist—and when I say ‘ethicist,’ he doesn’t dis. He just believes there’s proper procedures and ethics in production agriculture, and whether you’re a cow, calf or dairy man, or hog operator or poultry guy, we have the responsibility to do it in a certain way. [Bernie and I] don’t agree on 100 percent of the issues, but we can debate them.”

Ask Rollin whose side he’s on, and the response is easy: “I’m in it for the animals.”

He traces his approach back to an ancient, biblical social contract of animal husbandry, suggesting that those who are good to animals will have animals that are productive for them. In Rollins’ view, science and technology have no place in the discussion.

“The example I always use is: Just because I own my own motorcycle doesn’t mean I can ride on the sidewalk at 100 mph or throw wheelies on Main Street. The line we hear all the time is, ‘I own those animals; I can do whatever I goddamn please.’ That’s not true—particularly not now.”

Societal mores are changing, Rollin notes, and in response, some food corporations are beginning to stipulate that livestock be raised a certain way. Smithfield, a hog packer, has a long-term plan to phase out gestation crates on all its corporate-owned and subcontractor-operated farms. Burger King and Wal-Mart are buying more cage-free eggs.

“Life is like an ox cart that’s going to move along. You can stop when it stops and drink when it drinks. Or you can be dragged and beaten and be bloody,” Rollin sums up. “You can do this on your own or get legislated by people who don’t necessarily understand the issues.”

With Rollin playing referee, Colorado’s pork producers won a few concessions: 10 years to phase out the pig crates, for one, and a loophole that allows sows to stay semi-crated until “confirmed” pregnant, which can take a month. The Humane Society also agreed not to push the battery-cage issue, leaving the egg industry unaffected.

For now, anyway.

California agribusiness may have thought it had seen the last of the activists for a while after the ’08 vote. Yet the group returned to the state capitol last year, pushing a ban on another industrial practice it finds abhorrent. This time, the dairy industry was the target.

And the politicking was successful. In October, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law banning “tail docking,” the amputation of a milk cow’s tail, which is commonly performed without anesthetic. Some dairymen have long believed tail docking improves hygiene, udder health and the quality of the milk produced, though scientific research has not borne out those theories and the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the practice.

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