Survey results released this week on Nebraskans' attitudes toward animal-welfare issues should not be regarded as a step toward a ballot initiative, the president of the Humane Society of the United States said Wednesday.
But almost in the same breath, Wayne Pacelle said he wants Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation to work with his organization to resolve its concerns about gestation crates for pregnant sows, battery cages for laying hens and other common, confinement-related agricultural practices.
"This is a process for us in wanting to demonstrate to the Farm Bureau and to political leaders that support for these provisions exists," Pacelle said, "and that the best way to handle these questions is through discussion and collaboration."
As evidence of support, he pointed to survey results from telephone interviews of some 500 registered voters in Nebraska from Jan. 31 through Feb. 3.
According to Lake Research Partners, headquartered in Washington, D.C., responses showed a 67 percent favorable rating for Heineman and a 65 percent favorable score for the Humane Society.
Meanwhile, some 79 percent of respondents believe "farmers, consumers, animal welfare groups, and food safety experts all should have a seat at the table" in discussing agricultural issues.
And 53 percent would support a ban on gestation crates, with 30 percent opposed to a ban and 17 percent undecided, a summary of survey results said.
Besides commenting on the survey, Pacelle took time again Wednesday to recall his 2010 stop in Lincoln to lay out the Humane Society's animal welfare stance.
After that came what he described as "this very knee-jerk and hostile response from the Nebraska Farm Bureau and Governor Heineman."
He said "the way to settle that dispute was to conduct a poll of likely Nebraska voters."
Sought out earlier Wednesday, Farm Bureau President Keith Olsen acknowledged that the survey showed a favorability score of just 45 percent for his organization.
"We understand very well that a lot of people in Nebraska don't know what the Farm Bureau is," Olsen said. "And how can you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of somebody if you don't know who they are?"
Olsen and Greg Ibach, state director of agriculture, also expressed interest in the way the survey answers were gathered. "You can get any answer you want by the way you ask the question," Olsen said.
"It's harder for us to analyze what the poll data means without actually seeing the questions that were asked," Ibach said.
Pacelle declined to provide a full list of the questions asked. "We want to give the results, but we don't necessarily want to give the Farm Bureau an asset that we have," he said.
Ibach referred to the Humane Society of the United States as "a Washington, D.C.,-based radical group," and suggested "we're doing exactly what the poll says. Nebraskans want us to bring the relevant parties to the table and we have."
The state's top agriculture official said the poll "raises some flags. Mr. Pacelle has said a number of times that he is not considering a ballot initiative in Nebraska, but now he's doing polling on a ballot initiative."
"The thing that concerns us tremendously," said Olsen, "is that we don't want a ballot issue that will be divisive to the state. No one wins on that."
Pacelle said there are still no plans for a ballot measure. "But obviously we want these things to be addressed. And if they don't want to sit down and discuss them, then at the end of the day -- whether that's two, four or eight years from now, we don't know -- we want to see those problems addressed."