Those who believe that change can occur only in the crucible of white-hot conflict must be scratching their heads over the disappearing issue of gestation crates for pregnant pigs.
It's a case in which market forces proved quicker and more effective at producing change than political methods.
Only three years ago, emotions ran high in Nebraska.
Agricultural producers were up in arms over the possibility that the Humane Society of the United States (a different organization from the local Capital Humane Society) would mount a petition drive to make gestation crates illegal in the state.
In Washington, Gov. Dave Heineman warned Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, that he faced a battle. "I'm a graduate of West Point. I'm an Army Ranger. This guy wants to engage in guerrilla warfare, I'll teach him a thing or two," Heineman said.
Opponents of the crates contend that the crates cruelly limit the ability of sows to move. Proponents say they keep sows from fighting.
Now it seems that the debate is over. Opponents of the crates have declared victory.
Credit the “market atmosphere.”
Those were the words Pacelle used during a relatively stress-free visit to the state late last month to explain why his organization no longer feels laws are needed. “The producer follows the retailer,” Pacelle said.
That's because his organization succeeded in the past three years in getting an impressive list of restaurant chains and food retailers to promise they would not sell pork from producers using the crates. The list includes household names such as Hormel, ConAgra Foods, Smithfield, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Safeway, Target and so on.
The same thing is happening on other food issues. Panera restaurants are boasting that their chicken and turkey is raised without antibiotics. On the chain's website “Panera food team member” John Taylor declares that antibiotic-free chicken “tastes better because it is poultry as it was meant to taste: clean and simple.”
The chain adds, “With more and more farmers caring for their livestock without antibiotics, you have the power to choose antibiotic-free meat when buying it to cook at home or when you're eating out.”
Talk of guerrilla political tactics has vanished. In the case of gestation crates and similar issues, an army of consumers has proved to be an irresistible force. To put a twist on a quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, this is definitely an army that “marches on its stomach.”