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Hogwash or Humanity? 

Is outlawing gestation crates for pigs the first step toward a meat-free world?

If Proposition 204 passes, then Arizonans are going to wake up one day to find that a cabal of ruthless vegans has outlawed meat consumption.

At least that's the slippery-slope message detractors of the initiative have emphasized in their efforts to shoot it down.

Prop 204, also known as the Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act, would amend the state criminal code to make it a misdemeanor "to tether or confine a pig during pregnancy or a calf raised for veal on a farm for all or the majority of a day in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down and fully extending its limbs or turning around freely."

Exemptions to Prop 204 would apply, such as when an animal is being transported or if it's the subject of legitimate scientific research. If passed, Prop 204 would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2013.

Ian Calkins, spokesman for the No on 204 Campaign, insisted the evidence leading to the meat-outlawing prediction is as plain as day.

"If you look at the heads of all of the organizations that are pushing for this particular initiative, all of them are avowed vegans--i.e., no meat, no fish, no poultry, no eggs, no dairy, no nothing. I believe that that's not some sort of coincidence," he said. "Secondly, when you look at the Web sites of the organizations--like Farm Sanctuary, for instance--that are pushing this initiative, there are little buttons on there and little pieces of information about how to become a vegetarian, and why it's good to be a vegan, why we need to stop farming practices in this country, that animals are our friends and that they shouldn't be eaten.

"When you start doing some research on the organizations that are actually behind it, you see that there is a common theme there. I see nowhere, for instance, on the Farm Sanctuary site, anything about how to cook barbecue on your grill, and how to give it good, tasty flavoring. Nothing on there about recipes or barbecuing or where to get the best pulled-pork sandwich. It is simply all about how to become a vegan and how to get your friends, your family, your neighbors to also adopt a vegan, or, at the very least, a vegetarian lifestyle."

Cheryl Naumann, chairwoman of Arizonans for Humane Farms, the political committee formed to help pass the proposition, dismissed Calkins' vegan-cult theory as a PR ploy.

"That is a great soundbite, and I think the opposition to our campaign is using that soundbite, because there's not a lot of substance to any argument they can make to say why they can't allow an animal enough room to turn around in his kennel," Naumann--who does not eat meat--said. "So there's having to create in the minds of voters a fear that's simply not founded."

She noted the proposition is strictly about pen size, not about what people are putting in their mouths: "You know, there are people on our campaign who eat meat; there are people on our campaign who don't eat meat. There are people who are Republicans and Democrats and liberals and conservatives. It's attracting an audience from all sides of the fence."

Even if the proposition's opponents are trying to inculcate voters with a fear of government-imposed veganism, it doesn't appear to be catching on.

A September poll commissioned by Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Phoenix PBS affiliate KAET-TV found overwhelming support for the initiative. Of 882 likely Arizona voters, 65 percent supported the measure, while 16 percent were against, and 19 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Other surveys in recent months have shown Prop 204 passing by a similarly comfortable margin.

According to Calkins, the polls showing his side going down in flames are "great news."

"Earlier polls that were done in the year showed upwards of 78 to 80 percent support, and it appears that they are losing supporters as time goes on and as our campaign educates voters about the hidden agenda behind Proposition 204," he said.

Calkins said voters should know that if the state's sole commercial pork purveyor, Snowflake's PFFJ ("Pigs for Farmer John"), decides to get out of business instead of retrofitting its operation, that could lead to higher prices and greater reliance on foreign sources of food. He didn't have any hard numbers on how much renovations might cost that company, but did point to two Floridians who scuttled their pork businesses rather than renovate when a similar initiative passed there.

But while the voter-education effort by Calkins' Copper State Consulting PR firm continues, the voter-education effort on the part of reporters has been curtailed. In August, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services reported that his organization wasn't permitted to tour PFFJ for fear that reporters might infect pigs with diseases.

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said there is a precedent for not allowing just anyone to tour pork-production facilities.

"More and more, what they're going to is restricted traffic, which basically means unnecessary personnel are excluded from buildings. That's kind of the first line of defense," he said. After all, pork producers have sizeable investments to protect in many cases, Burkgren added.

However, a camera crew hired by Copper State Consulting was allowed to gather footage for the firm to provide to news media. Calkins, who said they had to limit traffic into the facility as much as possible, rejected assertions that reporters have no way to verify the footage's authenticity.

"To that, I say I personally was there when that footage was shot, and I can vouch for the credibility and the fact that it was actually taken at an Arizona hog facility, and that no doctoring of any kind took place," Calkins said. "It's simply raw footage, and I give you my word that it is of that facility."

With about five weeks left until voting day, both sides of the Prop 204 debate are making accusations of sign stealing. No on 204 put out a press release in September saying that 140 of their "Hogwash" signs had been "systematically disappearing."

On the other hand, Naumann said Arizonans for Humane Farms had unearthed a man they believe is affiliated with No on 204, who had attended one of her group's meetings and stole as many as 40 signs.

"We have the individual's name (and) address, and we are filing a police report," she said. "I have informed our opposition that one of their individuals is about to deal with law enforcement."

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