Today the animal rights movement is one step closer to shutting down livestock agriculture, as a Florida ballot initiative has been approved that would alter the state’s constitution by extending rights to pregnant pigs. Yesterday the Florida Department of State certified that enough signatures have been collected to put the measure on November’s statewide ballot. As Dave Barry might say, we’re not making this up.

If successful in November, this unprecedented effort will ban Florida farmers from using "gestation crates,” normally necessary to keep sows healthy during pregnancy, and to prevent the accidental crushing death of their newborn piglets. A 2001 Iowa State University study (the most recent on the subject) found that sows kept in confinement crates produced 60 percent more live offspring than sows allowed to wander in the “hoop barns” that animal rights activists prefer. Also according to this study, pregnant sows kept in hoop structures were 4 times more likely to die, compared to animals kept in crates during gestation. So much for activists’ claims about wanting what’s best for the animals.

Even if the initiative passes, not much will change — at least right away. Florida, it turns out, has only two hog farms using the crates, with a total of under 800 animals. “This amendment,” the Florida Sun-Sentinel has written, “may be a solution in search of a problem.” As hog-farming states go, Florida is certainly a far cry from market-leaders like Iowa, North Carolina, and Minnesota, where pig populations are literally thousands of times greater.

This lack of industry opposition, along with a notoriously activist-friendly ballot initiative process, are the main reasons animal rightists have directed their focus on Florida. And as PETA campaign director Bruce Friedrich recently wrote in an open letter to hog-initiative supporters, the Florida initiative would “be the first” to ban this type of food production. “It would help us lobby in Congress,” wrote Friedrich. PETA organizer Megan Hartwell followed up with the promise that a win in Florida “could lead to similar… campaigns in other states.” Friedrich has also promised to pour PETA’s astronomical financial resources into graphic television ads targeted at Florida voters during the election season.

Animal rights activists in Florida have already raised over $1 million for this battle through a political action committee (PAC) called Floridians for Humane Farms. This PAC, chaired by Blockbuster Video magnate Wayne Huizenga’s daughter Pamela, has only managed to raise 8 percent of its funds from individual Floridians. The lion’s share of the money has come in six-figure chunks, most notably from Farm Sanctuary, an animal shelter (and former Animal Liberation Front “spokesgroup”) based in New York and California.

Farm Sanctuary has put over $315,000 into the Florida hog campaign PAC to date, largely by running national direct-mail appeals focusing specifically on the ballot initiative campaign. The jury is still out on whether or not this is a violation of Florida election law, which forbids campaigns from accepting money passed from its original donor through a third party.

Farmers in Florida have seen this coming for over a year. In July 2001, Florida Farm Bureau Federation agricultural policy director Pat Cockrell told the Gainesville Sun that this activist campaign was “a cynical, one might say greasy, attempt by national animal rights groups that would lard up our state’s constitution in order to advance a national animal rights agenda, and perhaps to fatten those organizations’ treasuries.”