In today’s New York Times, Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle adds two new states to his animal rights group’s hit list: Washington and Oregon. Add that to existing speculation about Nebraska and Minnesota also being in HSUS’s sights, and 2012 could be a big year for the group’s campaigns against America’s farmers. Pacelle has been forcing animal rights into the voting booth for most of his professional career, so this comes as no surprise. Also of note were Pacelle’s comments about a brewing fight over the interpretation of California’s “Proposition 2” requirements:

The breakthrough 2008 law said that animals could be confined only in ways that allowed them “to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” Egg producers and even some animal advocates say this may permit housing hens in larger “enriched cages,” with perches and nesting spots.

Mr. Pacelle asserts that no form of caging can meet a chicken’s needs for “running, flying and wing flapping” and that denying these impulses can cause a rise in stress hormones.

“There’s going to be a legal wrangle over this,” Mr. Pacelle predicted.

Pacelle is right about that last part: A legal tussle is surely forthcoming over enriched chicken cages that allow more space than conventional ones. They also permit the expression of some natural animal behaviors. But HSUS, with its fleet of in-house lawyers, is looking to muscle farmers around until they submit to 100 percent “cage free” production—or a slow death by lawsuit. (See Hudson Valley Foie Gras’ situation.)

Why? Because HSUS has a losing argument on animal welfare, and any legal setback would significantly slow down its march toward veganizing America. (What HSUS really wants is people eating fewer eggs—or no eggs at all. Forcing egg farmers to go “cage-free” is just one tiny step in that direction.) The regulations HSUS is currently pushing would impose high production costs as farmers change their facilities, and the resulting higher costs to consumers would drive down demand.

If HSUS were really interested in the welfare of hens, as opposed to the bankruptcy of egg farmers, it could start by fully recognizing that animal welfare relies on many different measures. It’s not a black-and-white measure. In fact, the American Humane Certified program (run by the American Humane Association) and animal welfare legend Temple Grandin both favor labeling “enriched” cage systems as “humane.”

But none of this matters to HSUS’s ideological hacks. When animal welfare science gets in their way, the odd lawyer (or 30) can come in handy. Will the activists beat the experts and farmers? Let’s hope not.