David Cassuto (x-post from Animal Blawg)

There’s an odd debate going on within the North Dakota agriculture industry over Measure 2, which would ban canned hunting in the state.  On the one hand are those who support the measure because they believe canned hunts  reflect badly on the animal industry and also bring the threat of disease to livestock.  On the other side are those who say canned hunting is no different than other types of animal agriculture in that both businesses raise the animals for meat.   According to one measure opponent, “It would seem to me that the animal there is private property.  This (ban) is one step away from banning the slaughter of cattle, hogs and sheep, what have you.”    

Both sides agree that the real enemy are the animal advocacy organizations.  “Radical animal rights groups run with this bone in their teeth and use canned shooting as a draw for donations and membership. Just the annual budget of the HSUS alone can swamp any positive aspects of public relations by the ag community,” observes Dick Monson of North Dakota Hunters for Fair Chase (who support the measure).  Jason Schmidt of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association thinks Monson is naive:  “I think he (Monson) is underestimating the motives of groups like HSUS or PETA,” Schmidt says. “They want to eliminate animal agriculture and this is just a small step toward that. The property rights issue is a slippery slope. If you give them that one thing in legislation, I don’t think they’re going to quit.”

It’s hard to know where to begin with this.  Does one side with those who oppose the measure on the grounds that there is no ethically relevant difference between slaughtering farm animals and staging canned “hunts” of imprisoned “wild” animals?  Or does one argue that enabling an industry built solely on the pleasure that “hunters” derive from shooting helpless, trapped animals is different and worse than raising and killing animals not for the fun of killing but rather because of a belief that killing is an acceptable by-product of animal consumption?

Is there an ethical divide here?  Or merely a distinction without a difference?  North Dakota voters will decide Measure 2 on November 2nd but the larger questions will, alas, remain with us for a long time.