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Out to Pasture: Moving Mountains, One Scoop of Gravel at a Time

February 8, 2011
By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today Editor Emeritus

SteveCornett circleThe Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a list of "Recommended Humane Standards for Raising Livestock and Poultry" that you probably would not find all that scary.

In fact, a majority of cattle people would agree with most of the standards as they apply to cattle: "Livestock and poultry must be provided with living conditions which respect their physical and behavioral needs: reasonable liberty and lack of crowding, adequate shelter, nutritious food, a humane death and good stewardship from responsible caretakers…The living conditions for livestock and poultry should be consistent with the ‘five freedoms of movement’ (Thorpe, 1969): freedom to stretch all limbs, freedom to groom, freedom to turn around, freedom of access to adequate ventilation and light, and freedom of access to adequate food and water."

True, HSUS frowns on hot-iron branding, "unless required for state or Federal regulatory purposes." And they don’t like castration, but allow it as soon after birth as possible and with a local anesthetic after weaning.

You might have your doubts about it being the government’s business to turn such suggestions into laws that could get branders imprisoned alongside the likes of Michael Vick. But just reading them, you’re inclined to take HSUS president Wayne Pacelle at his word when he says he does not oppose animal agriculture.

But in the introduction to those recommended standards, there is a sort of caveat to pay attention to: "These standards will continue to be reviewed and revised following further research developments in the animal science, welfare and ethology fields."

Maybe they mean just that. But if HSUS is using their millions to fund any such research, they don’t talk much about it. My suspicion is that when they achieve a goal—cage-free hens, no gestation crates, no horse slaughter—they will "update" their views.

Pacts and wedges. Pacelle is an imposing opponent. Unlike the headline grabbers at PETA, he is good at claiming he’s just moving a little gravel when some of us suspect he really plans to move the mountain.

He’s so reasonable-sounding, good at finding fellow travelers, forging partnerships and playing the media. He got "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio to endorse Arizona’s Proposition 204, forbidding hog and veal crates. HSUS needed a conservative; Sheriff Joe needed some love from the left. Partnership!

When Michael Vick agreed to work with HSUS, Pacelle said he should be allowed to have pets again. Partnership!

But where Pacelle’s gravel-digging is most dangerous is in his skill at driving wedges into his opposition.

Those care standards were developed in conjunction with organic food groups (farmers) who believe in making things difficult for their competition. His opposition to feedlots has won him support from the "family farm" movement, where many feel that hurting "big ag" helps them.

Think about the horse slaughter issue. There was no way to get it banned by Congress—that made little sense and there was no support from ag. So, backed by newly formed horse groups and celebrities, HSUS got the funding for horse inspections shut off—despite opposition from the American Quarter Horse Association and established farm and livestock groups.

Maybe, since stopping domestic horse slaughter is so dumb, the tide will turn there. Even so, HSUS’ big-bucks membership will continue to pose a threat to all of animal agriculture. If Pacelle’s allies-of-convenience doubt that, they’re in for a surprise.

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FEATURED IN: Beef Today - Mid-February 2011
RELATED TOPICS: Policy, Livestock, Animal Welfare

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