It’s not often that someone involved with agriculture has the chance to sit down across the table from the president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
When Wayne Pacelle was in Missouri lobbying to keep the state’s Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act intact, we had just the opportunity.
Throughout the interview, Pacelle emphasized his organization’s desire to have an open dialogue with farmers, but his intentions were vague.
"I think the agreement we hatched in Ohio was a great example. We were heading toward a ballot initiative and then we all sat down together ... and we crafted a solution that none of us felt was entirely good, but one that we could move forward with," he said.
The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board was developed in November 2009. In June 2010, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and HSUS agreed on an action plan called the Buckeye Compromise with the condition that HSUS would not pursue a ballot initiative. While he said there are currently no plans to do the same thing in Missouri in regard to farm animal welfare, Pacelle was adamant the conversation has to begin.
"I think what we want is a general principle, not just in Missouri, of more dialogue and more discussion, which is part of the reason I’m talking to you guys. We want to have this discussion with farmers," he said.
Ideals and practices. So what does HSUS want the ideal farm to look like? "I just visited one of our member’s cattle ranch in Nebraska, 1,000 cattle, and I think they are doing a fabulous job," Pacelle said.
When asked about what practices this cattle farmer was using, Pacelle wouldn’t give specifics.
"You haven’t ever really heard any big criticisms on the production side of raising cattle from the humane society," Pacelle said. "Cattle are generally in extensive systems—they are grazing, they are outside. We have been concerned about downer cows. We have advocated for a no-downer policy, and we think that is a sensible policy from an animal care perspective as well as from the beef industry’s perspective."
HSUS’s stance on swine and poultry production practices are more intensive. Several industry associations have recently banded together to protect farmers from threats of new regulations. Sidestepping the traditional ag groups, Pacelle said HSUS is forming its own farmers and ranchers council.
Money and image. HSUS has been most criticized in regard to its financial transparency and its image as an umbrella animal shelter organization. In 2009, the most recent year for which data was available at press time, HSUS’s tax return reported an annual budget of $121 million.
Pacelle would not comment on the amount of money his organization spends on animal welfare research to develop care standards for housing and human interaction with animals, including livestock.
"We have an agreement with the Ohio groups to together spend money on research to solve some of these issues and to give farmers best practices in moving forward with animal production strategies," Pacelle said. "But HSUS is one group. What do all the farm groups spend on research? Why is all the scrutiny on HSUS about trying to micromanage everything we do? We do things because that is what our board and our members want. The reason groups are concerned about us is because we are very effective."
Of concern to the ag industry: Where does HSUS get its information to build its cases against livestock producers?
"The authority comes from—these are moral questions. I mean, the Humane Society has veterinarians and animal scientists; it has a whole scientific convoy of people. Science alone doesn’t give you the answer. Science and values together give you answers."
As people become even farther removed from the farm, it will be increasingly important for all of the ag community to be diligent in both science and farm values.