Lawmakers and representatives from animal agriculture joined forces to educate nearly 100 people about the deliberate emphasis farmers and ranchers place on caring for the health and well-being of their animals. During a briefing hosted by Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), congressional staff learned about multiple voluntary, producer-led animal care programs and about the concerns farmers and ranchers have with legislation introduced in the House that would mandate strict on-farm production practices.
Smith said science must be the driving force behind public policy decisions. He said farmers and ranchers are dedicated to caring for the health and well-being of their animals.
"Ensuring that public policy is driven by sound science is critical to the continued success of agriculture and, in turn, the long-term safety and security of our nation’s food supply. The landscape of American agriculture continues to evolve, but the concern and care farmers and ranchers show their livestock remains unchanged," Smith said. "Improved housing, updated handling practices and modernized health and nutrition products are the result of generations of investment and research into raising high-quality animals. Every day, our producers demonstrate their dedication to providing the highest-quality, safest and most affordable products in the world."
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President J.D. Alexander joined Amon Baer, an egg farmer from Minnesota; Betsy Flores, director of regulatory affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation; and Bill Luckey, a hog producer from Nebraska, on a panel to explain how they care for their livestock and poultry. Each speaker raised serious concern about H.R. 3798, legislation that would codify an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to seek federally mandated production practices for the egg industry. Alexander, who is a Nebraska beef producer, said a one-size-fits-all approach to animal agriculture won’t work.
"No two farms or ranches are the same. What works for my neighbor may not work for me, because all farmers and ranchers have to adapt to meet the needs of their animals, comply with regulations and, ultimately, satisfy consumer demand," Alexander said. "My biggest concern with H.R. 3798 is that outside groups with no knowledge of the industry will be dictating my livelihood and potentially compromising the welfare of my livestock. This legislation creates a slippery slope. Today it’s egg farmers, but tomorrow it could be any other segment of animal agriculture, and we’re not going to let that happen."
Alexander said the groups are not alone in their opposition to mandated, prescriptive production practices. He said the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) has acknowledged that mandated animal production practices, such as those proposed in H.R. 3798, are not in the best interest of promoting true animal welfare, because they cannot easily be adapted or updated for different farming models. A far better approach, according to Alexander, is voluntary, producer-led programs such as the beef industry’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.
"BQA works and has been successful because it was created by beef producers working with veterinarians and other animal health and well-being experts to develop guidelines based on science. Unlike strict legislative mandates that would require an act of Congress to update, BQA standards are updated regularly to reflect the latest science," Alexander said. "No one cares more about the health and well-being of animals than the men and women who work each day raising them. Together, we will work to stop this ill-conceived attempt to take animal care decisions out of the hands of farmers and ranchers and veterinarians."
The briefing was hosted by a coalition of agricultural organizations working to stop H.R. 3798. The coalition includes NCBA; the Egg Farmers of America; the National Pork Producers Council; the National Milk Producers Federation; the American Sheep Industry; and the American Farm Bureau Federation.