May 13, 2016
Cattle in a feedlot
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Photo by Blair Fannin
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently announced the formation of a National Agriculture Advisory Council. The move comes after the organization found success with 11 state advisory councils over the past four years.
Nebraska farmer and livestock producer Kevin Fulton serves as Chairman of the council and said, “I am proud to serve alongside the distinguished farmers and ranchers for the HSUS’ National Agriculture Advisory Council. These individuals are proven leaders who represent the face of humane and sustainable agriculture in this country. We are fully committed to working with the HSUS to improve the welfare of farm animals in a way that benefits not only the animals, but the family farmer, the consumer and our environment.”
In what seems to be an odd pairing of groups that have often been viewed as at odds, Marty Irby, Senior Director of Rural Outreach and Equine Production, told WLJ: “I can tell you, our organization is definitely not anti-animal agriculture.” Irby has an agriculture background, having grown up on a horse and cattle farm in southern Alabama, and said he wouldn’t be working for HSUS if he felt the organization was against animal agriculture.
Irby said the council members were chosen based on their involvement in the state councils and with the livestock industry. He said they all have a good track record of humane livestock production and a willingness to stand up for what they believe to be right. Members represent many geographic regions across the U.S.
Involving the council in policy discussions is an idea Irby jumped on when he received the directive to work with farmers to help promote their product. Speaking to WLJ, he asked, “What better way to try to work with farmers and people who are producing livestock than to involve them in our organization, and to try and gain support in the agricultural segment by actually having these people have a voice in our policy making?” Council member Mike Callicrate, owner of Callicrate Cattle Co. in Colorado Springs, CO, acknowledged there are organizations that are definitely anti-meat, but said he believes HSUS is not anti-agriculture. He views serving on the council as an opportunity to have his voice heard. “If they in fact are looking at policies that are contrary to meat producers, cattle producers, pork producers or food producers in general, I really want to be there to help guide that thinking in a responsible way that doesn’t hurt family-farm agriculture.”
He also said it is important to be involved because of the large reach of an organization like HSUS. “When I think about building beef demand or better connecting with consumers to make them aware of what’s out there in regard to the various meats and foods that are produced by family farmers and ranchers; I really want to connect with consumers. When you have a group with 11 million eaters that care about where their food comes from, I’m going to be interested in connecting with them.”
Asked if having livestock producers on the council is just for an appearance of taking a broader view of animal agriculture, Irby said, “Not at all. The council is definitely there for us to actually implement things they recommend.” He went on to say a top goal of the council is to promote farming and ranching that answers to higher animal standards as the foundation of the economic vibrancy in rural communities. He added they are fighting against factory farming and extreme animal confinement.
Irby was traveling in Montana when he talked to WLJ, and was asked about cattle production after seeing open spaces with ample room for cattle in pastures and feedlots. He acknowledged the cattle industry is on the right track. “We typically have been able to work more and better with cattle producers who are producing beef for human consumption because they don’t necessarily face the issues that the poultry industry and the pork industry do with extreme confinement,” he said. “Many beef producers, and probably more of them than not, are doing things the right way.”
Asked if the HSUS will be working with established agriculture groups, Irby said that is one of the goals as HSUS and the council works to build bridges and relationships. “A lot of people just say, ‘We don’t want to change anything,’ but we actually want to build a bridge and work with people and move forward and find common ground.”
Because there has been friction between animal production and the HSUS in the past, Irby said, “I recognize clearly that there is some dissent against the Humane Society by some of these groups, but most of the people who are really against us are the people who are producing factory farmed animals and who are involved in extreme confinement. We’ve found that everyone who we are working with, who are doing things the right way, we’ve been able to build a great relationship with.”
Building those bridges is also something Callicrate sees as important in his role on the council. “There are certainly members and even staff within HSUS that are vegans and they’ve got a belief system, and it’s my job I think not to change the way they think or to convert them, but to at least bring some argument to the table that really helps those policies and those things that they support head in the right direction.”
Irby addressed the idea of HSUS having a hard vegetarian/vegan agenda, saying he believes it is somewhat of a misconception. He noted while there are a large number of employees and members who don’t eat meat, he and others enjoy meat, as long as it is humanely raised.
In a statement addressing the National Agriculture Advisory Council, the Animal Agriculture Alliance (Alliance) said, “It is not surprising to see HSUS continue to find ways to mislead consumers, restaurants and retailers and the media about its true intentions—taking milk, meat and eggs off of our plates. HSUS’ efforts are nothing more than a front to appear engaged with farmers and ranchers. Anyone considering aligning themselves with HSUS or any other animal rights activist organizations needs to dig deeper than what these groups say in talking points or on their websites—something the Alliance can help you to do. While today HSUS may be acting like the ally of the producers on this council, the tides will no doubt turn as the organization moves on to target other production methods—a lesson some brands have learned in trying to appease it.”
The Alliance’s statement continued, “We would encourage everyone to support the credible groups that work hard every day to safeguard animal well-being, including Alliance member organizations like the American Humane Association, national commodity groups and many others who have developed guidelines—relying on third-party experts, veterinarians and animal scientists—for producers to follow.”
Callicrate told WLJ he has seen a genuine willingness by the people at HSUS who he has met to gain an understanding. But, he acknowledged, it is important to understand that the group’s livestock producers and HSUS leaders and members don’t always see eye-to-eye. “There are a lot of things we agree on and a few that we don’t and that’s probably never going to change. But, we’ve tried and they have listened.” — Rae Price, WLJ Editor