If you think the Human Society of the United States is not being taken very, very seriously by Ohio livestock producers then you did not attend this week’s meeting of the Ohio Livestock Council.
HSUS has made it clear that they intend to bring a ballot issue to Ohio voters promoting the notion that farm animals need plenty of space of live an uncruel life. Battery cages for laying hens, farrowing crates for sows and standing stalls for veal calves as they are currently sized are among the practices that could be targeted as illegal under such a proposal. The organization has been successful at passing similar initiatives in Florida, Oregon, Arizona and California. Feedstuffs magazine recently reported that, “HSUS chief executive officer Wayne Pacelle has already threatened agricultural interests in Ohio that ‘if you don't deal with us,’ HSUS will begin collecting signatures for a Prop 2-like initiative on the Ohio ballot in 2010.”
With that as a backdrop the OLC annual meeting and industry symposium focused on animal well being issues. Candace Croney, animal behavior bioethics specialist at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, urged producers to broaden their network of support. She reminded the group that veterinarians, animal scientists, social scientists and agricultural economists were all potential allies.
She noted that some of the stances supported by animal rights groups like HSUS have not resulted in improved conditions for livestock. Notably, the closing of horse slaughter plants has resulted in horses being “abandoned and dumped and neglected at rates we have never known before.”
She urged farmers to educate themselves on the issues. She said they should be willing to accept some change in their practices and she urged them to become totally transparent in what they do on their farms. “There should be nothing to reveal on our farms,” she said. She also urged farmers to denounce the “bad apples” and expose the abuses that are occurring.
Hinda Mitchell, with the Cochrane Group, Inc., reported on the campaign the agency has undertaken on behalf of the OLC. She told the group that consumer focus groups revealed that most shoppers don’t want to know a lot of detail about how their meat is produced. Basic guidelines for production were enough to satisfy their interest.
When it comes to labels they want to see an expiration date and they want the product to look fresh, Mitchell said. Warm images of farmers with their livestock resonated with consumers. She said the term factory farm had some volatility with consumers, but the reaction was stronger when you said foreign grown food.
Finally, Matt Sutton-Vermeulen with the Center for Food Integrity hit home with the statement, “You are the animal activists.” He urged producers to take the lead in animal well being issues. “Channel your passion.”
He quoted Pacelle as asking the question on Oprah Winfrey, “Do these farmers really know their animals?” It’s a question farmers must answer by taking the moral high ground to let the public know that raising livestock is a responsibility that is taken very seriously – not because it makes money and not because society expects it -- but because it is part of a farmers personal ethic.