Animal Welfare a Heated Issue

Legislation is expected in one major livestock state and a ballot referendum looms in another key state.

Published on: Jan 15, 2008

Livestock producers in a number of states face challenges from animal welfare groups over how farm animals are cared for. It's a particularly heated issue in Colorado now, according to Alan Foutz, Colorado Farm Bureau president.

Foutz led a seminar Monday on the challenges facing livestock producers during the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, came to Colorado last spring and laid down the gauntlet," said Foutz. "He told us we can either work with him or he'll seek legislation this season. If he doesn't get what he wants in legislation, he'll go to ballot in November with a citizen's initiative." Foutz said Pacelle and HSUS are focusing on pork, poultry and veal calves.

"Unfortunately, some of the ag groups in Colorado have basically caved in to him," continued Foutz. "The pork, poultry and dairy industries have decided to put up their own legislation. That has put Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado cattlemen and some other ag groups in a bad spot. In fact, Colorado Farm Bureau has language in our resolutions that state we have to oppose legislation put forth by the poultry, pork and dairy industries."

Foutz said "this will be a long fight. Mr. Pacelle has said if he doesn't win this year, he'll be back next year. We need to be very cognizant of what the HSUS is doing."

Last July Oregon became the first state to ban sow stalls through legislation. To meet these kinds of challenges, the American Farm Bureau Federation has established an Ag Challenge Initiative.

"Our first target is the livestock sector," said AFBF president Bob Stallman. "We are working hard to preserve our social license to raise animals for food. But as we have painfully learned, conventional tactics, messages and strategies are just not effective.

"Animal activist groups want to undermine public trust in livestock producers. Battles are being fought. Battles have been lost in Florida and Arizona. New ones are cropping up, most recently in Colorado and California. While some are cutting deals and negotiating their own surrender, Farm Bureau is not giving up."

The AFBF conducted a public opinion survey in August of last year to gauge public opinion on why voters go along with animal rights votes. "Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they would vote for a law requiring farmers to raise animals a certain way," noted Don Lipton, AFBF director of public relations. "To most people, humane treatment of farm animals is an ethical and moral issue."

However, providing more information can help change the minds on non-farm consumers, Lipton added. "We are working with the folks in Colorado and are considering supporting alternative legislation.

"Nationwide, we are launching a grassroots program to train folks how to effectively communicate our message to consumers."

Charlie Arnot, CEO, Center for Food Integrity, said HSUS has more credibility with consumers because "they have a more rational approach than PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who have marginalized themselves by their extreme tactics."

Arnot reported on a survey the Center conducted last summer. "Only 18% of respondents strongly agree with the statement that meat is derived from animals that are treated humanely."

Arnot suggested farmers need to start grassroots efforts to explain they are committed to doing the right thing before referendums or ballots come up. "The focus needs to be on what Walmart, Kroger, Target and others will mandate to producers as to how animals should be raised," said Arnot.

"Our strategy over the last five years has been to attack our attackers. We need to look at a new strategy. Farmers need to go to the HSUS web site and see what they are up to."

The issue is more important in some states more than others, noted Arnot. "But eventually it will affect everyone."