Animal Welfare Panel: No Compromise

Ag interests and HSUS remain sharply divided on animal care.

Published on: May 3, 2010

Paul Shapiro knew he was entering a lion's den on Monday morning. But he's used to it. The Senior Director of Humane Society of the United States' Factory Farming Campaign remained cool as the lead-off panelist on animal welfare at a Washington, D.C., conference. HSUS' number two leader faced tough questioning by agricultural reporters and was blistered by animal industry and animal health panelists.

"Not all animal production is inhumane," he conceded. "But there's enough (inhumane treatment) to warrant our efforts to change public policy." To illustrate, Shapiro held up an 8½ by 11 sheet of paper, folded under the top one-third, and said: "We (the poultry industry) ask animals (poultry) to live their lives in a space this size."

Grilled by reporters about the irresponsible use of undercover videos of extreme examples of animal abuse, Shapiro acknowledged they were extremes. "They show actions that nobody would support." Noting that HSUS is the largest animal welfare charity in the world, the confirmed vegan activist added that HSUS' main objective is to address public policy issues. It effectively and successfully influenced the public in California's Proposition 2 referendum.

On attack in Ohio

Despite positive initiatives by animal industries in Ohio, Shapiro noted that HSUS still intends to push much tougher standards in a November referendum. "We want to give Ohio voters more of a choice. More than 100,000 Ohioans have already signed on in support."

Yet, Tim Amlaw, manager of American Humane Association's American Certified Humane program, countered that AHA was working very closely with Ohio's Livestock Care Standards board. "We feel it will be very effective (in curbing animal abuse)."

Amlaw also noted that animal industry groups across the country have been very cooperative in raising the bar for animal well being. "A good job is being done, especially by those certified."

Dr. Gail Golab, head of the American Veterinary Medical Association Animal Welfare Division, cautioned that public policy prohibiting specific systems, such as caged layers and gestation crates, is not without flaw. "Different systems have different trade-offs," she noted.

AVMA's job, she added, "is to identify those things that are good about each – and bad." Then AVMA can encourage changes that work economically and for animal well-being.

Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of Animal Ag Alliance, stressed that the animal industry, as a whole, recognizes the need to keep animals healthy and productive. And, minimal guidelines are already established.

She also cautioned against unwarranted mandates such as those proposed by HSUS. "We must keep animal production here in the United States."

Humane intent backfired on equine

HSUS led the charge that culminated in federal action that closed down U.S. horse slaughter plants. But Sue Wallis, executive director of the United Organizations of the Horse, reported that the result was disastrous. "It turned a terrific asset into a horrific liquidation. Now, only equine that are big enough and healthy enough are trucked to Mexico and Canada for slaughter."

And she added, "It cost the U.S. horse industry 400,000 jobs. It measurably increased horse suffering. In just one year, we saw a 400% increase in starving, abandoned and crippled horses." The numbers far exceeded local shelters abilities to handle.

Responsible care also involves proper euthanasia, added the Wyoming legislator. But due to the amount and type of drugs used, those carcasses become toxic – illegal to bury in some states. That's why horse slaughter plants are proposed again in at least two states.