The Nebraska Farmers Union has hooked up with the Humane Society of the United States to form the Nebraska Agriculture Council of The Humane Society of the United States.
The announcement came at a press conference in Lincoln, attended by NFU members and HSUS officials, including Jocelyn Nickerson, the group's state director, and Joe Maxwell, a Missouri pork producer and HSUS director of rural development and outreach.
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said the council will work with NFU and HSUS to develop animal welfare standards for raising farm animals and to develop marketing opportunities for those who raise those animals. "Our two organizations have agreed that the focus of HSUS efforts in Nebraska relative to livestock production will be to work with NFU to utilize the marketing expertise in both organizations to develop new value-added and premium-based marketing opportunities for livestock produced using mutually developed and certified animal husbandry practices," he said.
The agriculture council will also act as a sounding board on agriculture policy for Nickerson, the state director of HSUS.
Hansen said that, based on these efforts, HSUS has agreed not to pursue state initiatives and ballot issues in Nebraska. But HSUS' Maxwell was not as definitive, saying HSUS would only use the initiative or ballot approach "as a last resort."
Hansen called the union a positive approach for the benefit of both food growers and food consumers as opposed to a "potentially expensive, divisive and bruising state initiative battle."
An HSUS news release listed the organizing members of the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the Humane Society of the United States. They are Kevin Fulton, farmer and grass-fed beef producer from Litchfield; Jim Knopik, niche-market livestock producer from Fullerton; Martin Kleinschmit, organic farmer from Cedar County; and Doug Dittman, dairy producer from Raymond.
Fulton, who spoke first at the press conference, said he is "simply a farmer, providing a voice for millions of farm animals in the state that need to be heard." A HSUS member, Fulton said that millions of farm animals in Nebraska are held in captivity in huge confinement systems that are cruel and inhumane.
Hansen, when asked after the press conference if he agreed with Fulton, said he didn't. "Some say all CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) are bad, but it depends on how the animals are cared for and the operation management."
He added, "This is an experiment. HSUS is looking at a different way to engage in Nebraska. "We can walk away if HSUS doesn't do what they say they will."