Editor’s Note: Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, spoke at last week’s Organization for Competitive Markets meeting in Kansas City. At that event, OCM outlined plans to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board (CBB), the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC), and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to stop checkoff funds from going to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
See related story: “OCM clarifies beef checkoff lawsuit, HSUS questions” on http://www.agri-pulse.com/
Contributing Editor Sally Behringer covered the OCM meeting and interviewed Pacelle after his presentation.
Q: Some might find it surprising to see HSUS teaming up with a livestock production organization. How did that relationship develop?
A: We’re an organization that prides itself on having dialogue and discussion. The people with animals in the realm of agriculture are farmers, so they’re some of the first people we want to talk to and work with. We’re always willing to extend our hand and try to problem-solve and find solutions. We’re often caricatured for opposing all animal agriculture and I think by the presence of our farmer and ranchers’ council, by the presence of us at conferences like this where we talk about humane and sustainable agriculture, we’re trying to disabuse people of these false notions.
In terms of the legal action we are not a party to the action. We received a request for assistance, and I will tell you we are very concerned in general about any misuse of checkoff funds. Obviously NCBA has been the subject of some news reports through the years about misuse of some of these funds. If there has been no misuse of the funds, then NCBA has nothing to worry about. But we’re not a plaintiff or party to the case.
Q: Is HSUS providing legal assistance to OCM in this case?
A: They requested that we look at some information and also to share any information that we had about these issues. And we’re certainly very open to talking to them about this, but it’s their case and we support the idea that any trade association that is misusing checkoff funds should be held accountable.
Q: So what is your relationship with OCM moving forward?
A: Well, you know, we’re willing to talk to just about anybody. I’m happy to speak at an NPPC conference or an NCBA conference. I was invited here because there are some long-standing relationships between some of the farmers who are members of HSUS and OCM. And I welcomed the opportunity to speak with this animal agriculture organization. In terms of any formal relationship there is none, we are separate corporations. But we’ll collaborate in areas where we see the world in a similar way, and I hope that both of us will learn from each other in the areas where we have expertise and understanding.
HSUS has a lot to say about human animal relationships and about the proper relationship with animals. OCM knows a lot about competition and animal agriculture and we’re looking forward to learning from them on the issues and I think a lot of their members here are open to hearing our view of where agriculture is doing the right thing and where it may be falling short of standards of treatment for animals.
Q: This isn’t the first time you have reached out to agricultural groups – HSUS also partnered with the United Egg Producers to introduce legislation in California. Is this a new strategy for HSUS?
A: No absolutely not. We negotiated a major deal with the United Egg Producers and with state egg producer organizations across the country to find a way forward for the egg industry that balances animal welfare and the economic success of the industry. We reached agreements with trade associations for animal agriculture groups in Colorado, Maine, Michigan and Ohio and in a number of other states.
We view ourselves as having an open mind and we want to have constructive engagement with agricultural groups, whether they are local groups, state groups or national groups. We’ve worked on all levels with them, so OCM is just part of the larger narrative that we are engaged in with animal agriculture in America. It’s not about ending animal agriculture. It’s about making animal agriculture better, observing best practices, finding new ways to do business that balances our values about concern for animals with the economic imperatives that have to be central for any producer.
Q: Your magazine states “we cannot afford our current meat addiction.” Can you see why some livestock producers would be skeptical of your outreach efforts?
A: Well you know meat, per capita meat consumption has been going up for some time. For a variety of reasons, from an animal care perspective, from an environmental health perspective, for personal health, it’s a very fair debate to say that we should have meatless Mondays. Reducing consumption by 1/7th is still going to leave 7.5 billion animals in production in the United States.
I don’t think that volume is the only concern of animal agriculture. It should always focus on balancing economics with the other values that we have in society. One of our concerns is that some operations have gotten so big, that the connection with the animals has been lost. Reducing the scale of that agriculture is going to allow for a better connection between people and their animals.
Q: On a different subject, what is the HSUS position on horse slaughter?
A: Not everyone at HSUS agrees on every position. We’re a big tent organization. We welcome everyone into the tent. When it comes to horses, that’s an issue that, like so many other issues, has a history from our relationship with the horse. This continent was settled on the back of the horse. There’s no animal that had a bigger role in the settlement of the United States than the horse and many other countries in the world. Horses have never been raised for food in the United States. You don’t see horse farms where people are raising them and sending them for slaughter. There used to be 10-15 slaughter plants and then just three slaughter plants in the U.S. They were slaughtering 80-90,000 horses per year and there was another 30-40,000 going to Mexico and Canada. It’s largely a European market – those products aren’t really sold in the U.S. market. For me and for HSUS this has always been an issue of the proper treatment of the horses.
We’ve done numerous investigations of the horse slaughter industry and we’ve found some things. Number one, the buyers at the auctions typically misrepresent their purposes to sellers. They don’t say, these horses are going to slaughter. We’ve had enormously long transport distances, because you had three plants, two of them basically in the same geographic location. Sometimes horses were being shipped 1,000 miles or more. And because it’s such a marginal industry, they didn’t have their own equipment, they didn’t have standards, the horses were jammed up in cattle trucks where the horses couldn’t even stand up.
You also have a food safety issue – many of these horses were coming off of the track. They’ve been given anti-inflammatories that are forbidden for human consumption. So, we have been steadfast in our opposition to the slaughter of horses for human consumption because we don’t think there’s an American tradition of killing and consuming them. We find they are a predatory industry that scoops horses up legally and illegally, but when it’s done legally often in a misrepresented sort of way. We found inhumane transport and inhumane slaughter at the back end of the process. And the latest survey done by one of our peers in the animal protection movement in a reputable survey found that 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter. And I’m not sure that the ag groups are unified because of their enthusiasm for horse slaughter so much as just wanting to oppose the Humane Society on the issue – I think that’s been the organizing principle in that deal.
We don’t consider horse slaughter a viable industry in America. It’s not done by farmers and it’s not done for consumers.
Horses are a domesticated animal – and we domesticated them. We brought them into the world and we have responsibilities to them. No group is more into this than HSUS we have the biggest equine department in the country, we run the two largest equine sanctuaries in the United States.
Now when it comes to horses, we’re not saying they can’t be killed. We’re not saying they can’t be euthanized. We’re saying don’t commercialize the industry and ship them a thousand miles in a cattle truck where they can’t even stand. There is no one suggesting that if you have an unwanted horse, that you can’t use a barbiturate to euthanize the animal, or shoot the animal in the head. There are 130,000 American horses that go to slaughter to our North American neighbors. The U.S. horse population is about 10 million. If you look at the average number of horses that die in the U.S. in a year, its 600,000 or 700,000. If 130,000 are going to slaughter what’s happening to the other 470,000 or so? We’re dealing with them. Somehow the notion that horses are out there starving and dying, that’s not supported by the investigations we’ve done. Now, it happens and we’re often the first ones there to care for them.
For more news, go to: http://www.agri-pulse.com/