WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has named 19 members of his Advisory Committee on Animal Health that will serve through June 2017.

The panel, which is supposed to represent “a broad range” of groups within agriculture, includes a veterinarian from the National Pork Producer Council, several academics and livestock producers as well as the director of veterinary policy with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), an animal welfare group that is widely unpopular in some circles of the agriculture industry.

In a 2012 interview posted on the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association website, the HSUS vet, Michael Blackwell, called HSUS “the most capable organization to influence our direction as a society.” When asked to name his top priority issue, he pointed to the health of food animals “especially as that is threatened by mechanized and industrial systems” that he said “can and do threaten public health and environmental safety.”

Agriculture groups have criticized HSUS for its tactic of engaging in lawsuits to force producers and producer groups to spend money on legal fees and for helping to create legislation perceived by some as harmful to agriculture, such as the California egg law, which increased the space allocated in cages for every egg-laying chicken in the state. HSUS’ critics have also spoken against the very name of its organization, claiming it is deceitful since the organization gives very little money – less than one percent of its budget – to local pet shelters.

In a statement to Agri-Pulse, Paul Shapiro, HSUS’ vice president of farm animal protection, said “while there were some in the agribusiness industry who opposed the (California egg) ballot measure, two-thirds of California voters favored it,” and addressed the issue of pet shelter funding by referring to HSUS as “the largest direct care provider of animal services in the United States.”

According to his bio with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, where he serves on the board of directors, Blackwell earned a doctorate of veterinary medicine from Tuskegee University in Alabama. He then practiced private veterinary medicine before a 20-year stint with the Food and Drug Administration, where he served in both the human and veterinary medicine branches.

During his final five years with the FDA, he was the deputy director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine. He has also served as the chief veterinarian of the United States Public Health Service, the chief of staff of the Office of the Surgeon General, and the assistant surgeon general of the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS. He then spent eight years as the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville before his time at HSUS.

In a recent release, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said the committee “will provide outside perspectives on USDA strategies, policies, and programs to prevent, control and/or eradicate animal health diseases.” USDA says that in vetting candidates for the committee, “diversity objectives will be considered—geographic, points-of-view, and otherwise—in order to achieve a balance of perspectives.”

 APHIS said the other 18 members of the Advisory Committee for Animal Health are:

  • Stephen Crawford, state veterinarian and deputy commissioner of agriculture from New Hampshire
  • S. Peder Cuneo, extension specialist and assistant director of university animal care at University of Arizona from Arizona
  • Glenda S. Davis, program manager for tribal veterinary services from Navajo Nation
  • Mark J. Engle, technical services manager, swine business unit, for Merck Animal Health from Missouri
  • David L. Fernandez, a sheep producer and extension livestock specialist from Arkansas
  • Maximiliano A. Fernandez, a cattle and sheep producer and advocate from Washington
  • John R. Fisher, director and professor of cooperative wildlife disease study at University of Georgia from Georgia
  • Daniel L. Grooms, chairperson and professor of large animal clinical sciences at Michigan State University from Michigan
  • Annette B. Jones, state veterinarian and director of animal health and food safety services from California
  • Mary Ann Kniebel, rancher and feedlot nutritionist from Kansas
  • John R. MacMillan, vice president of Clear Springs Foods, Idaho
  • Judith I. McGeary, producer and attorney at law from Texas
  • Willie M. Reed, dean of the college of veterinary medicine at Purdue University from Indiana
  • G. Donald Ritter, veterinary director of health services for Mountaire Farms from Maryland
  • Charles Rogers, chief executive officer for Clovis Livestock Auction from New Mexico
  • David R. Smith, endowed professor and beef program leader at Mississippi State University from Mississippi
  • Belinda Thompson, faculty, advisor and interim assistant executive director, animal health diagnostic center at Cornell University from New York
  • Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for National Pork Producers Council from Minnesota


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