Is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) changing its strategy in regards to state-by-state ballot initiatives?
At a news conference in Lincoln Tuesday, the HSUS joined the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) in announcing the formation of an advisory body called the Nebraska Agriculture Council of The Humane Society of the United States.
Chief among the new council’s goals will be creating market opportunities for farmers and ranchers who want to market “humanely-raised” meat and poultry products. Officials of both groups say the council will also “facilitate a dialogue with individual farmers, ranchers and the organizations that represent them.”
NeFU president John Hansen says that, as part of their agreement to work with HSUS on the project, the animal rights organization has assured him that it will not pursue an animal welfare ballot initiative in the state.
“That’s one of the things we had to have—is that if you’re not committed to backing off and giving this alternative approach a chance to succeed, then we can’t stay at the table–and so we did get that assurance from them,” Hansen says. “If they do otherwise, that would jeopardize our working relationship.”
Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer and director of rural affairs for HSUS, says this approach is preferable to a ballot initiative.
“We knew that we weren’t going to do it in 2012—but we believe this allows us to put it aside because we think this approach will work,” says Maxwell, “that we have an opportunity to increase the market share and put market pressure in place on getting those individuals to change the extreme confinement practices that exist in the commercial, ‘big ag’ industry right now.”
But other Nebraska ag and livestock groups, who have been girding for battle with HSUS, were not impressed with the announcement. Pete McClymont of Nebraska Cattlemen, who is president of the We Support Agriculture coalition, says they are “shocked and disappointed that any Nebraska ag group would align itself with an extreme animal rights organization such as HSUS.
“It is disturbing that somebody would reach out to groups that want to eliminate, if not restrict, animal agriculture like the animal rights groups,” McClymont says.
Despite the assurances that HSUS will not pursue a ballot initiative, McClymont still isn’t convinced. “As we’ve said all along—they come in, they have a playbook—and they’re following the playbook right to a tee.”
Asked whether his group would reconsider its stance of no-negotiation with HSUS, McClymont responds “Absolutely not.”
Litchfield, Nebraska rancher Kevin Fulton, an active member of HSUS, will chair the new Nebraska Agriculture Council of The Humane Society of the United States.