Paul Pressley just began the first of two years that he’ll serve as Animal Agriculture Alliance Chairman. At the conclusion of the alliance’s Stakeholder’s Summit, Pressley told Brownfield Ag News that he’s challenged every year by the speakers at the summit to become better at what he does “how we tell our story, how we communicate what we’re doing in animal ag, how we care for the animals, how we’re concerned about the stewardship that we’re given.”
The Alliance’s Stakeholder’s Summit ended Thursday with a string of personal stories from people who have been affected in one way or another by activists. As the conference concluded, Alliance CEO Kay Johnson Smith told Brownfield that through the summit, the alliance tried to convey ways to deal with the consequences of activists.
“We wanted to provide tools, not to hide things from the public, but tools to help the farmers understand how to better connect with the consumer, how transparency is important and they can share their story and not feel afraid,” Johnson Smith told Brownfield Ag News as the 12th annual summit ended. “Because if they’re not sharing their story, the only thing the consumer sees are those awful videos that come out that are very misrepresentative of the industry.”
Johnson Smith says that among farmers’ biggest challenges are people and organizations that want to put an end to animal agriculture.
Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow reportedly plans to include the so-called Egg Bill, supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP), in her markup of the Farm Bill.
Agri-Pulse reports that the chairwoman’s staff told staff members of pork, beef, and turkey groups, and the American Farm Bureau on Tuesday that she was aiming to include Senate Bill 820, sponsored bya bipartisan group of senators, including Stabenow herself and Democrat Dianne Feinstein. A companion “egg” bill was introduced in the House, HR 1731. The ag groups are strongly opposed to the legislation which would set federal standards on cages for egg laying hens.
Stabenow worked last year to shut down similar legislation in the Senate-passed farm bill. Agri-Pulse says Stabenow has been at the receiving end of political pressure from the Michigan Agri-Business Association and others who support the bill. The Association says the bill is supported “by every commercial egg producer in Michigan.”
Stabenow has indicated markup of the farm bill in her committee could begin as early as May 9th.
The 12th Annual Animal Agriculture Stakeholder’s Summit examines how to deal with activism that threatens the raising of livestock. Their theme is Activists at the Door: Protecting Animals, Farms, Food and Consumer Confidence.
The two-day summit, beginning Wednesday, includes sessions about maintaining transparency when engaging media concerning controversial animal agriculture issues. Addressing the summit is USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Alfred Almanza, who will speak about the agency’s procedures for handling undercover activist videos.
A panel discussion at the summit Thursday centers on fighting activists in the courtroom. Another looks at the consequences of forging partnerships with environmental and animal rights groups.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance is a coalition of people and organizations in the livestock and meat production business who try to create understanding of animal agriculture’s role in supplying food.
AUDIO: Emily Meridith (4 min. MP3)
The Humane Society of the United States and singer Carrie Underwood are among those pressuring Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to veto a bill they say would end undercover investigations of animal abuse in the state.
The bill requires anyone who photographs or videos livestock cruelty to report the violation to a local law enforcement agency and submit any photos or recordings to them within 48 hours.
HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle says the bill is part of a national movement to silence whistleblowers and cover up animal abuse. HSUS is running television ads encouraging Tennesseans to contact the governor’s office to encourage a veto.
Carrie Underwood, a supporter of HSUS, took to Twitter to scold Tennessee lawmakers for passing the bill.
“Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill,” Underwood tweeted last week. “If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at this front door. Who’s with me?”
Media groups also oppose the bill, saying it would hinder journalists and others from documenting abuse.
Food Choices have become moral choices.
“More and more people are looking at how our food is being produced from conception to consumption; and they’re finding that there should be a morality to that,” said Kevin Murphy, who owns Food Chain Communications in Kansas City.
Those who question food morality often indict famers because of “the way they treat an animal, the way that they produce crops, the way that they transport those materials,” according to Murphy.
Farmers’ answers to critics seem ineffective, according to Murphy.
“We have a tendency to respond based on science or economics and we’re seeing that our rebuttals are falling short,” he said, “they really are like a fish out of water.”
“Until we tie [food production arguments] to a moral-based message,” suggests Murphy, “I think agriculture will continue to flounder.”
Murphy speaks to a meeting of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council at the Crossroads Hotel in Huron, South Dakota, this Thursday, April 18, at 12:00 noon.
Several states have either passed or are considering legislation to ban undercover videos at food processing plants and farms.
Those efforts were the subject of a debate this past weekend on CNN. Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States claimed the meat industry is trying to cover up abusive practices.
“They don’t want whistleblowers—they want to blow the whistle on the whistleblower,” Shaprio said.
But Emily Meredith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance argued that the undercover videos aren’t really about stopping animal abuse.
“What they are about is activists using underhanded, manipulative and deceptive tactics to mislead consumers into thinking that their food is inhumanely produced,” said Meredith. “Their ultimate goal is to promote a vegan world and to really bring about the end of animal agriculture as we know it in this country.”
Critics of the new laws have labeled them “ag gag bills”, while proponents call them “farm protection measures”.
Wisconsin Ag Secretary Ben Brancel has named Dr. Paul McGraw to be State Veterinarian and Administrator of the Animal Health Division at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). McGraw has been the Assistant State Vet and Bureau Director of Animal Disease Control within the Animal Health division for the past nine years. He replaces Dr. Bob Ehlenfeldt who retired in January.
Dr. McGraw has served as Program Manager for the state’s Livestock Premises Registration program and the state’s Animal Dealers, Animal Truckers and Animal Markets programs. He is the USDA’s Designated Brucellosis Epidemiologist for the State of Wisconsin and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison. He’s also a past President of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) and past Chairman of the WVMA’s Public Health and Food Safety Committee.
A native of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, McGraw did is undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and earned his DVM at U.W. Madison. He was in private practice for 16 years before becoming Assistant State Vet in 2004.
Five employees from the Wheatland, Wyoming based Wyoming Premium Farms have each been convicted on multiple counts of cruelty to animals. WPF was the subject of an undercover video shot the Humane Society of the United States last year. At the time WPF was a supplier to Tyson Foods; and according to a HSUS news release the company has since severed its relationship with the farm.
Jonathan Lovvom, senior vice president of animal protection litigation for HSUS says the group is grateful to law enforcement officials for pursuing charges in the case and says they hope these convictions will deter further abuse of animals on farms.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau strongly supports legislation recently signed by Oklahoma’s governor to allow horse processing in that state.
OFB President Mike Spradling says it’s about protecting the property rights of horse and other livestock owners amid the goal of the Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights activists to take that away. Spradling tells Brownfield Ag News, “Today, that topic was equine. Our concern was tomorrow it could be poultry, beef, pork, any other species that we certainly have in production ag.”
Spradling says horse slaughter would be one option to the serious problem of neglected and abandoned horses caused by the previous federal ban on legal processing. He stresses that horse processing would be an option, not a mandate, and is supported by breeding groups throughout Oklahoma. He tells Brownfield, “Their policy is well understood. It’s not necessarily that they support or are in favor of horse processing. What most of the breed associations say is they are in favor of the owner of the horse having that option.”
Spradling says the lifting of the ban is a chance for the Humane Society of the United States to show some real concern. He says, “You know here’s their opportunity. If they don’t want to see processing come into the state of Oklahoma have them come in and spend their money on pasture, on feed and care for these individual horses.”
The Oklahoma law takes effect November 1st and horse processing could only take effect if federal law continues to allow it and there’s funding for USDA inspectors. The meat would only be allowed for sale in the export market.
Spradling says Oklahoma was one of four states that banned horse slaughter, so now there are only three.