Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau
Animal agriculture is under fire. I call it “animal warfare.” Special interest groups campaigning around the nation under the banner of animal rights, and using emotion to trump fact-based science, are changing the way the livestock industry has legally and humanely operated for years. While wrapping themselves in a warm and fuzzy flag, these groups employ sophisticated, big-money tactics to misinform the uninformed.
The campaign is spreading across the country. Animal activists are rallying throughout the nation behind ballot initiatives, legal action and lobbying to shut down animal agriculture. These groups are going state-by-state campaigning on emotion, leaving many producers concerned with who will be the next target.
Because of these animal warfare efforts it is now illegal in Arizona for livestock producers to use veal and gestation stalls – scientifically proven, humane animal-care methods. In Arizona’s Proposition 204, millions of dollars were spent by activist groups to basically shut down one hog operation. There are no veal producers in the state. In terms of those two sectors of livestock production, and in spite of valiant opposition from Arizona Farm Bureau and others, the voters of Arizona were low-hanging fruit for our foes.
Another example of the trend can be seen with recent business decisions by Smithfield Foods and Maple Leaf Foods to switch from gestation stalls to group housing. Both companies clearly stated their decisions were based on marketing. One has to question the logic of any meat company that attempts to satisfy the meat-unfriendly mission of an animal rights group.
Part of the animal rights campaign is being waged on Capitol Hill. Legislation in Congress (HR 661 and S394) would stop the slaughter of non-ambulatory livestock. It is essentially a ban on the slaughter of fatigued hogs since it is already illegal for non-ambulatory cattle to be used for human consumption. During transport hogs become tired and lie down. There is nothing medically wrong with the animals, a fact supported by veterinary science, but when they are barred from processing it can be a costly matter for producers.
A Slippery Slope
Horses are another target in the animal rights campaign. There are approximately 100,000 unwanted horses slaughtered each year and sent overseas for human consumption. But legislation in Congress (HR 503 and S311) would ban equines from being slaughtered, which would open the door for neglect. Animal rights organizations are preying on people’s emotion and touting their devotion to horses, but still offer no alternatives for what to do with these animals. The existing horse shelters are full and there is no funding for new ones. This is another extreme animal rights position that hitches a ride on the coattails of our national love for horses.
If this legislation passes, however, it will not only infringe on constitutional property rights, but it will set up a slippery slope for animal agriculture. If horse slaughter can be banned without being based on food safety, science or facts, what’s next?
The anti-horse slaughter activists are gaining momentum. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court in Texas just decided that an archaic, outdated, nearly 60 year old law should be enforced that makes it illegal to slaughter horses in that state. These groups have also pressured airlines to stop transporting horse meat overseas.
When it comes to animal rights issues, activist groups are taking it to the extreme – promoting their special interests instead of science and facts. PETA and other groups have shown they are willing and able to spend millions of dollars to advocate their cause.
My message for Farm Bureau members and all of animal agriculture is: Do not underestimate the efforts of these heavily funded and highly organized groups. Be a proactive voice for agriculture and be ready to combat the animal warfare propaganda when it reaches your state. Don’t let these groups go uncontested when they provide misinformation to the uninformed.