Elizabeth Harsh, Executive Director of Ohio Cattlemen’s Association
In recent months the leadership of Ohio Agriculture has been facing the reality that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has painted a bulls-eye on our Buckeye State. The group has publicly stated it would like to make Ohio its next victory, seeking to initiate and pass provisions similar to those that passed with a two-thirds majority in California as Proposition 2.
At a meeting they requested with Ohio Ag groups in February, HSUS representatives said their goal was to address livestock confinement through either legislation or a 2010 statewide ballot initiative like Prop 2. These confinement housing issues would change housing such as sow gestation stalls, veal crates and cages for layer hens.
Can they be successful? Since HSUS started its campaign to change agriculture’s confinement practices, five states have imposed bans on housing systems. Their singular message in these ballot initiatives has been that farm animals need to have enough room to turn around and extend their limbs. This seemingly common-sense message provides a concept that the voting public, the vast majority of which have no agriculture knowledge, can easily support. This makes agriculture’s need for broader consumer education a daunting challenge, but never more important.
One thing the livestock industry can start doing now is to share with our stake holder’s important information about HSUS – but in a way that is fact-based and not radical in nature. We must be a voice of reason in this effort, while communicating critical information about their agenda.
So who is HSUS? Although they benefit from name identity confusion, HSUS is not the same organization as your local humane society, the one that is primarily responsible for the protecting and sheltering of dogs, cats and other domestic animals.
HSUS also benefits financially from the misunderstanding that exists over the two very different organizations. It has an operating budget of more than $120 million in 2007 and more than 10 million members. Well-intentioned people send donations to HSUS that in reality do not support the local volunteers and staff who are working to protect animals in their community.
In the last few years, HSUS has softened its campaign of activist vegetarianism and animals-are-our-equals and are capitalizing on a more mainstream approach. However, time and time again, HSUS has publicly indicated it supports an agenda that would lead to the end of all animal agriculture and stop the consumption of meat and animal products.
You may ask what gestation stalls and layer cages have to do with the sheep industry? It has everything to do with us – because HSUS’ success will be greater if they are successful in dividing the agriculture industry – and we must stand together with our animal agriculture colleagues. While HSUS may be focused on livestock confinement housing issues today, next time around their focus may be on castration, tail-docking or even lambing outside.
We have to change the dialogue and focus on food safety, food affordability and protecting consumer choice. We have to identify our emotional argument and develop the same passion and commitment to our message as HSUS demonstrates.
Sheep farmers produce safe, nutritious food that feeds the world. We care for our sheep because it is the right thing to do and because we know it just makes sense. We are active in our communities, and we protect the land, air and water around us. That’s a story worth telling.
As the leadership of Ohio agriculture plans its response to the HSUS agenda, we can be working as advocates in our communities. Everyone you come into contact with is a potential ally in this fight. Regardless of what’s next in the political arena, our story is a good one and it’s time for us to tell it, Please join your voice with ours and with our livestock partners. Divided, we are at risk, but together, we can be strong.