Column: The other side of the storyIn a recent article, the Daily Globe’s Julie Buntjer allowed a local pork producer to have his way with the facts as he spouted off his biased views about the Humane Society of the United States.
By: Joe Maxwell, Humane Society of the United States, Worthington Daily Globe
In a recent article, the Daily Globe’s Julie Buntjer allowed a local pork producer to have his way with the facts as he spouted off his biased views about the Humane Society of the United States, and boy, was he way off the mark in his assessment.
I, as a fourth-generation hog farmer, former Missouri elected official who supported the development of his St. Joseph plant and now as the vice president overseeing the rural development and outreach program for the HSUS, would like to set the record straight.
The American Farm Bureau doesn’t run every farm in America, and the HSUS doesn’t run every local animal welfare group. Most importantly, I want to let readers know that as the largest animal protection organization in the nation, the HSUS has provided direct care for more animals — more than 100,000 in 2012 alone — than any other animal welfare organization, through rescue, rehabilitation, veterinary care and sanctuary. I have personally witnessed this hands-on care and have been proud to be a part of this great work.
We also support local animal shelters and rescue groups, providing training, national conferences, trade publications and more. We aid shelters when natural disasters and cruelty cases overwhelm their capacity to respond, such as when Hurricane Sandy struck the East coast or when a tornado in my home state devastated Joplin, Mo., or in response to the flooding along the Mississippi River. We work with farmers and ranchers who demonstrate they are good stewards of their animals and the land. We fight puppy mills, animal fighting, poaching, Canada’s commercial seal slaughter and other wildlife abuses, to prevent cruelty before animals are made to suffer. Our supporters and donors know that the HSUS is there to stand up for and protect the 99 percent of animals who will never enter an animal shelter or rescue group.
The HSUS gets top rankings from charity evaluators in part because 80 percent of contributions are spent on programs, contrary to the article’s inaccurate statement. The HSUS is rated a 4-star charity (the highest possible) by Charity Navigator, approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar’s Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, and named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities. The testimonials link on our website collects praise from shelter leaders around the nation, from law enforcement, from business leaders, and from agricultural supporters.
While the hog farmer quoted in the article is stubbornly fighting progress in his industry, there are many farmers, veterinarians, animal welfare advocates, pork consumers and business owners who are working to phase out the extreme confinement of breeding sows in small gestation crates and to give animals more space to turn around and stretch their limbs.
The difference between him and me is clear. My operation, while small in comparison, does not have one crate, and we remain competitive and profitable. He chooses to ignore new techniques, proper genetics and solid animal husbandry practices that allow hog farmers to be successful without confining this very social, intelligent animal for most of her life. I have seen animals standing in 2 feet by 7 feet gestation crates insanely banging their heads on their cell bars.
I am far from the only voice calling for these inhumane practices to go the way of the dinosaur. In a Jan. 25 article in the Des Moines Register, Tim Kurbis, one of the owners of the hog operation New Standard US in Sioux Falls, S.D., stated, “The sows are more contented when they can move around. They give each other less trouble and they’re more productive. .. To be sure, there is an investment in the new system. But it will pay for itself in greater productivity.”
The truth of the matter is that the HSUS promotes family farmers and independent ranchers in transitioning their farm animal production to programs that meet animal welfare standards, such as Global Animal Partnership. We have formed a system of state agriculture councils, consisting of dedicated farmers and ranchers who are good stewards of both the animals and the land. Council members provide advice and guidance to the HSUS, as well as assist other traditional family farmers who want to make the switch to more humane practices. The HSUS wants to help secure profitable markets for family farmers and to help deliver more humane and sustainable products to consumers who want to know where their food comes from and how the animals were raised. And they want us to move away from using gestation crates.
According to an American Farm Bureau poll, 95 percent of Americans want farm animals to be well cared for, and most Americans consider gestation stalls to be inhumane. And major national corporations like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Safeway, Denny’s, Costco and Heinz are listening to that 95 percent. They have all announced that they are moving to eliminate suppliers who use gestation crates. Recently, Minneapolis-based food giants Supervalu, General Mills and Target announced they’re moving away from buying pork from suppliers that use gestation crates, joining the aforementioned ever-growing list of major retailers. Smithfield Foods has announced its commitment to end the use of gestation crates in all of its owned operations, and Cargill has already converted half of its production out of gestation crates.
The HSUS believes that consumers should have choices in the marketplace, and that they have a right to buy products derived from family farmers and independent cattlemen who are good stewards of their animals and land. Many people, including members of the HSUS like myself, are concerned that the family farmer could soon be a thing of the past. That’s a shame. The mythology of the American family farmer is not enough; we need the reality, too.
Instead of spending their money and time attacking the HSUS, hog farmers should set aside their political rhetoric, sit down with us and find common ground in support of Minnesota’s family farmers and proper farm animal welfare. That is what leaders of the egg industry have done, and they are now working with the HSUS to lobby for federal legislation that will improve the treatment of laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for egg farmers. The role of hog farmers in this state is vital, and we should work together in an effort to attack the real threat to all independent hog producers: lack of market access.
The HSUS believes that together we can make a difference in Minnesota and other states. Every consumer should be asking their grocery store and restaurant, “Where do your meat, dairy and eggs come from, and how were the animals raised?”
Joe Maxwell is a fourth-generation hog farmer, former Missouri Lt. Governor and the Vice President of Outreach and Engagement for The Humane Society of the United States.