Chris Ashford of the Animal Agriculture Alliance discusses future threats to animal agriculture
Members of the Weld county, CO T-Bone club weren’t sure how to answer Chris Ashford when he asked them if they were concerned about a law recently enacted in Missouri that limited the amount of animals a dog breeder could have on his or her property.
However, Ashford quickly cleared up the point he was trying to make.
“I should see everybody’s hand. If you’re not concerned now, you certainly should be,” said Ashford, a spokesman for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a non-profit organization that counters animal activist attacks against the livestock industry.
Ashford emphasized to the crowd at the Eaton country club – made up of farmers, ranchers, lenders and others involved in the agriculture industry, and who are members of T-Bone club – that animal rights activist groups have been leading the charge in many legislative changes dealing with animals across the U.S., such as that one in Missouri.
He said that while many of those law changes – resulting in additional costs for those affected, or limiting their ability to conduct business by having fewer animals and less potential for profit margins – have been geared toward smaller-animal operations, the organizations are gaining steam and financial resources, and it’s only a matter of time before they turn their attention toward cattle ranches and feedlots.
“Cattle will soon be at the forefront of this battle. If (animal rights organizations) can tell a dog breeder how many dogs they can have now, what’s to stop them down the road from telling you how many cattle you can have on your farm or ranch … or how many cattle you can have in your feedlot?” said Ashford, who himself is a rancher and veterinarian, operating in various states. “Nothing’s going to stop them, if we don’t have our voice heard.”
Ashford – who emphasized that, as a producer, he supports the humane treatment of animals – told T-Bone club members they and other producers must have their voices heard in the battle over “common sense legislation,” and encouraged them to write letters to the editor in local newspapers, and get involved in school boards, among other efforts.
“You can talk about high feed prices, high gas prices and other issues all you want … but I believe this will be the biggest challenge to your industry in the near future,” he added. “We need to make sure common sense is present in these discussions.”
Ashford spoke of how the U.S. has the world’s most safe, abundant and affordable food supply for consumers, and noted that as more regulations are put in place, production will become more expensive for producers and food costs will have to increase.
He said already many of the laws enacted and many of the recommendations provided by animal rights activist groups are too costly for producers at current food prices and are sometimes not supported by scientific evidence.
In stressing his point, Ashford made reference to a number of laws passed in recent times, and ones that are currently under discussion, such as H.R. 3789, a bill that was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in January that would “provide for a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens” – another bill that would make life difficult and expensive for producers, as Ashford described.
“Americans could price themselves right out of the industry,” he said, noting that food could be produced cheaper in other countries that are less regulated.
Spearheading the animal activist movement is the U.S. Humane Society, Ashford said. He emphasized that he respects the efforts of local Humane Society shelters, and encourages donating to those facilities, but said the national operation in Washington, D.C., now operates on $131 million annually, and uses much of those funds “only to push their agenda.”
He noted that the animal activist organizations together operate on about $400 million annually and are now gaining more support from environmental organizations.
He said the Animal Agriculture Alliance operates only on a budget of about $500,000 a year.
He also said he believes media outlets tend to contribute to the problem and noted that certain animal rights activist groups have a significant presence in schools now.
With the animal rights movement gaining momentum, Ashford said he predicts as many as 400 new bills introduced and passed in 2013.
Ashford said he believes the problem is more of a misunderstanding between rural and urban cultures than it is Republicans versus Democrats. This puts the agriculture industry at a disadvantage since, he said, those working in agriculture only make up about two percent of the population.
Referring back to the Missouri law that limited the amount of dogs a breeder could have on his or her property, only 11 counties in the state voted in favor of the law, but those counties represented the much more populated urban areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, MO.
Even getting support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has its challenges, he added, as about 96 percent of that agency’s budget goes toward public nutrition and food stamp programs, while only about 4 percent is geared toward direct support for agriculture producers and agriculture research efforts.