Pacelle: HSUS not targeting Nebraska

Chris Clayton, DTN
Photo by Chris ClaytonWayne Pacelle meets with people after speaking Sunday evening in downtown Lincoln, NE. Pacelle explained to residents and livestock produces why the Humane Society of the United States focuses so much attention on livestock practices.

LINCOLN, NE (DTN) – In a state with three times more cattle than people, Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) president and CEO, told Nebraskans on Sunday, Nov. 21, that, contrary to popular belief, his organization isn’t “anti-agriculture.”

“It’s correct to say we want to reform agriculture, but we are not anti-agriculture,” he said.

Pacelle also told the crowd of about 175 people in downtown Lincoln that his organization isn’t targeting Nebraska for a ballot measure that would restrict livestock practices.

“We’re not launching a ballot measure in Nebraska,” Pacelle said. “We never had any active designs on doing so.”

HSUS has become an incendiary group for livestock and poultry producers since Pacelle took over as president in 2004. The group has worked in Congress to ban horse slaughter, as well as funded successful initiative campaigns in Arizona and California, and negotiated livestock reforms in other states such as Ohio. Major livestock and commodity groups have banded together to fight HSUS in various states and on a national level.

Pacelle was invited to speak in Lincoln by rancher Kevin Fulton of Litchfield, NE, a producer of grass-fed cattle who said in introducing Pacelle that people in the livestock business should be encouraging changes to benefit the welfare of animals. After working with HSUS, Fulton also said he wanted to “clear up misconceptions” about the group.

Though Pacelle began talking to the group about dog fighting, cock fighting, whaling and puppy mills, eventually conversation moved to livestock. Pacelle said HSUS remains concerned about the space allotted for livestock and poultry, including gestation crates for hogs, veal crates and battery cages for poultry.

“I don’t think that’s radical at all,” Pacelle said. “I think it’s radical to confine these animals in these environments for effectively their entire lives.”

Pacelle said his group realizes “no malice was intended,” but agriculture has developed practices that are harmful to animals. Pacelle added HSUS is a “big-tent organization. We welcome ranchers.” He invited producers to work with the organization, yet Pacelle also later added that HSUS doesn’t look for agricultural groups to join them as they continue fighting efforts to reform livestock production practices.

One person asked Pacelle if he is opposed to confined animal feeding operations, or “anti-CAFO.” Pacelle responded that HSUS’ positions on livestock practices are nuanced, meaning the group is going after what the group considers more extreme forms of confinement than all CAFOs.

“We don’t see it really as extreme as other practices we are focused on,” he said.

The difference facing livestock producers and agricultural groups is the growing interest among consumers in food production, Pacelle said. When retailers and restaurants ban using eggs from battery-caged birds, that’s a response to consumer concerns, he said.

“We’re creating demand for more humanely produced products,” he said.

Mark McHargue, a pork producer and vice president for the Nebraska Farm Bureau, took notes during the meeting. Going after gestation crates for sows and battery cages for egg layers directly hits a lot of Nebraska producers, McHargue said.

“The reason that Nebraska Farm Bureau is concerned is that is part of the production practices we use here in Nebraska,” he said.

Rancher Destry Brown, executive director of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, drove from Hyannis, NE, – about 350 miles west of Lincoln – to attend the talk. Brown questioned what he sees as Pacelle’s lack of concern for the economics facing smaller livestock producers who use many production practices because of costs. People demand cheap protein, and that’s what livestock producers provide, Brown said. Afterward, Brown said he didn’t think HSUS would be targeting feedlots now, but he’s certain it’s coming.

“I know that the feedlot industry and CAFOs are a burr under their saddle,” Brown said.

Pacelle responded that HSUS doesn’t have control over the agricultural economy, but livestock producers will continue to have to adapt to what consumers are willing to pay for.

“I can tell you American agriculture cannot afford not to change,” Pacelle said.

Fulton added that he began selling meat directly to consumers a few years ago and had a steep learning curve.

“You learn a lot when you start dealing directly with consumers,” Fulton said. “There is a lot more scrutiny.”

A large contingent of agriculture students attended the meeting. Jay Nordhausen, an animal-science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, from Ogallala, NE, said, “We’re concerned about what’s next. We’re trying to go into the workforce. We’re trying to figure things out, but more laws and more restrictions, we’re just getting sweeped … That’s our biggest concern. What’s next?”

Pacelle also defended HSUS from complaints that the group sends only a small portion of its funds to local Humane Society shelters. Pacelle said the organization was never created to be a “pass-through association.” Groups have formed to counter or attack HSUS “because we are driving reform across the country on a wide array of issues,” he said.