The queasy agreement with HSUS

-Editorial by Kyle Sharp-

So there I was, sitting back in the seat of my tractor in the middle of a hayfield. I’d just shut off the PTO to the haybine and felt sick to my stomach. No, my hay mower had not just broken down (although that has happened plenty in the past month), and I was not suffering from heat stroke related to the 90-plus degree heat.
Instead, I was on my cell phone, and my publisher, Bart Johnson, had just told me that a press conference was underway at that exact moment and Ohio’s agricultural leaders had struck a deal with the Humane Society of the United States.
“I feel like I could puke off the side of my tractor, but the only reason I’m not is because I’d be baling it up and feeding it to my cows,” I said to Bart.
He shared my disbelief over what was transpiring, although perhaps in not quite such a blunt fashion … OK, maybe it was equally or more so, but I can’t in good conscience put it in print. Children could be reading.
Why, after all the time, effort and funds that were expended last year to get Issue 2 passed and the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (OLCSB) established, was this happening? What happened to all the bold talk about allowing Ohioans to decide for ourselves how to care for our livestock based on sound science, food safety, economics and other factors, without the need for an out-of-state activist group’s heavy-handed input?
Basically, why had we, Ohio’s agricultural community, suddenly caved, when the momentum seemed, at least to me, to be clearly on our side? The OLCSB had conducted hearings throughout the state and was gaining steam, grassroots efforts were ramping up to educate people about why they should vote against the HSUS-backed November ballot initiative, and there was even the possibility the initiative wouldn’t even make the ballot.
While HSUS and their band of mercenary signature gatherers had collected more than the minimum 402,275 signatures needed by June 30 to make the ballot, their total was only in the 500,000 range. Typically, to ensure enough signatures are valid to make the Ohio ballot, groups like to gather 800,000 signatures or more to turn into the Secretary of State’s office for consideration, so once all the bogus ones and repeats are thrown out, they still have the required number.
I was so proud of the fact that those gathering signatures were often accompanied by members of the agricultural community, obviously not by choice, who would suggest people not sign their petitions. Ohioans for Humane Farms, the group working with HSUS to collect signatures, even issued a press release saying Ohio Farm Bureau had unleashed “a small army of paid operatives who are attempting to harass and intimidate volunteers and voters.” In Pickaway County, for example, that “army of paid operatives” included 4-H youth who took time out from their county fair to hold signs next to the signature gatherers asking people not to sign. Not exactly the picture of harassment described by the HSUS folks.
But now all of that was for not. The battle had been lost before it had even begun. As I finished my mowing, the feelings of anger, frustration and disbelief continued to well up. Once I was finally back at the house at my computer, I started gathering details about what had happened. After seeing what Ohio agriculture had given up in the deal compared to what HSUS had initially wanted, I did at least feel a little better. But leading up to writing this column the questions just kept floating around in my head: Why did we have to give up anything? Why now?
I’ve heard the reasons given by the agricultural leaders involved in the agreement: Ohio got the best deal yet of any state, it saved millions of campaign dollars, blah, blah, blah. It all sounds nice, but I reflect back to a column I wrote this past October being critical against Michigan cutting a deal with HSUS. The true nature of the HSUS beast is they are not going away. You cannot compromise with them. They are inching their way toward an ultimate goal of a vegan society, and that means people consume no meat or animal products, period. Hence, compromises on animal care and welfare are short-term at best.
“Once you’ve let the activists’ foot in the door, they’re going to be pressing for a knee, then a whole leg, the other leg, etc. and so forth. The best approach is to keep their foot out of your business in the first place,” I wrote. Well, even if some might only consider it a small toe, HSUS has now landed squarely in Ohio, and the only question is when and in what fashion will they be back again, and what will Ohio’s response be then? Will we talk boldly once more, then eventually cut another deal? Just how sustainable do you think that strategy sounds?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but there are other reasons why this agreement does not sit well with me. For one, the effort to fend off HSUS was the largest grassroots agricultural effort I’d ever witnessed in the state. Agriculturists from all over, those from large and small farms and from livestock and crop operations, were standing together in the cause, even if the measures being discussed for now really only directly impacted larger farms. Many of those involved in that effort feel like the carpet has been pulled out from under them. As I heard one person put it: “I’m just a small, grass-based dairy farmer. This wouldn’t have impacted my farm, at least not in my lifetime, but I was willing to stand up and talk to people about it because I thought it was best for agriculture. I hope they don’t ever ask me to do it again.”
If there is another issue that comes to Ohio and requires all of agriculture to stand as one, how much credibility does the state’s existing agricultural leadership now have when it’s time to rally the troops? I can see it now: “Come on everyone, let’s all grab the banners, educate the masses and fight off this outside force that threatens our livelihood! … Well, kind of … OK, maybe just for a little while, until the best deal comes along … ok? Hey, where did everybody go?”
This headline by a columnist in a recent Columbus Dispatch editorial is another reason why I am not a fan of the brokered deal between agriculture and HSUS: “Animal-abuse video was impetus for critter compromise.” The columnist, Thomas Suddes, claimed that the May footage of cows allegedly being abused at the Conklin Dairy in Union County “dragged agribusiness to Strickland’s table.” Suddes said comments made in a Farm Bureau press release about the deal with HSUS could be translated to read: “That Mercy For Animals video killed us. So we called Strickland.”
How does that interpretation sit with you? No, it doesn’t excite me either. Just what we needed, more impetus for animal rights radicals to come sneaking around our farms with video cameras in hand. Hey, why not, it worked in Ohio.
OK, that’s probably about enough. My stomach is starting to get a little queasy again.

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  1. I understand your point of view. Let me be very clear about some of the issues you’re discussing in your article.

    Firstly, HSUS is not a vegan organization. There were many other vegan organizations involved in the signature gathering effort. So, I can understand why you would label HSUS’s efforts as a vegan-oriented attack on farming. HSUS is committed to helping animals, an ending the suffering of animals.

    Secondly, why do you have a problem with someone viewing what goes on on your farm? I spoke to many farmers during the signature gathering effort who supported our efforts against CAFOs. They seemed to think it was fine for anyone to come and see how they care for their animals. HSUS and any of the organizations involved in the Ohioans for Humane Farms effort would applaud the efforts of farmers to show how well they treat animals.

    What would be great would be fully humane treatment from birth to death, including slaughter. You know that is not always the case. That is why HSUS is part of the Certified Humane effort:

    Here in Dayton, Dorothy Lane Market has moved to 100% humane meat in all their stores. The efforts of the grocery stores are matching the wants and needs of the consumer. Why do you have to “rally the troops”? Why do you “feel sick to your stomach”, when all that is being done is ensuring that animals are treated in a way that is humane?

    HSUS is based in Washington, DC. They have supporters in every state. How does that equate to out-of-state extremists? In any case, the agricultural sector in Ohio has no problem selling their goods to anyone in the world, so doesn’t that imply that everyone in the world has a vested interest in what you produce?

    It’s time to stop fighting. It’s time to start finding common ground. It’s time to start focusing on the environment, animal welfare, food safety and so forth. It’s time to address the issue of over-consumption of meat! People should not be eating meat three times per day. On top of the frequency, most people eat too large a portion. Meat should be a luxury. It’s very expensive to produce! Think of all the oil and energy that goes into producing the grain to feed to animals? That is just what it takes to feed the animals, let along what it takes to care for them.

    My point is that the current level of meat-eating in this country is not sustainable. It is not healthy. It does need to be addressed. On top of that, producers of meat should be worried about how little their animals are worth when they go to market. Meat prices have not kept pace with the soaring increases in the cost of production. Further complicating the costs are the expensive methods of production.

    In closing, what a farmer does on a farm needs to be transparent to the consumer. We have the right to know what we’re putting in our bodies. If you want to farm, you should be prepared to understand this is what the consumer is demanding. It has nothing to do with any of the wartime rhetoric of “extremists” and “rallying the troops” and blaming vegan organizations. This is about the power of consumers to demand what they want to see.

    Yes, I agree with you that it would have been nice to get our issue on the November ballot so that you could see that people in this state want healthy food from humane facilities. CAFOs are not humane. The coalition represented by the Farm Bureau (ostensibly, and notice I don’t ignore the other commodity groups who had a place in the meeting) caved, as you call it, because no one wants to see the worst that can happen in a poorly-managed CAFO. We need better systems. We need standardized systems that are safe for the animals and people. The current systems do not meet those standards.

    I urge you, and all farmers, to stop combating the efforts of animal rights organizations. Work with us, because really everyone has the same goal in mind. You need to listen to our facts, our sound science, our messages. Shutting us out and creating a combative situation is not the answer.

    Oh, and I know for a fact that there were some members of those opposing the OHF effort (Farm Bureau people…we read the email that was sent out) who went too far. Our gatherers had to endure being spit on (only one person had that happen) yelled at (there were many times where opposition would yell and scream whenever a gatherer would ask someone to sign and the Sheriff was called to stop what was going on) and physically grabbing petitions out of a girl’s hands and holding them over her head, refusing to give them back(one of the paid gatherers in Cleveland had this happen, people passing by had to intervene to get this person to stop what was happening). Most of the incidents (and there were more than these examples) happened in central Ohio.

    We need to see eye-to-eye. I don’t think the agreement is being seen as good on either side. That’s why I suspect it’s a great agreement, in the long run. You should see the exasperated comments of animal rights people!

  2. Note that the video in question was shown to be edited to make it look worse than it was. The farmer was exonerated. The guy that filmed it admitted that Conklin did not know of abuse and he did not tell him. Further, he admitted to participating in the worst abuses!

    So, to “raise awareness”, this guy lied to his boss and abused animals and then posted a video libelling his unaware employer.

    I don’t trust people that lie to me because they think that know better what is best for me. My money is on them renegging on the agreement anyway. Liars and frauds: If they think they can bilk people out of donations, they will gear back up again.

    Meantime, come to my farm with a camera, and I will call the Sherriff.

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