Animal Rights versus Animal Welfare

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The art of politics is changing the debate to allow your side to win. In the escalating activism against raising livestock in confinement, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has taken the moral high ground, and livestock producers are now having to fight from an inferior position against a well-funded and politically savvy opponent.

An Ohio agricultural journalist defined HSUS this way: “It is a radical activist organization dedicated to reducing and replacing animal-derived proteins and products from the human lifestyle. Equating animals with humans, they passionately believe that domesticated pets and livestock should have the same rights as every American citizen, and firmly hold that no animal should be consumed for food.”

HSUS defines itself as: “Working to reduce the suffering of animals raised for meat, milk and eggs.”

The difference is striking in the perception of animals by those who choose to raise them and those who choose to defend them. Why hasn’t this animal rights movement caught on in the past? It is because in the post-agrarian era of our society, most people have never seen their food when it was alive, so they are easily convinced that the life of the animal was miserable and the master was cruel. In generations past, even though the animal rights activists were vocal, the public had enough of a link to farming that they understood its purpose and trusted its producers.

It is clear that HSUS and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are in the right place at the right time. At its core, this is a cause that may be equated to abortion. The perfect storm is the collision with the interests of large corporate entities that sell food and recreation to the American public. Livestock farmers shouldn’t feel alone, as HSUS is also confronting circuses and racetracks about their display and handling of animals. HSUS has stated that a horse is a companion animal. They are opposed to horse slaughter, no matter how humane the method of doing so. Their efforts in Congress have eliminated the utilization of horse meat and byproducts by traditional means.

In Iowa, Harrah’s Entertainment–the largest casino operator–is lobbying the legislature to allow them to end dog racing. They are offering $10 million a year for seven years to the state to do so. Harrah’s claims dog racing is not bringing in people to watch the races, but an Iowa Department of Agriculture official believes the reason is that they don’t want to be picketed by PETA. A study released last year disclosed 101 greyhounds had been injured at Iowa tracks in 2008, including 10 dogs that were euthanized. Enough documentation of broken legs, muscle tears, and severed tails could give the animal rights activists enough clout to hurt the casino’s profits.

HSUS proudly announced that it is a shareholder of Domino’s Pizza. Put retail fast food chains on the defensive, and the future of the livestock industry may be bleak. It doesn’t require elimination of the right to produce livestock for HSUS and PETA to win–it only requires the elimination of profit in livestock production to accomplish their purposes.

At least animal agriculture can now focus on a common threat and identify its adversary in this political and social battle. The greatest liability of HSUS may be its high profile. Those who examine its fundraising say the non-profit organization exploits its similarity in name to local humane societies, though it puts very little of its money toward animal care facilities or adoption. HSUS assets are reported to be $113 million.


A recent manifesto by HSUS calls for a “czar for animal protection.” If accomplished, this would cause higher-profile examination of animal care from the chicken house to the White House. Any intersection of animals with people could be targeted, from zoos to puppy producers.

The greatest fear of livestock organizations is that HSUS ultimately seeks a vegan diet for all Americans. This means that whatever victory is attained in animal welfare is not the final goal–only the abolition of meat consumption will fulfill the agenda. If farming interests dismiss animal activism as a “fad” in the cities, they will surrender the cause to those who already have momentum on their side.

For want of a champion, the horse was lost. Thanks to HSUS, it is now relegated to companion animal status unless its owners pay for euthanization and disposal. For want of a champion, California was lost. A proposition sponsored by HSUS would end confinement raising of pork and poultry in the state.

Consider what could happen if the fast food industry downplays the sale of meat. McDonalds could make a major push to market veggie burgers and get a lot of people to try them. The soybean folks have told us for 30 years that they could replace animal protein in our diet with a taste and texture that is satisfying and healthy.

In this society, and under our form of government, there is no secure perch for any occupation or industry. Agriculture has done such a good job of feeding our populace that its producers have become invisible to the consuming public. Activist causes can lay low for generations and then ignite. When they do, the change they bring can be dramatic and irreversible.

                                       Reprinted with permission of High Plains Journal

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          Note: Ken Root is an independent agricultural journalist. He was named the 2009 Farm Broadcaster of the Year and was the 2008 winner of the Oscar in Agriculture. He is an Oklahoma native and graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Agriculture Education. Ken taught vocational agriculture at Union City, Okla., before taking his first broadcasting job with WKY Radio and Television. He worked in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri as an agricultural broadcaster and began writing for the High Plains Journal eight years ago.  He has spent the last five years as Lead Farm Broadcaster at WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa. Ken has also been the executive director of the National AgriChemical Retailers Association in Washington, D.C. and the National Association of Farm Broadcasting in Kansas City, Mo. He and his wife Gail have two adult children and two grandchildren.

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