This Week’s Column: Preparing For Battle

Agriculture is in an interesting place today. Fresh of relatively historic highs in both grain prices and input costs in 2008, farmers are reeling in many cases from unprecedented volatility in the marketplace. Land prices and cash rents went up dramatically in 2008 in many areas of the country, and in conjunction with extremely high fertilizer and fuel costs, farm margins shrank considerably.



And yet, farmers are managing their risk and their business successfully. While some grain producers likely will decide its time to move to town or Florida, for the most part producers are savvier than they’ve ever been when it comes to mitigating these market-based challenges. Using the marketing strategies available to them, farm families do what is necessary to navigate the increasingly unnavigable waters of the farm commodity market.



Animal agriculture, on the other hand, is facing challenges far beyond their control. Some time ago, I wrote a column here referencing the impending danger of an organization known as the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS. This is The Most Dangerous Organization in America today. For all the pretense that they are somehow working in conjunction with your local animal shelter to save the poor and defenseless puppies and kittens of America, HSUS is PETA if PETA were run by Philadelphia lawyers.



Make no mistake about it, HSUS doesn’t care one whit about stray dogs and cats.



The Humane Society of the United States wants to keep you from eating meat, drinking milk, wearing leather, and scrambling eggs. Backed by a radical anti-agriculture, vegan agenda, the organization is working to become “the NRA of the Animal Rights movement,” according to one of their key leaders. In the business, science, and lifestyle of family farming, we use the term animal welfare or animal care, because that’s where we put our emphasis: on making sure our animals are well cared for, and that their welfare is at the forefront of our practices.



HSUS, on the other hand, uses the term “animal rights,” which gives you the picture of where they place their emphasis: on limiting your rights and expanding those of the animal kingdom.



By using ballot initiatives in states like Florida, Arizona, and most recently in California, this radical organization is forcing pork, poultry, and veal producers out of business. Proposition 2, which passed in California last November, will eliminate the state’s pork, poultry, and veal business in the next six years. Why such a lengthy phase-out? Think politically for a moment, because that’s what the HSUS leadership is doing… By delaying the implementation of this radical piece of legislation, HSUS has six years to end modern livestock production in states like Ohio before Americans can truly see the effects of their vote.



When the first poultry operations go out of business in California, and thousands of workers lose their jobs, and the price of eggs doubles or triples, voters will begin to understand the consequences of their actions. Today, however, California voters are convinced they were simply standing up to save the animals from the evil farmer.



You can accomplish a lot in six years, particularly under false pretenses. I can’t encourage you enough to learn the true story of HSUS, and how they, despite their best marketing efforts to the contrary, have nothing to do with your local humane shelter or animal rescue.



Let me repeat that in case you still don’t get the factual reality of the situation: HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, has NOTHING to do with your local Humane Shelter.



For farmers, this is the most critical challenge of my lifetime, and Ohio is now officially ground zero. You must become informed and armed on this issue, and make sure your friends and family are aware: HSUS and their activist allies are out to insure that you lose the freedom to consume and enjoy meat, dairy, poultry, and any animal derived products.



The good news is that our industry is, by and large, doing all the right things on the farm. HSUS will tackle the use of modern livestock production practices such as gestation stalls on hog farms and cage production of chickens. The question they ignore, of course, is why farmers utilize those methods of production in the first place.



On the issue of gestation stalls, these are stalls used when female hogs, called sows, are ready to farrow, or give birth. The gestating sow, unfortunately, is not a very pleasant creature, and will, left to her own devices, crush many of the 8-12 pigs she farrows. Pigs have a bit of a cannibalistic streak in them, so the smallest of the litter, the runts so to speak, the sow will often consume. Thus, to protect the fresh pigs from the sows natural tendencies, animal scientists and agricultural engineers designed the concept of a gestation stall where the sow is kept from laying on or consuming her pigs, while the pigs are free to nurse the sow and move about without danger.



What about chickens and cages? In a similar fact of life, chickens are flock-minded by nature. We could put 100 chickens in Ohio Stadium, and rather than spread to all corners of the Shoe, they would find a corner and all 100 birds would huddle together as closely as they possibly can, and if food were introduced, peck at and climb over one another. Again, to solve the issue of birds harming one another through their natural tendencies, animal scientists and agricultural engineers devised cage housing, where birds are placed in pens of a few birds to allow their natural flocking instinct, but yet keep them safe from the dangers of a more massive flock.



Nutritional needs of the sow and chicken, by the way, are more easily addressed in these modern livestock housing systems, as are health issues like disease or injury.



HSUS has laid sight on Ohio, forewarning our agricultural leaders that we have two choices: surrender, or prepare for battle. My recommendation to you is to get ready: arm yourself with knowledge, and talk with your friends and neighbors about the truth on HSUS and modern livestock production. Remind folks of the critical importance of animal agriculture to our state’s economy, of the jobs supported by livestock production, and that agriculture is our state’s number one industry.



And, remind them that this issue has nothing to do with the well-being of animals, and everything to do with lawyers, activists, and Hollywood-types telling you that you can’t eat a steak or drink a glass of milk. This isn’t about animal rights, it’s about your rights: stand up and defend them.