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Animal advocates raise ire of farmers

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Animal advocates raise ire of farmers
Farm Bureau questions agenda of Humane Society
By Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: April 17, 2010

Wisconsin's largest farm group has plenty of issues on its plate, but few things invoke anger more than the Humane Society of the United States - an organization that farmers say wants to eliminate animal agriculture.
It's a war that has come to Dairyland, Bill Bruins, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation president told a recent gathering of 400 farmers at the state capitol.
"Groups that subscribe to this 'animal rights' mind-set believe that animals should not be eaten, worn, used for research, hunted or fished," Bruins said.
"Livestock farmers: How much clearer do they have to be in saying that they want to put you out of business?"
The Humane Society of the United States raises millions of dollars a year from Americans for a variety of causes, such as veterinary care, wildlife rehabilitation and lobbying for changes in livestock farming practices.
With 11 million members, the Washington, D.C., organization has become one of the most powerful players in the animal welfare movement.
It's also a political machine that masquerades as an umbrella organization for local humane societies while pursuing a radical animal rights agenda, according to Wisconsin Farm Bureau.
"It's a slicker version of PETA," another animal rights group, Bruins said.
Two sides meet
In its newsletter, Wisconsin Farm Bureau has blasted the organization with headlines such as "Humane Society of the U.S. tries to infiltrate 4-H," a farm-oriented youth group.
"They won't say this to you, or to me, but their goal is to eliminate animal agriculture in this country," Bruins said.
Officials with the Humane Society of the U.S., which is not affiliated with the American Humane Association or local pet shelters, met recently with Wisconsin Farm Bureau leaders in Madison.
It was a cordial meeting, which made the Farm Bureau's subsequent attacks puzzling, said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the HSUS "factory farming" campaign that pursues livestock issues.
The organization does not have an "anti-meat" agenda, is not plotting the demise of animal agriculture, and has not pursued a livestock agenda in Wisconsin, Shapiro said.
"We are comprised of vegetarians and meat eaters alike," he said. "And the lion's share of our funds go to programs for cats, dogs and wildlife."
Still, the organization has drawn criticism from farm groups in Kansas, Iowa, North Carolina and other states for what farmers say are attempts to ban farming practices such as raising veal calves in small hutches, and for the use of undercover videos exposing animal cruelty.
"The HSUS formula is designed to horrify and disgust consumers and to vilify livestock farmers. Then it's on to the next media event," Dirck Steimel, Iowa Farm Bureau news services manager wrote in a blog.
Humane Society of the U.S. has campaigned against the poultry industry for keeping millions of chickens confined in tiny cages, and it has campaigned against the dairy industry's practice of "tail docking," where a cow's tail is removed to promote better hygiene.
"The vast majority of animals raised for food are treated in ways that many people would regard as cruel," Shapiro said. "There are a lot of cruel practices that are systemic throughout the agribusiness industry, and we are seeking to combat them."
Agenda criticized
Humane Society of the U.S. has led successful efforts to implement livestock laws in other states, including California where farmers have until 2015 to phase out practices such as raising chickens, pigs and calves in tiny crates and cages.
The organization sought to work with Wisconsin Farm Bureau on banning tail docking but was opposed by Farm Bureau leadership.
"They seemed opposed to any reform no matter how modest it was," Shapiro said.
Critics say the organization's agenda is far from "modest," and that one of its leaders was once with Animal Liberation Front, a group known for aggressive tactics such as destroying farm property.
J.P. Goodwin, formerly with Animal Liberation Front, now coordinates Humane Society of the U.S. efforts to stop illegal dog fighting and cock fighting.
"His job involves regularly working with law enforcement in raiding dog fighting rings," Shapiro said. "And he has repeatedly, publicly and privately, repudiated" Animal Liberation Front tactics and his former involvement with the group.
Shapiro has been criticized for a 2003 video in which he said "I really firmly do believe that one of the most effective ways that we can get people, especially younger people, to choose to eat more vegetarian meals or to even better become vegetarian or vegan, is to show them that eating meat causes animal cruelty."
The video was made when he worked for another group, Shapiro said, and does not reflect Humane Society of the U.S. policies.
Still, Wisconsin farmers believe the group has an anti-animal agriculture agenda that threatens their livelihood.
"I liken them to wolves in sheep's clothing," Bruins said. "They will go undercover and wait for a worst-case-scenario on a farm, videotape it, and then pretend that it's normal activity. That is so wrong."
Other farm groups in the state also are leery of Humane Society of the U.S. and say they have made a lot of progress in animal welfare issues.
Dairy farmers don't want an activist group dictating farming practices, said Shelly Mayer, executive director of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.
"We don't need to have legislative policy that determines the way animals are raised and the type of housing they're in," said Tammy Vaassen, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Pork Association.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau encourages people to support local animal shelters but not to give money to the Humane Society of the U.S.
"We know best how to take care of our animals. It's not for a food elitist group to decide," Bruins said.
But at least one Wisconsin farm group has found common ground with the organization on issues such as animal confinement.
"We do a lot of things that are aligned with what HSUS wants, such as not raising our chickens in cages," said Wendy Fulwider, chief animal husbandry specialist for Organic Valley, a farmers' cooperative in La Farge.
"I think it's important that we engage this organization in conversation whether we agree with them or not. They are not going away," Fulwider said.

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