HSUS forms the new Colorado Agriculture Council

News
May 4, 2012

The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) on April 26 announced the creation of an advisory body, the HSUS Colorado Agriculture Council (CAC). The announcement was made by Holly Tarry, state director of HSUS’ Colorado branch.

According to the HSUS press release, the new advisory group was created “[t]o advance more humane practices on farms and ranches and to promote food producers who share that goal. …” The announcement of CAC’s creation came during a meeting of the Colorado Legislative Animal Welfare caucus chaired by Rep. Beth McCann, D-House District 8. The group is relatively new and modeled after the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

As listed on the CAC site, council members are Dr. Tom Parks, DVM and owner of Sun Prairie Beef, Yuma County; Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct, Denver and Colorado Springs; Brad Buchanan of Flying B Bar Ranch, Strasburg; Matt Kuatz of Cottonwood Creek Farms, Merino; and Carrie Balkcom, current executive director of the American Grassfed Association.

Why Colorado?

The Colorado group is the second in what HSUS calls its “emerging system of state agriculture councils.” The first was in Nebraska.

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, voiced concern about the newly formed council and HSUS’ motivations in selecting Colorado for their second state-specific agricultural council. “I’ve got a lot of questions of ‘why Colorado?’ I think we will only see as things progress; time will tell.”

Tarry responded to questions regarding “why Colorado?” by complimenting the state. “Colorado has been a leader in welfare is sues,” she said, citing the passage of SB 201 in 2008 which banned production practices such as gestation crates for sows. Tarry was a sponsor of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty initiative (Initiative 64) which was replaced with SB 201.

When asked why Colorado was chosen rather than California—which passed SB 201-clone Prop 2 in 2008 and is well known for its high level of regulation—she commented that more middle/Midwestern states are of greater interest to HSUS.

Since Nebraska saw the first of HSUS’ state-specific agriculture councils, Nebraska’s experience might give some insight into Colorado’s future.

Michele Ehresman, incoming executive director of Nebraska’s We Support Agriculture program, spoke in no uncertain terms about HSUS’ Nebraska Agriculture Council (NAC).

“We feel that HSUS has misrepresented themselves to their donors and we’ve been working to alert consumers to their true animal rights agenda. Their goal is to raise money.”

Ehresman spoke at length about a radio interview with a Nebraska HSUS representative who reportedly referred to NAC as a massive fundraising opportunity for HSUS.

“It’s not a surprise what they are doing in Colorado because they’ve done it in other states.”

She also referenced the widely publicized conflict between Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman.

“We appreciate that Gov. Heineman has such a strong support for ag. He’s very passionate about it and that’s a good thing.”

Heineman has recently made headlines in the mainstream news for colorfully telling HSUS they are not welcome in Nebraska. He has made no apology— and has garnered much support from ranchers—for calling HSUS out on what he describes as their attempts to destroy the future of farming.

A redundant group?

Questions regarding the relevance or necessity of HSUS’ CAC have been raised as groups already exist to fill the niche it proclaims to serve. The choice of names is also drawing questions.

Fankhauser brought up these curiosities in an interview. Apparently a group already exists in Colorado bearing the name “Colorado Agriculture Council” and another was created following the 2008 passage of SB 201 to act as a welfare advisory group.

The original Colorado Agriculture Council—colloquially called “the Ag Council” by those involved—has been around since the 1970s. Though he admitted the Ag Council was not well publicized and didn’t have its own website, Fankhauser said it meets regularly to discuss issues concerning Colorado agriculture. Some of the Ag Council’s most recent activity has been surrounding March’s “Colorado Ag Day,” Colorado’s selfcreated day of celebration within National Agriculture Week.

“We’ve asked the question ‘why use that name?’” Fankhauser asked with concern. “[HSUS representatives] have been before that group in the past, so they are aware of it.”

In a similar fashion, Colorado created a farm animalwelfare advisory group called the Colorado Livestock Husbandry and Animal Welfare Committee (CLHAWC) following the passage of SB 201 in 2008. Though CLHAWC does have its own little space on the web, Fankhauser again pointed out it “is not as heavily marketed” as HSUS’ newly created CAC.

CLHAWC’s mission is “to advise the Colorado Agricultural Commission, livestock producers, and the public on livestock husbandry practices that are humane, economically viable, and supported by science.” Their web page can be found at www.colorado.gov, search phrase “livestock husbandry welfare.”

Concerns

One of the concerns many farmers and ranchers have regarding HSUS is that it has an ultimate goal of ending animal agriculture entirely. This concern is fueled in large part by the behavior and public speeches of numerous current and former top HSUS management.

When questioned on this concern, Parks, leader of the new CAC, was emphatic in his opinions.

“I don’t believe that’s true at all and HSUS has never made that statement… It’s a phony issue that’s been created by the other side, and I want that quoted.”

Callicrate, however, admitted there was cause for suspicion among animal ag.

“I think people who are suspicious have ground to be so, especially when you look at [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals].

They are vegan and want to end animal ag. There’s no question about that.”

Callicrate went on to differentiate the two groups and their respective motivations.

Despite Parks’ and Callicrate’s confidence, a prime example of the statements which fuel concerns HSUS’ goal is the elimination of animal agriculture can be seen in a statement from Miyun Park, then-HSUS vice president, when speaking in the “Expert Panel on Poultry” at the 2006 Strength of Many event.

“We don’t want any of these animals to be raised and killed. But when we’re talking about numbers like ‘one million slaughtered in the U.S. in a single hour,’ or ‘48 billion killed every year around the world,’ unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of waiting until we have the opportunity to get rid of the entire industry.”

The future

When asked of his hopes for the future regarding CAC, Fankhauser spoke of cooperation with any group interested in producing food wholesomely, practically and efficiently for a growing population.

“In our minds, ag is a significant component of Colorado and a component of the noble occupation of feeding the world. There are issues, but we need to address them in a constructive, not destructive, manner.

“My hope for this new group is that they don’t pursue efforts to harm the industry. And honestly, that’s the concern of our producers.”

In speaking of the new CAC, Callicrate explained that there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any conflict between HSUS and the ranching community. Ultimately, he said, the two groups can agree that animals must be treated humanely.

“I might have a different opinion on horse slaughter than HSUS, or a different opinion on prairie dogs. But we both come together on animal welfare issues.”

Park also had hopes for the future of animal welfare, as well as for the consumer.

“The benefit—and it’s a long time coming—is ultimately to provide better care for animals, and to connect producers and consumers who are interested in these issues.”

When it came to the topic of animal welfare, Fankhause agreed that it was a point on which all ranchers and consumers can agree. However, he voiced some trepidation as to whether animal welfare— rather than fundraising and political maneuvering—will remain at the forefront of CAC’s goals.

“My ask of HSUS is that they focus.”

Motivation and goals

Given the distrust of HSUS by the animal ag community, the participation of ranchers in this new program may raise some eyebrows. Among the five council members, Parks and Callicrate were able to be reached for comment and they spoke passionately regarding their involvement in CAC. For Parks, the motivation stems from his interest in animal welfare.

“I’m a vet. I’ve been involved in farm animal practice for the vast majority of my career. I’ve always had an interest in dairies, feedlots and cow/ calf operations. And I’ve always been interested in animal welfare.”

For Callicrate, his motivation to participate in CAC came from his desire to see small farms thrive.

“I’ve done everything I possibly can do to improve the situation for small family farms. But we simply can’t win. We’re seven-tenths of 1 percent of the population. If we don’t support the family farmer or rancher, they will disappear.”

Though what drove them both to participate in the council differed, both men agreed that the primary goal of the new group is to further humane animal husbandry practices and to connect small-scale producers with consumers who seek food raised in such conditions.

“I think the major goal is to tell the consumer where they can buy food from animals raised in a humane and sustainable manner,” said Parks of CAC.

“We need the consumers to vote and to spend their money to build a better food system,” agreed Callicrate, speaking on the value he sees in local, direct-contact food systems.

These sentiments were echoed by Tarry. “We want to identify what the barriers are,” she said, referencing consumer difficulty in finding “humanely-raised, sustainable food.”

“We are really excited with people connecting to the producers of their food,” she said. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor

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