Editor’s Note: Dr. Howard Hill is Vice-President of the National Pork Producers Council and serves as Director of External Relations for Iowa Select Farms, Iowa Falls, Iowa.
PorkNetwork: Dr. Hill, can you provide some historical perspective on animal welfare?
Hill: We know that groups like the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) have worked hard to convince the public that what [animal agriculture is] doing is wrong. They want to put livestock producers out of business. Historically, veterinarians have made decisions based on science and data, while the general public makes decisions based on emotions and perceptions. HSUS has been in a 15-year transition: its budget has expanded from $78.5 million to $148.7 million. Presently, 50 percent of the budget is overhead and 49 percent goes to political and advocacy programs, with 25 lawyers on-staff. Less than one percent of the budget actually goes to animal shelters. In fact, local shelters are starting to speak out against HSUS because it’s taking funding away from the shelters. The CEO of HSUS is Wayne Pacelle, who made $287,786 last year.
PorkNetwork: Is the vegan/vegetarian segment growing in the United States?
Hill: Actually, the segment is pretty stable. A lot of people say they’re vegetarian but they eat meat – they’re not strict vegetarians. The activists use ballot initiatives, undercover videos, brand attacks, consumer marketing and legislation. They have honed their skills in presenting messages to make practices appear inhumane and they’ve been very successful at pushing through legislation in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California and other states.
PorkNetwork: If this is such a small minority, why are food companies demanding changes to industry practices?
Hill: They are under a tremendous amount of pressure by HSUS. McDonald’s said it made its statement with no pressure from HSUS, but the news release came out with the McDonald’s logo side-by-side with the HSUS logo. These decisions have unintended consequences – they are made without verification of supply nor do food companies realize these changes require segregation in processing, increased costs, and an increased carbon footprint, in addition to potentially forcing some smaller farmers out of business. The bottom line, however, is that there is no scientific evidence that gestation stalls provide a better environment for animals than stalls. We’re not saying [food companies] can’t operate their business as they see fit, but food safety and welfare should not be market-driven.
Pork Network: Has any good come out of this issue?
Hill: Producers have increased their focus on animal well-being and there is more awareness surrounding animal handling and care. At Iowa Select, we’re focused on improving our existing farm animal care and well-being. We have a director, five animal well-being specialists and two trainers with defined goals for the team. We’ve included:
- Quarterly third-party farm audits
- Compliance to all of our written standard operating procedures
- 100 percent participation in annual PQA+ certifications
- Animal Well-being Expert Advisory Committee
- New-employee training
- Animal well-being education, training and testing
- Annual audits of all farms
PorkNetwork: So, what does the industry need to do now?
Hill: The industry as a whole and individual producers need to step up to the plate. We need more producer accountability and we need to protect our freedom to operate. We need higher engagement with decision-makers in the marketplace and we need to continue to expose the activists’ agenda. It’s important to develop relationships with key retail and foodservice customers to share information that is valuable to their customers as well as to their business. We need to build trust with key people in foodservice and retail so they know where to go to get accurate information about how pigs are raised. The industry also is taking a more unified approach. We have several organizations that are doing a good job of exposing the motives, tactics and dishonest information being circulated by activist organizations. And it’s making a difference. Overall charitable funding was up last year, but HSUS funding was down six percent. Swine veterinarians and the producers with whom they work need to take on expanded roles. We’re working hard to do what is right for the animal all the time, every day, and remember animal well-being is an individual animal concept, not a population concept.