The leader of the Humane Society of the United States came to Lincoln Nov. 22 to a town hall meeting to explain the organization's programs and to meet with fellow members in Nebraska. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, told the audience, including representatives of several farm groups, that HSUS is not anti-agriculture and "has not been discussing any petition or legislation" in Nebraska to seek stronger state regulations over animal agriculture.
Pacelle was invited to Nebraska by the new HSUS state director in Nebraska, Jocelyn Nickerson of Omaha, and Kevin Fulton, HSUS member and owner of a 2,800-head organic, grass-fed beef operation in Sherman County.
Pacelle reviewed his organization's mission and programs to protect animals, especially abused or abandoned pets, dogs raised in puppy mills and its efforts to eliminate dog and cock fighting. He talked for a half-hour before addressing animals raised for food. "We are very concerned about the intensification of animals in terms of space," he said.
He laid out the organization's three key focus areas in production agriculture, or what he referred to as "industrial ag." 1. Confining and tethering of veal calves, 2. Confinement of breeding sows in gestation crates and 3. and confinement of laying hens in battery cages.
Asked about Nebraska's feedlot industry, he said, "HSUS has not spoken out about feedlots. Feedlot practices, he added, "are not as extreme" as our three main animal agriculture concern areas.
His comments did not allay fears from some ag interests. Several producers and University of Nebraska-Lincoln ag students in attendance asked if propositions promoted by HSUS and passed in states such as California Arizona are on the agenda for Nebraska.
He suggested HSUS may push in the Unicameral for some tweaking of pet protection laws and perhaps of laws regarding puppy mills.
"It doesn't serve the interests of agriculture to stand in the way of puppy mill laws because they fear some additional legislation will come later," he said. "That's not a rational position.
"We've reached out to the ag community and often get rebuffed," he said.
Pacelle pointed to evolving cultural trends such as consumers' desire for local foods and food retailers such as Wal-Mart and McDonalds requiring eggs and other products grown under certain practices. "You're not producing your products in isolation. Your industry can't stay static," he said.
He also said HSUS critics mischaracterize the organization. He singled out the Center for Consumer Freedom, a non-profit group started in 1996 to "counter growing number of activist groups dedicated to telling us how to live our lives." CCF has developed a website, www.humanewatch.org to monitor and oppose HSUS activities.
David Martosko, director of research for CCF, operates the website. He came to Lincoln, but was prevented from entering at the direction of HSUS officials