What Hasn’t the HSUS Done Lately?

Ag and Trade | Food | By Ben Gotschall | 09/04/2012

The U.S. didn’t lose 91% of its pork producers, 82% of its dairy producers, 42% of its beef producers and 33% of its sheep producers overnight. It has happened by degrees since 1980, during my lifetime, and isn’t going to be slowed down, stopped, or even partially “fixed” in less than a year.

Timmy Samuel Nebraska rancher Ben Gotschall

In a recent column entitled “Waiting for the HSUS,” Daily Yonder co-editor Bill Bishop issued a not-so-subtle challenge to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to prove to him, and apparently to everyone else, that HSUS is working proactively to benefit independent farmers and ranchers.

Clearly, Mr. Bishop is not satisfied with the progress, or (as he sees it) the lack thereof, in the market creation aspect of the HSUS’s new approach of working with ag groups and producers.

As I see it, the question should not be whether or not Mr. Bishop is satisfied with the HSUS’s efforts at this point, but whether or not farmers and ranchers are satisfied, namely those who have been directly working with HSUS. After all, they’re the ones with the most at stake in all this, aside from organizations like the Nebraska Farmers Union that support them.

Those producers and organizations are the ones under the intense scrutiny, and in some cases under the direct attack, from other producers, ag groups, armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers waiting in the wings to pounce when they smell blood.

From what I can see, as someone intimately involved in the issue, those producers, at least in Nebraska, are extremely satisfied with HSUS’s involvement.

Just last week, not long after Bishop’s column was posted, the Nebraska Agriculture Advisory Council to the HSUS released a video discussing their outlook and goals. The Ag Council published the video on YouTube, the HSUS website, Facebook and the Nebraska Farmers Union website.

Seems pretty public to me. Seems like a group of committed individuals who believe enough in what they do for a living to step up and say something about it—again, in a public forum.

But, to be fair to Mr. Bishop, those producers aren’t HSUS representatives. His question yet remains: what has the HSUS, as an organization, done to help folks like those featured in the Ag Council video?

Maybe a more instructive question to ask would be: what hasn’t the HSUS done in the past 10 months?

They haven’t threatened to kick the asses of perceived opponents out of the state of Nebraska. That was what Nebraska’s Governor Dave Heineman has done, on more than one occasion.

They haven’t siphoned $100,000 from the state’s coffers into a front group established to directly attack its perceived opponents. That was Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and his sweetheart gift to We Support Agriculture.

They haven’t introduced ag-gag legislation to specifically target those who might (God forbid) observe and report practices currently taking place on operations that violate the animal-treatment standards established on those same operations. That was Nebraska State Sen. Tyson Larson, with LB 915, a bill eerily similar to one passed in Iowa in February 2012, which is an obvious paraphrase of bills proposed in Missouri, Utah, Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois. I wonder who wrote them (or should I say it)?

HSUS hasn’t unleashed a ballot initiative in the state of Nebraska to regulate agricultural practices through legislation, in keeping with its agreement with Nebraska Farmers Union.

Ben Gotschall A "flow-well" from my family's ranch in the Sandhills of Holt County, NE. The water perpetually flows from the pipe tapped directly into the Ogallala Aquifer. Clean, cold water, without a pump, using no energy.

HSUS hasn’t put one single independent livestock producer out of business—not in the last ten months, not in the last ten years, not ever.

In short, the HSUS hasn’t fought nearly every effort of independent family farmers and ranchers and our allies to ensure our agriculture system doesn’t slip further into the same highly-concentrated, anti-competitive, transparency-blocking pattern of predatory behavior that has been eliminating livestock operations for decades. I wish I could say the same for some of the other organizations and corporations that purport to collectively “support” agriculture.

Don’t take that to mean that HSUS couldn’t do more. In fact, much more needs to be done.

Our family farmers and ranchers are just as endangered now as they’ve ever been, and any efforts to “save” them are going to have to be well organized, well funded and purposeful—descriptors often attributed to the HSUS by its opponents, as if the same couldn’t be said of those same opponents.

Identifying, developing and expanding new markets is a huge undertaking, and the to-do list grows by the day.

Let’s keep in mind that the HSUS agreement with Nebraska Farmers Union happened less than a year ago, and much of that time has been spent defending said agreement from attackers, detractors and naysayers—a fair share of which came from the ranks of their own members.

The U.S. didn’t lose 91% of its pork producers, 82% of its dairy producers, 42% of its beef producers and 33% of its sheep producers overnight. It has happened by degrees since 1980, during my lifetime, and isn’t going to be slowed down, stopped, or even partially “fixed” in less than a year.

We must start somewhere, and this is still only the beginning.

Case in point: earlier this month, directly after the OCM meeting Mr. Bishop sat through dissatisfied, I met HSUS executive director Wayne Pacelle for the first time along with members of the Nebraska Ag Council. I presented a progress report to the group on what I had been doing for the past four months as Coordinator for the Ag Council.

It was an educational experience—not really for those of us at the table well versed in raising livestock as a business—but mostly for Mr. Pacelle. He asked many questions: about the landscape of processing facilities, about the economic challenges of drought and feed shortage, about the hurdles placed in the path of direct producer-to-consumer connections.

Mr. Pacelle listened (I’ll repeat: listened) to our concerns, ambitions, drought stories, and jokes about vegans enjoying a steak dinner. I know I for one, and I think Mr. Pacelle also, came away from that meeting with a renewed sense of purpose and an understanding of the road ahead.

To respond to Mr. Bishop’s challenge, I offer this:

The real nuts and bolts business of market development isn’t sexy. It isn’t the stuff you see in front-page, above-the-fold newspaper headlines. You don’t hear CEO’s and senators singing its praises. It’s the day-to-day, often frustrating, sometimes boring, but always important work that is essential to rebuilding a sustainable system from the ground up.

It takes a collaborative effort. It requires a lot of listening to a lot of different voices. The more voices represented in our efforts, the more widespread those benefits will be. I invite Mr. Bishop, and any other interested parties, to join not only in the discussion, but also in the action.

Ben Gotschall is a fourth-generation rancher from Nebraska. In addition to raising beef and dairy cattle and marketing meat and cheese, he is the Energy Director for Bold Nebraska and the Coordinating Consultant for the Nebraska Agriculture Advisory Council to the Humane Society of the United States. He is also the president of District 5 and Lancaster County Nebraska Farmers Union.

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