HSUS Members Give Nebraska Farmer Standing Applause at Annual Meeting

Farmer Kevin Fulton serves on The HSUS's Agriculture Council for Nebraska. The growing network of statewide advisory groups helps develop markets for higher-welfare products.

Farmer Kevin Fulton serves on The HSUS’s Agriculture Council for Nebraska. The growing network of statewide advisory groups helps develop markets for higher-welfare products.

Talk at The HSUS Annual Membership Meeting
By Kevin Fulton | October 18th, 2013

Good morning! I’d like to thank The HSUS leadership for giving me this opportunity to convey my thoughts today. I’m truly honored to be a part of this great organization. And I’d also like to personally thank Wayne for not only being a great friend but for taking the risk of handing me a microphone—because he knows I always give the uncut version on how I see the world no matter who the audience is!

I’m going to narrow my focus today to what I consider one of the most important issues we face as an organization, and that is factory farming and the extreme confinement of farm animals. As most of you know, the magnitude of this problem is enormous. We are talking about billions of animals that are kept in inhumane conditions on factory farms. To me, it’s disgraceful and even offensive that we call these operations “farms.”

It’s crucial that we never lose sight of the fact that the animals on these factory farms have only one good day in their lives, and that’s the day the misery ends for them. That’s unacceptable, and we need to work to change this!

It’s also critically important to have farmers and ranchers not only involved in our organization, but at the forefront in the battle against factory farming. That goes right along with the HSUS policy statement on farm animals which states:
“The HSUS supports farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals and practice and promote humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture.”

It’s also important to understand that we as farmers cannot farm sustainably unless we have animals in the equation. But more importantly, those animals need to be spread out across the landscape rather than in some confinement facility. This symbiotic relationship is one of the most basic laws of Mother Nature – that’s Ecology 101. I think that Wayne summed it up perfectly in one of his recent presentations when he said we need more farmers and we need them giving more attention to animals, and we need the animals back on the land. I couldn’t agree more.

I’m proud to be the chairman of the first ever HSUS State Agriculture Council which was formed in Nebraska. I’m proud of the other farmers that are a part of this council and I’m proud of what we represent. This was an idea that I presented to Wayne when he visited my farm back in 2010.

I told Wayne that we needed farmers in some type of advisory role in the organization and suggested we form an agriculture council, as we were taking a real beating in the Midwest farm states. We were being severely demonized and misaligned. We desperately need to gain credibility on these issues. It was rough out there. And I mean really rough!

How bad did it get? Well, in one TV news story I was referred to as the most controversial farmer in the state. But why? WHAT is so controversial about a farmer promoting the humane treatment of farm animals? Aren’t we supposed to be the caretakers? But the reality is, that is controversial in my industry. I think that tells you how far we have strayed from the basics of animal husbandry with our current system of food production.

Then, the Governor vowed to kick all our ass’s out of the state (his words, not mine). As some of you know, I called the Governor’s bluff. In one TV interview, I guaranteed he would not be kicking my hind-end anywhere or anyhow. And my family would not be leaving! And then other supporters did the same with letters to the editor and personal letters. Jocelyn Nickerson, our Nebraska State Director, made it real personal when she marched into the Governor’s office carrying her new baby in her arms and asked why he wanted to kick her family out of the state.

I was even pulled over one night for speeding on a desolate NE highway and hassled by a state highway patrolman for being “that farmer that brought HSUS to Nebraska.” We ended up in a pretty heated debate and I’ll never understand how I got off with just a warning—cause I said a couple of things that weren’t real flattering! Maybe he knew that our staff attorney Jonathan Lovvorn was in my corner? But the point is, I didn’t bring the HSUS to Nebraska. They were there long before I became a member and they’ll be there long after I’m gone. I just challenged the status quo in the agriculture industry, which has been running unchecked for years. You see, The HSUS is not some bureaucrat wearing a suit and tie from Washington D.C. I am HSUS! And you are HSUS!

Coming up with the idea of forming an agriculture council was the easy part. Implementing this idea was going to take someone with some real expertise and political savvy. That person would be Joe Maxwell who was hired as Director of Rural Development and Outreach shortly after Wayne’s visit to Nebraska and our town hall meeting. Joe is a farmer and experienced politician from “Mussoouuuraaa.” Due to his leadership we now have agriculture councils in 4-5 states along with numerous other projects in progress to help family farmers like myself. The farmers and ranchers on these councils are masters when it comes to understanding the principles of animal husbandry which seems to elude many farmers today. I couldn’t be prouder of these farmers and the way they have courageously stuck their necks out to stand up for animals. I’d like to thank Joe Maxwell and all the HSUS leaders for their continued support. I’d also like to introduce other farmers here in the room, Mike Callicrate from Colorado and Warren Taylor from Ohio.

I think it’s important that you all understand what we are really fighting for:

We are fighting for the freedom for farmers to stay on the land and farm in a sustainable and humane manner. And that’s not easy in today’s industrial climate. Freedom to farm without being a serf to Monsanto or Tyson Foods. Freedom that would allow our children to follow in our footsteps as my three young children want to do.

We are also fighting for consumer freedom (not to be confused with the Center for Consumer Freedom) which has nothing to do with any form of freedom. But rather freedom for transparency so you can know how your food is produced and what practices are being used so you can choose accordingly.

Most importantly, it is about freedom for the animals. Freedom for a chicken to be a chicken, for a sow to be able to behave like a pig, and for a cow to graze in a pasture as Mother Nature intended. How can we deny animals of these basic rights?

Without farmers on the front line we have limited credibility in these battles. That’s just the reality of the situation. The game changes when we have farmers on our side. Our opposition’s only hope is to continue to frame this as “the poor farmer vs. all you radical animal rights activists who are interfering with our sanctimonious mission to ‘feed the world!’ How dare you!” That’s a weak defense for a faction that is struggling to justify their inhumane practices. We are not the radical ones! We’re reasonable minded people who understand that as humans we have a responsibility to stand up for those creatures that do not have a voice! Let me tell you what radical is. Radical is putting a sow in a gestation crate! Radical would be cramming 8 hens in a tiny battery cage.

Every time we announce the formation of another state agriculture council, and every time we invite Wayne to speak at an event promoting sustainable agriculture, a powerful message is sent to the agriculture industry and it resonates far and wide, and their anti-agriculture rhetoric becomes weaker and weaker.

Some of us may come to this table with different motives, and that’s fine, but we must work together towards our common goals. I realize I come from a different world than most of you. But, I don’t care where you’re from, what your occupation is, or your social status, or what your dietary protein choices are. We all need to stand together to win the battle against factory farming!! We are HSUS, and we WILL win this fight! Thank you!

“I Am HSUS; I Am Nebraska”: Kevin Fulton Takes on Factory Farming
Compassionate farmer helps form state agricultural council to advise The HSUS
All Animals magazine, November/December 2012

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