[imgcontainer right] [img:Pacelle.jpeg] [source]Chris Clayton[/source] The Humane Society’s Wayne Pacelle in Nebraska last November. [/imgcontainer]

As the battle heats up between the nation’s agriculture sector and animal rights activists, common livestock production practices — in particular, large confined animal farms — are coming under more public scrutiny. 

In January, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published an article that announced a change in the language of the Veterinarian’s Oath to emphasize a commitment  not just to animal health  but to animal welfare. This would include the “prevention of animal suffering.” 

For decades, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has upheld confinement farming practices, including veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages, and for years, strongly opposed revisions to the oath. 

In 2002, Florida became the first U.S. state to outlaw gestation crates, despite the AVMA’s formal position statement endorsing the 2-foot-wide metal enclosures for breeding sows. 

After the Florida vote, several animal protection organizations pressured the AVMA to rethink its policies based on a study conducted across the U.S. that revealed more than 80 percent of veterinarians surveyed considered gestation crates and other confinement environments “objectionable.”

In response, AVMA started refining some of its positions, including the adoption of a policy against the tail docking of dairy cows. Still, despite these reforms, the AVMA maintains close ties to confinement practices employed in the livestock industry. 

Confinement practices, in particular, have become the target of the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) latest campaign for reform that many in the ag industry feel is a direct attack upon farming.

“We find ag policies and practices are more industry-friendly than animal-friendly,” said Jordan Crump, veterinary medical association representative with HSUS.

Even some producers are on board with the phasing out of confinement practices.

Last fall, a rancher from Litchfield, Nebraska, Kevin Fulton, invited Wayne Pacelle — president and CEO of HSUS — to a town hall meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“It’s easier to say, ‘They’re the boogey man, they’re the bad guys,’ than it is to sit down as leaders and look at the issues and address the problems,” Fulton explained.

The problem, according to HSUS, is the mistreatment of animals in livestock production agriculture for the sake of doing business. 

In the Omaha World Herald on Dec. 31, 2010, Pacelle wrote there are still many “serious animal welfare problems,” and the town hall meeting provided a nice platform to address them in Nebraska. 

Pacelle said a survey of residents in the top 37 pig-producing states revealed that people in every one of them, including Nebraska, strongly favor a phase-out of gestation crates.

“(HSUS) is the largest animal protection agency in the U.S., maybe the world,” Fulton said. “They’re trying to make the world a better place for animals.”

He added that the organization has been mislabeled as anti-ag, but many of their members are farmers, as well as hunters and meat-eaters. 

“They are the first organization to pose any kind of threat to the owners of the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), that’s the real problem,” Fulton said. 

Pacelle said some people remain unconvinced that the goals of the Humane Society represent mainstream values.

“I am determined to keep the dialogue going,” Pacelle said. 

He added that no industry should be immune from criticism, nor should it have so much political protection that it is not compelled to improve and innovate.

Producers opposed to CAFOs believe changes away from confinement environments in livestock agriculture would make the industry more competitive by better aligning production practices with the core values of consumers.

Though initially resistant to change and to some degree caught in the middle of the fight, the AMVA has taken the first step toward recognizing that animal welfare has become a much larger issue.

Lisa Hare is a Nebraska writer specializing in the agriculture industry.

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