Vet's Opinion

Egg Producers Acquiescence To HSUS Is Worrisome

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The bottom line is that a federal mandate that prescribes how farm animals should be raised should deeply concern all of agriculture.

Eggs are not a typical topic of discussion in BEEF magazine. But eggs and how they are produced recently had the full attention of beef and pork producers, as well as veterinarians.

The United Egg Producers (UEP), an umbrella organization encompassing five regional egg cooperatives,has long had an adversarial relationship with animal rights groups. About a year ago, however, UEP approached the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) about collaborating on federal legislation regarding housing for laying hens. Among other things, the legislation would specifically outline the exact pen space requirements, also called “enriched cage housing.”

At a superficial level, this may seem rational. But this seemingly rational legislation resulted in great dissension between poultry organizations, beef and pork production groups, veterinary organizations, and even animal rights groups themselves.

In the end, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendment (S. 3239) wasn’t attached to the Senate version of the farm bill. And beef and pork producer and veterinary groups were instrumental in that. But the measure is very likely to be introduced as an amendment to the House version of the farm bill.

When the measure failed in the Senate, however, the animal rights groups involved attempted to point their collective finger at the beef and pork groups, claiming we don’t care about animal welfare. This, of course, is ludicrous. If providing more room is in the best interest of the laying hen, I know of no one who would oppose it.

However, I know many people who oppose such federal legislation. These are hard-working farm families that care for the animals in their charge, and also care deeply about the consumers of their products.

The bottom line is that a federal mandate that prescribes how farm animals should be raised should deeply concern all of agriculture. A federal law isn’t necessary, and the success of the beef industry’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program is a case in point. Through the program, U.S. beef producers voluntarily responded to consumer concerns and made significant changes to enhance the quality of their product. BQA has been a resounding success story.

Why didn’t UEP put together a quality assurance program that required producers to provide this enriched cage housing? They did; it’s called UEP Certified (www.uepcertified.com).

However, it didn’t seem to help with pressure from animal rights groups. But when UEP tossed federal legislation into the pot, these groups jumped on the opportunity to get it on the books.

Of course, some animal rights groups were vehemently opposed to the legislation; they didn’t feel it went far enough. Still, UEP’s efforts to include animal rights groups in the passage of this mandate gave UEP a reprieve from assaults from such groups, as well as lending legitimacy to these same groups.

Producing safe, wholesome food is a tremendously gratifying endeavor for livestock producers. And agriculture has proven that it is responsive to consumer demands.

There are two primary reasons to alter how we produce food:

• The consumer asks for it.

• Science supports the change.

As it stands currently, consumers are blessed with the choice of a wide variety of food choices and how those foods are raised. And this has been done without federal legislation.

The science of animal welfare is ever-evolving. It will require an act of Congress to legislate how animals are to be raised. And if somewhere down the road, new science contradicts the federal legislation, it would take another act of Congress to change it.

Food producers can be much more responsive to new developments when their progress isn’t impeded by federal mandates. A federally legislated approach to animal well-being just doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when we know that science will dictate change in the future.

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire, LLC, of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at drdave@cattle-empire.net.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Terry Ward (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

Common sense would tell us that- as 99%of the country eats meat, the "hard-working farm families that care for the animals in their charge" should have little or nothing to fear from the HSUS...

But the anti-HSUS peanut gallery has no use for common sense.

We do hear the word 'science' tossed about like chickenfeed, though.
And 'customer choice'.

Tell us please Mr. Sjeklocha , was 'science' responsible for the ammonia-treated 'beef' bits in our burgers, the presence of which we were NEVER given any choice whatsoever?

Eric Benson (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

Nobody acquiesced to HSUS, certainly not egg producers. There are three, not two, reasons to alter production practices, and the author knows this. As in the Humane Slaughter Act, society demands a certain minimum standard of care for these animals. As that changes, so should we. As the beef industry learned in LosAngeles even though science says Nothing about forklifts moving cattle to slaughter, we as a society demand we don't do it anyway.

I understand the visceral reaction to dealing with animal welfare groups, but many times it is better now, than to deal with a volatile consumer later (see pink slime).

There are too few people directly involved in agriculture, I think we can agree on that. We discovered here in California that the voters will react and overreact every time they are asked.

We egg producers ask for more clarity, more transparency, and a clear, level playing field at the federal level.

Eric Benson
J.S. West Milling Company

Jon (not verified)
on Jul 19, 2012

Well Said, Eric Benson and Terry Ward!
I cannot believe the person who wrote this article is supposed to be responsible for animal's health. Very said and truly disgraceful.

on Jul 20, 2012

I would have to disagree with Mr. Benson on his assessment of the situation. A certain portion of your industry brokered a deal with HSUS, and you hope to force the rest of your industry to do the same. It is because you realize you can't be profitable if you don't make others play by your rules. Why don't you just mark your eggs as enriched cage certified and let the market decide? I think I know the answer.

What the egg industry is doing is in stark contrast to the beef industry. At the risk of simply echoing Dr. Sjeklocha points, cattlemen have a proven track record through BQA of responding to consumer concerns without legislative interference. We continue to do so, most recently through the new BQA Feedlot Certification program. While I'm sure others may dislike the lack of federal oversight in a BQA certification, they fail to recognize the cattle industry is one of the last businesses where a man's word and a handshake are trusted. We don't need federal regulations and bureaucrats to tell us to do something--we say we'll do it and it happens. If you'd like to change your industry to an entirely enriched cage system, which would be a great thing, do it on your own, it says something about your industry's character.

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Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.

Contributors

Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

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