BEEF Daily

HSUS Employee Paints Idyllic Image Of Beef Business, Slams Turkey


The turkey business is getting beat up this week. How should the beef industry respond?

Although Thanksgiving (aka Turkey Day) has passed, the birds are making the headlines this week. Eric Swafford, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) staffer, recently penned an article that appeared in the Shreveport Times. Entitled “Give Thanks For Compassionate Family Farmers This Season,” Swafford relies on his childhood upbringing on a small Tennessee cattle operation to describe the idyllic family farm, complete with cows grazing on green grass in rolling pastures. He adds to his credibility by being pictured in the article wearing a cowboy hat and smiling with his wife and son.

As the director of rural development and outreach for HSUS, it’s his job to appeal to folks like you and me. His target audience isn’t consumers, but farmers and ranchers. I imagine it’s HSUS’s goal to try thawing the icy shoulder that most of rural America has given the extremist animal rights group. And I’m sure Swafford’s words will earn him a few brownie points from at least a few cowboys in our circle.

Swafford writes, “As the director of rural development and outreach for HSUS, I travel the country meeting family farmers and ranchers demonstrating the best values and practices of animal care and environmental sustainability. I work with many farmers in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Nebraska who help other family farmers switch to more humane practices, as well as assist in bringing these farms to the marketplace so they can more effectively compete against mega-factory farms that are harming animal welfare and small farmers.”

His article starts out complimentary to beef producers, but then he pulls the old switcharoo and slams “factory farmers.”

“While these compassionate family farms do exist, 99% of turkeys raised for food spend their lives in confinement on factory farms and never touch one blade of grass. These oversized birds are manufactured — not raised as the animals God designed them to be.”


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My beef with this article is that he appeals to one segment of the animal agriculture industry in order to sway it to slam another segment of our industry. While raising beef is much different than raising poultry, the common denominator is that it’s families who are raising this meat. And whether it’s a one-man show on a ranch or a poultry barn that employs numerous individuals, both have adapted to new science and technology, improving efficiency, environmental stewardship and animal welfare along the way.

Temple Grandin’s most recent video tour of a turkey farm and processing plant is the perfect tool to respond to this sly article written by one of HSUS’s own. The video shows viewers how 253 million turkeys make it to grocery stores each year.

About the video: “In the video, the viewer gets an up-close look as Grandin interacts with a flock of 1,500 birds roaming easily down the football-field length of a climate-controlled turkey house. When readied for market, those turkeys ride up into conveyor loading trucks and to an orderly delivery at the processing plant.

“There, the process of humanely stunning the birds renders them unconscious before processing under the watchful presence of USDA government inspectors enforcing safe and sanitary preparation. At each step along the methodical movement of rinsing, cleaning and separating the meat from the carcass, Grandin provides context and commonsense explanations. The reality of raising and preparing turkeys for market is revealed in the video for what it is: a modern process that is humane, safe and efficient.”

Watch the video here and let me know what you think.

As I read this article from HSUS, I’ve got to give the writer credit for trying to appeal to the hearts of beef producers. He certainly paints a picture-perfect portrait of who we are in the beef industry. And while we should breathe a sigh of relief that we aren’t in the crosshairs right now, we also shouldn’t stand by and watch as another segment of the meat animal industry is tossed under the bus.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Is HSUS trying to use a divide-and-conquer strategy? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 22

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

Nicely researched and nicely written

on Dec 3, 2013

Typical animal terrorists technique, divide and conquer. It splintered the dog breeders now they are using it on other industries. Learn from their mistakes.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

There you have it. "My farm is small and good, yours is big and bad." Don't get suckered. Incrementalism is a technique that muddies the water and eventually will turn and bite YOU.

shaun evertson (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

It's at least as important to not sucker yourself. I have neighbor producers who've convinced themselves that they're charged by some kind of supreme being with saving the planet by 1) practicing the ONE TRUE production method and 2) battling all non-believers. The press eats this stuff up.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

Be wary of HSUS.
The Cow Calf Cattle Corp. and CharLean is attempting to build on current technology and one major new development to successfully vertically integrate beef production and remove many of these concerns.

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

Extremely informative video on humane handling of Turkeys. I am impressed at just how much planning and thought goes into the process to make it as safe for us and as humane as possible for the birds

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

Extremely informative video on humane handling of Turkeys. I am impressed at just how much planning and thought goes into the process to make it as safe for us and as humane as possible for the birds

on Dec 3, 2013

I would think that Mr. Swafford and his intended role would be a welcome addition to the ag community. It appeals to one's common sense that someone seeking to bridge the gap between the two extremes, and I use that term accurately, would be welcomed by all.

Regrettably that is not the tone I interpret when I read this article. Mr. Swafford's descriptions of current trends in agriculture overall are far more accurate than the dictatorial propaganda often produced by big ag. In fact I would suggest industry descriptions are as extremist than the animal rights activists versions that you seek to vilify.

To suggest that one of Grandin's tours of meat production/slaughter facilities show anything but idyllic conditions would be a stretch. Similarly, the videos of blatant abuse that we often see released by animal rights groups show the worst of the worst. I would suggest that the day-to-day reality lies somewhere in between while including both extremes.

Also, to suggest that the advances in science and technology regarding production as this writer put it have roots in animal welfare and environmental stewardship is laughable. It is primarily and almost singularly about efficiency and profit. If it were not primarily about efficiency and profit, why does the ag community fight EPA regulations, and animal welfare advances, at every turn?

I applaud Mr. Swofford and the HSUS for their efforts to bridge the gap with the industry regarding animal welfare. Sadly it seems however, that the extremist factory farmers within the ag community that occupy the various councils and associations boards only seek to destroy those efforts.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

HSUS has NOTHING to do with animal welfare..the "bridge" you speak of ends with no more animals. HSUS is a vegan organization period. no mater who they hire or how they appear.. they are a vegan organization
"The good news, and what is really going to help immensely, is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) just passed their vegan policy. They are seen as the mothering organization for the SPCAs,
shelters and animal control agencies. And the fact that they have adopted a vegan policy may just be the major breakthrough to bring others along. All HSUS expos, trainings, conferences will be vegan. It is huge." Kim Sturla, SATYA Nov/Dec 04 "The Barnyard Campus: Teaching Compassion for All"

on Dec 3, 2013

HSUS have everything to do with animal welfare. To suggest otherwise is utter nonsense. The scare tactics that they desire to end agriculture could not be farther from the truth. This type of sensationalism does nothing to help anyone but the most radical opponents of any welfare effort.

on Dec 3, 2013

"Also, to suggest that the advances in science and technology regarding production as this writer put it have roots in animal welfare and environmental stewardship is laughable. It is primarily and almost singularly about efficiency and profit."

This is certainly not laughable. Animals that are stressed, in pain, or unhealthy are less profitable. I would say that most advances that improve profitability simultaneously benefit the animal by reducing stress or improving health.

Furthermore, the ag community does not fight the EPA and animal welfare legislation at every turn as you say. We are for regulations that make sense and are crafted in part by people that understand agriculture, not someone who has never set foot on one -- such as those in the EPA that sought to have dust considered an air pollutant (I have no idea how to live without kicking up dust). We are also for animal welfare regulations that make sense, not those pushed by animal rights organizations whose stated goal is the elimination of animal agriculture. We saw this in North Dakota recently where out of state interests pushed a vaguely-worded measure on the state ballot rather than letting a collaborative effort that was already in progress come to pass.

But I guess that just makes me another one of those extremist factory farmers seeking to destroy efforts at improving animal welfare and environmental stewardship at every turn.

on Dec 3, 2013

I fully understand the ramifications surrounding negative health impacting profit. My suggestion is that any profitability consideration that began with the animals well being at heart are likely coincidental. Let's face it, profit trumps all.

I live in Iowa and I see the resistance from the ag community on common sense environmental regulation. It is not occasional, they resist any effort that may impact them financially.

This fear tactic the ag community employs that anyone associated with animal welfare seeks the elimination of animal agriculture is pure hyperbole. While this may in fact be the goal of some activist organizations, HSUS is not one of them. They are the most effective welfare organization and the biggest target. Sadly, instead of addressing them fairly, working with them instead of fighting them, the ag community seeks to vilify them and misrepresent them out of fear.

You may be one of those extremist factory farmers Jake, your demonization of HSUS for starters raises my suspicion that you may indeed have something to hide. Depending on what state you live in, perhaps the veil of secrecy known as ag-gag protects you from anyone finding out the truth on their own.

on Dec 5, 2013

My opposition to HSUS stems from observing their campaigns over the past several years. Do they explain why the industry went to gestation crates and confinement operations? No, they allege that greed drives all decisions and that cruelty is acceptable. Nevermind the science.
I've listened to them describe beef production as cows being pumped up with antibiotics and hormones and selling infected meat. They paint a picture right out of "The Jungle", which may have been accurate 100 years ago but is so far from today's truth it isn't even funny.
I've voted against ballot initiatives they've sponsored because vague language is what they and their army of lawyers live on.
As far as the ag-gag laws, if you came into my business and took video without my permission, damn straight I would sue your ass. If you followed me all day with a camera and posted the video on youtube, I'm sure there'd be people calling for my head. Not because I'm doing anything wrong or unethical or immoral, but because the vast majority of people don't understand what they see. HSUS thrives on ignorance and emotion.
Oh and by the way, I'm not a "factory farmer". I don't own any livestock because I can't afford it right now. I do however have a vested interest in animal welfare, being a veterinarian and all.

on Dec 3, 2013

To this day, no one has ever been able to define factory farm, or corporate farm. Is it ten cattle, is it ten acres, is it 100 cattle or acres, is it 10,000 cattle or acres? The term factory/corporate farm is nothing but a fake used to incite public sentiment.

We cannot manufacture food. Weather animal or vegetable, food has to be grown from the earth as has always been the case and will most likely always be the case. The advancements in technology allowing production and processing improvements makes it possible to supply the ever growing population with nutrition and if we don't use these advancements we are not going to feed the world.

on Dec 3, 2013

Schedule f, to me that term is more representative of a philosophy regarding the extreme commodification of animals. The use of gestation crates or battery cages, overcrowded confinement buildings and blatant disregard for any humane treatment regardless of size reflects my interpretation of factory farming.

I understand the argument regarding farmers needing to maximize production in their role in "feeding the world". I would argue that this argument is often used unnecessarily to justify profit maximization. For those farmers who also grow corn, how does one justify selling their corn to an ethenol producer over keeping it in the food chain when considering "feeding the world"?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

The increasing predator factor has caused a situation where only the largest animals, meaning cattle, can be range raised. With a lot of riparian areas, and sheep not wanting to get their feet wet, we would like to keep more sheep than cows in those areas. But even smaller predators like raptors, bobcats, racoons, and foxes will kill very young lambs. This is causing most to go to cattle only. I could not keep sheep at all anymore without my livestock protection dogs, and my family only has a few hundred sheep now. Certainly not enough to make a living from just sheep. We need to watch HSUS for their trying to divide ag industry techniques.

A new development to me is 5 of my current litter of my protection dog pups from the last litter are going to guard pasture poultry, mainly egg production operations, which seem to be increasing greatly in California.

on Dec 3, 2013

oops, sorry, double post

on Dec 3, 2013

If we don't "commodify" crops and livestock to a certain extent through practices and marketing we can't make a living in agriculture. If we can't make a living in agriculture not only are "we" broke, but those who depend on us to do what we do weather they realize it or not are also in deep dodo. If we don't maximize profit in a business where there is not much margin then we can't afford the advancement in "consumer friendly"

Not everyone understands that conflict.

Adam Miller (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

Divide and conquer for sure. It’s a decent attempt to pull at the heartstrings of small farmer’s but using your emotions for their own personal gain is what HSUS does best. They have no interest in truly helping small farmers, it’s only a ploy to help their overall agenda of taking down animal agriculture.

Matt Thompson (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

This is one of the simplest and most effective cons these extremist use to destroy our way of life. Divide and conquer. Pit one farming group against the other, all the while pretending to be the good guy to both groups. It is very important that all of us come together as farmers and fight HSUS for all we're worth.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

Small farmers can not feed the masses.....of course that may be more the point in the animal rights movement. It seems they had preferably want to see all animals roaming the Agenda 21 proposed "wildlife corridors" free of any human intervention. I do not believe he is fooling anyone in that HSUS will not allow any farming or any use of any animals. Period!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 3, 2013

not falling for it ! there is nothing good about HSUS, swafford is just a mouth piece trying to convince us that hsus is on our side if we produce humanely. when hsus stops all the suing and litigations I may begin to believe them. like that will happen.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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