Adele Douglass Interview with Cattlenetwork.com
If you’re like 99%+ of people in animal agriculture, you’re taking good care of your herds and flocks. They’re fed a nutritionally well balanced diet, given the kind of health care Obama’s new program should only hope to offer you and your family, and tucked in at night with a hug and a kiss.
The average American family probably isn’t that well-managed. No one is scientifically assaying their dietary input from week-to-week to insure the proper balance of vitamins and minerals for maximum growth. Medical care isn’t a weekly thing just, to be sure, with the use of necessary medications supervised by trained professionals. That ‘hug and a kiss’ thing might be the same, though.
Yet if you read the newspapers or watch the talking heads on TV, the picture the public gets is one of indiscriminate use of antibiotics by a group of serial abusers who enjoy mistreating their animals.
You know you what you’re doing everyday and it’s good. So do your friends and neighbors. Why isn’t the general public clued in?
Adele Douglass wants them to know, which is why she founded Humane Farm Animal Care as an independent, third-party reviewer of the things you do. Her organization can “certify humane treatment” and communicate that information to the public.
HFAC has some serious requirements, though, that must be met to earn their seal of approval. The sticking point for many is their all natural credo – no antibiotics or growth hormones. It’s a ‘never ever’ program. I spent a few minutes with Douglass and learned more about the group.
Q. Adele, let’s start with a definition of your organization. Humane Farm Animal Care describes itself as “A national non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to improve the lives of farm animals by setting rigorous standards, conducting annual inspections, and certifying their humane treatment.” There are several other organizations that make similar claims. What sets HFAC apart?
A. Our organization has three areas that are key to how we operate.
1. Our standards – they are written by a scientific committee, with review and comments from producers on the program. We periodically update our standards, in 2008 we did poultry and pigs, this year we are hoping to complete updating dairy cows and beef cattle.
2. Our inspectors – They’re knowledgeable, on-farm specialists in the species they are inspecting; grad students or people with Masters Degrees, or PhD’s. Our slaughter inspectors are trained by Erika Voogd. Her mentor is Temple Grandin who is on our Scientific Committee. Erika also does slaughter plant inspections for us.
We do traceability inspections as well, and we pull those inspectors from the organic inspection community because tracing product to insure that what is in packages comes from inspected farms is important for consumer credibility. It also protects the farmers in the program.
3. Marketing – We have 36 humane organizations that endorse our program. They have members and they have newsletters and websites. They promote the Certified Humane® program. These consumers are very loyal consumers and this opens up new markets to our producers. Other certifications that make similar claims have their own organizations only as “endorsers.”That limits their outreach to consumers.
Q. The issue of animal welfare often gets muddled with animal rights, which brings several other organizations into the mix. Would you do me a favor and talk about the two concepts?
A. In the 1980’s people who believed in animal rights believed that animals had the same legal rights as people; they were not property – pets are not “owned,” for example. Therefore they could not be used for food, fiber, research or anything else.
At that time, Animal Welfare was the definition of those that were concerned about the welfare of animals, all animals. However, in the mid to late 1990’s the press started to refer to anyone that cared about animals to whatever degree, whether it was animal welfare or animal rights as “animal rights.”
These days, I don’t know that when the press refers to someone as “animal rights” that they know, or care what the difference is. Everyone who is involved with animals in one capacity or another is all lumped together as “animal rights.”
Q. Endorsements are important, especially when they are of the depth that your organization enjoys. In reviewing them, I noticed they ranged from the very small to the very large. They obviously ‘endorse’ your activities. How much input do they have in your day-to-day operations?
A. Our program was set up to meet ISO Guide 65 standards. This means that every process and procedure is spelled out. We have definitions and descriptions on how our program operates in our Program/Policy manual. You can review this on our website.
The Program/Policy manual describes the process of certification, of standards reviews and everything else. Our board has no input into our everyday activities, and no endorser or contributor has any input in day-to-day activities.
Q. Certified Humane® is the program you’re promoting to the animal agriculture industry. What do cattlemen have to do to qualify? And does it help contribute to their bottom line?
A. They have to meet the standards in our Beef Cattle Standards manual which is also on our website. After they meet the standards, they will be inspected as will the slaughter plant where their cattle will be slaughtered, and if they are sent to a feedlot for finishing prior to slaughter the feedlot will also be inspected. The biggest issue with cattle is that we do not allow hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics.
The cattle producers on our program reapply each year believe the program does contribute to their bottom line. There are more and more consumers asking for Certified Humane® products.
Q. How successful have you been in recruiting businesses that want to be certified Humane®?
A. The reason that the cattle on our program are natural and/or organic is because we don’t allow hormone implants or antibiotics. Since there is a movement to ban the use of growth hormones and sub therapeutic antibiotics in cattle, I am ever hopeful that more and more beef cattle will qualify for our program.
Q. Many in the Ag industry are feeling unfairly persecuted on the animal welfare issue. Certain organizations are infamous for their undercover videos of abuse and the follow-up press work that tries to paint the entire industry with the same broad brush. Would you share your opinion on the subject?
A. What I am going to say is going to make me unpopular but you know me, Chuck, and I’m pretty blunt.
When you see undercover videos of abuse, it is usually because someone who works at that facility is horrified by what is going on there. They go to their supervisor and ask about it and they are told to shut up and mind their own business. Then they quietly tell someone who tells someone who then calls PETA or HSUS and they then proceed with an investigation.
Contrary to popular myth, no animal rights organization has enough money and personnel to “plant” spies in every plant or on every farm in the US. So to stop that, I’d say, make sure that you take the welfare of the animals in your care seriously. I hear industry people talk about that all the time, and if you don’t take the welfare of those animals in your care seriously, then what happens, happens.
As for the follow up press, we have the public to thank for that. All we want to do is watch “reality” and sensationalism and few people are interested in real information or facts. There is one TV network that has “news” that is part of their entertainment division. It is a very popular network, and think of the ramifications of that.
The industry has been doing a good job of not defending bad practices. But the animal rights groups haven’t been doing a very good job of acknowledging the improvements and changes made by farmers and ranchers. They need to do more.
I am not saying that some may not have different agendas other than protecting animals, but if those groups had nothing to point to, it would be hard for them to make
This past year one of our producers asked me to come to their farm and speak to their 25 employees about the importance of animal welfare and our standards. This was beneficial because the workers felt they were really a part of the company. They asked questions and by the end they felt committed and understood that their bosses were committed to following our standards. They understood why we required certain things and what the benefits were to the animals.
The farmers and ranchers I’ve met that are on our program know all of this and do all of this.
So when there is a bad apple it is good that no one in the industry defends unacceptable behavior.
Q. Thousands of people read Cattlenetwork. What would you like to say to them?
A. I believe American Agriculture can be the best in the world. We need to encourage farmers to stay on farms and instead of having fewer farmers growing more, we need more farms and farmers growing more. We all need to work together to solve the animal housing issues that create problems for farm animal welfare, which in turn lead to environmental issues, and also the issue of antibiotic resistance and the use of hormones. Animal Welfare is going to be a trade issue in the not so distant future, and I’d like Cattlenetwork readers, to be prepared and be on the cutting edge instead of having to play catch up with the rest of the world.
Having said this, it is unfortunate that at this time in our society when we need to work together to solve so many serious issues, we are so polarized. I hope that changes.
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Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Cattlenetwork.com and Agnetwork.com.