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March 29, 2010

In Ag Industry, Missouri Puppy Mills Have New No. 1 Fan

The most reactionary agribusiness groups falsely claim The HSUS is extreme, even though the reforms we work for in animal agribusiness relate almost exclusively to giving animals a modest amount of increased space during production and providing more humane handling during transport and slaughter. Those are just common sense principles, and we continue to have success in our campaigns through the ballot initiative process or in our dealings with major food retailers because average Americans consider the reforms to be sound and sensible. All the public attitude surveys I’ve seen, including those commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, reveal that Americans demand the humane treatment of all animals, including those raised for food.

Dogs in cage at puppy mill
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

It’s actually these agribusiness groups acting like extremists. And there’s no better example than what’s going on in Missouri right now. There, The HSUS, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of Missouri, and the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation are the four organizational sponsors of a ballot measure, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, to set higher welfare standards in dog breeding. It’s an attempt to crack down on the excesses in Missouri, which accounts for more than a third of all puppy production in the country. The ballot measure—which will qualify for the November 2010 election if enough Missouri voters sign the petition—would impose standards that dogs must be fed and watered, protected from extremes of heat and cold, housed in enclosures other than stacked wire cages, provided with space for exercise, and guaranteed at least one annual check-up from a licensed veterinarian. The measure would not apply to any commercial breeder with 10 or fewer reproductively intact animals, and it would not allow a single dog breeding operation to have more than 50 intact animals—which would still allow a single operator to sell upwards of 200 dogs a year.

As Matt Campbell reported yesterday in the Kansas City Star, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Missouri Farm Bureau, and the Missouri Pork Association are in a froth over the ballot measure to combat puppy mills, even though the measure has absolutely nothing to do with animal agriculture or their industries. They oppose it because it could lead, they are arguing, to future reforms in the realm of livestock agribusiness. The fact is, enacting a measure to crack down on puppy mills does nothing, one way or the other, to affect future legislation on any animal welfare topic, including reforms in the livestock industry.

It’s déjà-vu in Missouri for me. About 12 years ago, we worked with local partners in Missouri on a ballot initiative to outlaw the barbaric practice of cockfighting. The livestock groups trotted out the same false arguments then and opposed that measure, too, because they said it would be a slippery slope to banning all animal agriculture and hunting. Well, voters approved that measure in a landslide vote in November 1998, and there have been no hunting or factory farming ballot measures in Missouri advanced by The HSUS or anyone else since that time. Their claims were false, and the evidence is there to prove it.

So here’s the question: With animal agribusiness trade groups effectively working to block legislation to outlaw cockfighting and puppy mills—and in the past, they have also fought the enactment of even the most basic anti-cruelty legislation—should we really have confidence that they are a force for animal welfare within their industry? If they have no problem with staged animal fights, or if they have no problems with the rampant cruelty we’ve documented time and again at puppy mills, do they really merit the public’s faith in either their judgment or their own animal welfare standards and practices? With certain factory farming producers also defending the lifelong confinement of animals in cages and crates barely larger than the animals’ bodies, the strangling of animals on the farm, and the dragging of sick and lame animals unable to walk into slaughterhouses, I’ll let you answer that for yourself. For me, it hardly inspires my trust.

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