An Open Letter to the Missouri Farm Bureau
Last week, Missouri voters approved Proposition B, requiring that large-scale commercial breeders provide in a year’s time sufficient space for dogs, an annual veterinary examination, humane methods of euthanasia, and a limit on the number of reproductively intact animals used for breeding, among a limited number of other humane care standards for dogs. In campaigning against the measure, the Missouri Farm Bureau leveled an array of false charges against Prop B and also against The Humane Society of the United States, which worked to pass Prop B. I write to address these charges and to set the record straight.
False Claim: The Missouri Farm Bureau argued that Prop B was not just about dogs, but about ending animal agriculture.
Fact: The Missouri Secretary of State concluded, in fact, that the measure deals only with one species: canis lupus familiaris, or the domesticated dog. There is no reasonable interpretation that it would apply to cattle, pigs, chickens, or any other domesticated or wild species. If there were an attempt by some organization to promote humane treatment of other species, that type of reform would have to go to the Legislature or to the people in the form of a separate ballot measure. Missouri voters would probably reject any measure that went too far. We are not aware of any such effort, and Prop B has no bearing on any future reform efforts.
False claim: The Missouri Farm Bureau argued that existing regulations governing dog breeding are sufficient and that they simply need to be enforced.
Fact: Under Prop B, Missouri’s enormous puppy mill problem will be scaled down to a level that is easier for the state to oversee, manage and enforce. It is the backers of Prop B, not the Farm Bureau or the commercial dog breeding industry, that have advocated for robust enforcement through the years; this is the first we’ve heard of the Farm Bureau calling for more rigorous enforcement, but we welcome the encouragement. The puppy mill problem has gotten worse year by year, and the Farm Bureau has stood by as more reckless breeders have flocked to Missouri and humane organizations have had to deal with thousands of dogs relinquished by mills or seized after terrible problems came to light. It costs humane groups millions of dollars to clean up the mess made by these large-scale puppy mills.
Under current rules, it is legal to keep a breeding dog in a wire cage six inches longer than her body, to keep her confined in that cage for her entire life, to allow her to be outside during the extremes of winter, to allow animals in cages stacked above to defecate on the animals below, to never call on a veterinarian to examine an animal, and to abandon or kill dogs once they are no longer wanted. I am amazed that the Farm Bureau somehow thinks such standards for dogs are adequate.
False claim: The HSUS wants to eliminate pet ownership.
Fact: The HSUS celebrates pet ownership, and has done so for all 56 years of its existence. While we certainly urge would-be dog owners to look to the pool of homeless dogs kept by shelters and rescue groups, we have instructions on our website and in our publications that encourage would-be dog owners to follow simple guidelines when they shop for a dog from a breeder. Your invoking of fabricated quotes or quotes taken out of context to misrepresent our positions is dishonest and defamatory. Every day at The HSUS, our staff bring their dogs to work—the action of committed and caring pet owners who celebrate their relationship with their animals. Indeed, The HSUS published the 2008 book, “Dogs at Work,” to guide companies in instituting this valuable opportunity to more employees. Our daily work is to celebrate the bond we have with pets, to help people find pets appropriate for their household, to help people keep their pets, or to find ways to reunite people with their pets.
False claim: The HSUS isn’t interested in improving farm animal welfare, but only in ending animal agriculture.
Fact: We work with animal producers throughout the country, and included among our members are ranchers and others involved in the business of agriculture. We have been a financial supporter of Humane Farm Animal Care, which certifies high welfare production, and The HSUS also provides major support to the Global Animal Partnership, which also promotes high welfare standards in agriculture. In developing countries, our work has ensured that farm animals are stunned before being slaughtered, and we have a raft of other programs working with farmers. We have long supported more humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and in terms of political activity, we have promoted improvements to slaughter and transport systems, and, on the farm, giving the animals enough room to “stand up, lie down, turn around, and freely extend their limbs.” If the Missouri Farm Bureau believes that allowing farm animals to turn around equates to an end to all animal use, then that is an unfortunate statement about its own lack of ethical standards in the conduct of its business.
False claim: The HSUS has destroyed the egg industry in California.
Fact: The HSUS did work to pass Proposition 2 in 2008, but that measure simply stipulates that egg production be cage-free—a modest animal welfare and food safety policy that enjoys the support of numerous retailers and two-thirds of Calilfornia voters. Already companies like Burger King, Hellmann’s, and scores of others are using cage-free eggs. It does not prevent the raising of chickens for egg production. What’s more, it does not go into effect until 2015, so it’s hard to imagine that a measure that has not gone into effect has resulted in the destruction of the industry. One study even found that the Prop 2 campaign in California increased demand for cage-free eggs while reducing demand for eggs from caged hens, sending a strong signal to the industry about what consumers expect of it.
False claim: The HSUS “spends less than one percent of its funds on the actual care of pets.”
Fact: The HSUS spends millions of dollars on companion animal care, and spends more than $20 million a year on our programs that support local animal shelters and provide direct care for domestic animals and wildlife. The HSUS actually provides direct care to more animals than any other group in the nation, and maintains five animal care centers, a national veterinary services program, and a national emergency response unit that rescues animals from all over the nation. We also spend millions preventing cruelty, and it’s that work that the Missouri Farm Bureau and other animal-use groups apparently do not like.
It was 12 years ago that The HSUS helped to qualify and pass an anti-cockfighting ballot initiative in Missouri—the only other initiative petition on animal welfare in Missouri history. The Missouri Farm Bureau opposed that ballot measure, too, arguing that a ban on that barbaric practice would lead to an end to all hunting, fishing, rodeo and animal agriculture. As with Prop B, voters approved that measure, and there’s been no attempt to outlaw hunting or animal agriculture in any way in the 12 years since. The Farm Bureau deceived some voters then with that argument, just as it did this year with Prop B, but it was the right decision for Missouri. Staged fights between animals are morally wrong, just as lifelong confinement of dogs in small cages at puppy mills is wrong, too.
The Missouri Constitution allows for citizen lawmaking, and the principle underlying it is majority rule. The will of the people should be respected—even if the Farm Bureau and some lawmakers disagree with the decision. Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star have within the last few days urged elected officials to honor the vote of the people. The fact is, a majority of the people of Missouri voted in favor of Prop B. The measure was approved by a majority of voters in a majority of state House and Senate districts. That counts in a democracy.
If you care about animal welfare, leave the dogs alone. If you care about democracy, let the law take effect and do not work to subvert it.