Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is dismissing the suggestion that USDA takes its cues on animal welfare exclusively from the Humane Society of the United States.
Media sources obtained a copy of an internal USDA memo that recommends HSUS and other welfare advocacy groups be allowed to set the agenda for a proposed animal welfare scientific forum. No mention is made of asking any agricultural organization or ag scientist for assistance in planning the meeting. The omission has angered animal ag stakeholders.
Colin Woodall is vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association:
“We know that HSUS is an activist organization that may be given an undue preference here with this announcement and we think that this administration really needs to make sure that true stakeholders in this game are the ones that are able to provide this kind of counsel and input.”
Vilsack addressed the memo and the resulting controversy during remarks to farm broadcasters meeting in Kansas City….
“What we’re trying to establish is a department that understands that in a democracy we have a responsibility to listen. If people have concerns and they are legitimate, we have a responsibility to listen, now that doesn’t mean that we have to listen in a vacuum, what that does mean is that we do have to listen and we have to solicit viewpoints, and unfortunately there was a misunderstanding about a certain memo that got out and essentially what we’re talking about is a process by which a lot of people are going to be at the table, and we’re going to have a conversation among all those folks at the table.”
More broadly, the USDA chief argued that his department has an obligation to engage non-farm interests on all policy matters under its jurisdiction:
“And it’s not necessarily taking sides, and if I have to make a decision on things I have to decide, I will, but what we’re trying to create here is a conversation here and we’re trying to create a trusting relationship, so that people have an appreciation -- an appreciation not just an understanding -- but an appreciation for what they have with American producers. And I think if we have that conversation then a lot of the concerns that are generated won’t have much basis; won’t be considered credible.”
The memo in question, signed by Undersecretary Ed Avalos, observes that HSUS’ goal is to influence USDA policy on "critical and sensitive welfare issues", and takes the position that USDA should seize the opportunity to engage HSUS and its allies on a range of animal welfare issues.