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Panel declares: Make distinction between animal abuse vs. welfare

WILLMAR -- In the wake of heightened public relations pressure from groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Compassion for Animals, the animal agriculture and meat production industries must make a distinction between what constitutes animal abuse versus what animal welfare really is, industry spokesmen say.

"Animal welfare is extremely different than animal rights," said Dallas Hockman, vice president for industry relations for the National Pork Producers Council. Animal rights means that people should not use animals for meat, milk or any other product, even for companionship animals.

These types of advocacy groups are working in incremental levels, he said, through legislative requirements, legal channels and by raising the cost of production of meat and milk, to get to an ultimate goal of turning consumers against animal products.

"Their ultimate goal is to drive out the use of animals and make us all vegans," Hockman said.

Kay Johnson Smith, the president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance in Washington, D.C., was the other panelist during the discussion Wednesday at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

It is a small, but vocal and well-financed minority raising any issue they can -- through public relations, social media, lawsuits and legislative changes, Johnson Smith said. She noted that 97 percent of Americans consume meat, milk or eggs on a daily basis, while 3 percent identify themselves as vegetarian and 1 percent as vegan.

The animal production industry must stand ready to expose producers who are truly abusing animals, Hockman said, and provide training, policies and audits that show producers are using appropriate methods of treatment in their facilities.

The industry must also find measurable quantifications that show animals are appropriately cared for, he said. Examples include condition scoring, which is the grading of the level of muscle and fat on an animal, and housing condition measures that show air and environmental quality. Those measurable conditions need to be used, instead of an emotional measure of what people want, or think they want, because of misinformation from some groups.

"The reality is that our industry and all agriculture sectors need to communicate about our product," Hockman said. "We all know what we are against, we have to communicate what we are for."

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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