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National Animal Interest Alliance Annual Conference, Part 2
Posted on 02/09/2010 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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In last month’s column, I covered some of the highlights of the National Animal Interest Alliance conference I attended in November. As I wasn’t able to touch on everything from the conference in that column, I wanted to discuss a few other speakers as well as my first lobbying experience this month. As I discussed previously, the main theme of this year’s conference was how greatly animal industries have been hit all across the board by animal rights agendas; there are a LOT of animal issues out there outside of dog owner’s rights. I can’t stress enough how important it is, more than ever, for all of us in the animal industry to join forces in fighting the animal rights machine. Not only do the dog groups need to set aside their differences and work together, we need to support and work with all aspects of animal industries: farm animals, science and research, horses, circus, etc. That’s what is so wonderful about the National Animal Interest Alliance: they are trying to do just that! Please take a moment and check NAIA out: www.naiaonline.org.

Dr. Lance Baumgard, an Associate Professor at Iowa State University, spoke about the myths of animal fats in the diet and how they are portrayed as unhealthy. He also showed how the animal rights movement has used these myths in order to push their agenda in the US—the ultimate goal being vegetarianism. Dr. Baumgard’s expertise is in nutritional and environmental physiology, and he’s been extensively published in both fields. He is also a board member of NAIA. Dr. Baumgard has found that while there are many scientific areas that have reached a global consensus, the effect of dietary animal fats on disease is not one of them. Most interesting is the “French Paradox:” the French eat a diet very high in animal fat intake, yet their overall mortality from heart disease is very low. The myths of animal fats being ‘bad’ began in this country in 1977, when Nick Mottern wrote the initial draft of “Dietary Goals for the US.” Mr. Mottern was and still is a vegetarian. Included in the USDA dietary guidelines issued in 2000 was the following: “choose a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in total fat.” Behind this statement was the USDA, health organizations, consumer advocacy groups, and of course, animal rights groups.

Dr. Baumgard pointed out that there are many conflicting studies regarding animal fats in the diet. One particularly comprehensive study conducted in 37 countries found no correlation between animal fats and heart disease, however it is rarely published. Animal fats are blamed for so many health problems in this country, yet it still remains to be proven that animal fat intake increases the likelihood of death. Why are we blaming meat when Americans are typically inactive, eat a high rate of processed foods, and have an increased sugar intake? It seems to be another quiet, insidious attack on the part of the animal rightists to promote a vegetarian/ vegan lifestyle. The impact is that it has drastically affected Americans diets: in 1940, 60% of our fat intact was animal origin; however by 2000 only 13% of our diet was animal fats. Less animal fats, but our country is more overweight......hmmm. In Japan, heart disease related death has greatly decreased, but meat and dairy intake has gone way up. It sure doesn’t coincide with the animal fat myth, does it?

One of the best points Dr. Baumgard made was the Women’s Health Initiative. It was a major health study that begin in the 1990’s and covered 160,000 women ages 50-79. The women were split into 2 diets: a low fat diet with reduced meat and dairy intake, and the other group changed nothing about their diet, with no reduction in meat and dairy. The result was that the low fat diet showed no reduction for the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or weight. Despite the study results, a group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) insisted that the study showed moderate results in favor of a low fat diet. Who is this PCRM, that advocates vegetarianism, you ask? Surprise! A veiled arm of none other than the animal rights machine PETA!

Mark Cushing is an attorney at law, a lobbyist for the pet industry, and the NAIA legislative advisor. He spoke about his proposed answer to fighting the monster of animal rights lobbying. 2009 was the most active year in history for pet and animal legislation. While most bills did not pass, the momentum of the animal rights movement is building, and more issues are being added to their agenda every day (see Cindy Cooke’s article, HSUS Targets Houndsmen in 2010). In the companion animal realm, there seems to be less warning for these bills and we’re left scrambling to defend ourselves, while the farm animal groups are more organized, prepared for the issue, and therefore on more equal footing with the opposition. The ‘issues’ that have been lobbied for by animal rights groups are: farm animal restrictions, animal cruelty, fighting, breeding exotic species, debarking, docking/cropping, mandatory spay/neuter, dog breeding restrictions, ownership limits, and the legal status of animals.

Because of the power, money, and resources behind the animal rights movement, we need a new framework for the debate, and a more effective grass roots advocacy. The heart of the action of animal politics is at the state and local government level; thus the need for grass roots advocacy. Mr. Cushing stressed that in order to be more effective at the grass roots level, we need to frame the issues in real world terms that are anchored by facts and real needs, instead of us getting trapped in the defensive. A good example that Mr. Cushing gave was the issue of breeding restrictions. He said the debate over “puppy mills” is unfortunately lost before it even gets started. Legislators cringe and only hear bad when they hear that phrase so brilliantly created by the animal rights activists. It also does not help when breeders stay in the shadow over the issue as well. However, the debate over pet overpopulation and sourcing within the US is another matter not yet completely tainted. Mr. Cushing states we need to start with a new framework; specifically a triangle comprised of pet enjoyment, pet health, and pet access. We need to make the case that pets are good in many ways, and so we need access to healthy pets in order to enjoy pets. If we establish that pet access is important, then does it make sense to drive Americans to a world of sourcing through shelters and severely restricting breeding?

The four sources for obtaining dogs in this country are: shelter stray domestic dogs, shelter stray foreign dogs, commercial breeders, and hobby breeders. Our country has been so inundated with an image of pet overpopulation and the mentality of adopting from shelters only that dogs are now imported from other countries into our shelters to keep up with the demand. We are in dire need of annual data available to all regarding the pet population; most people just cannot believe the numbers of dogs we have coming in from other countries. Mr. Cushing stated that instead of just defending against the bills we don’t like, we need to come up with legislation designed to protect and improve the aforementioned sources of access to dogs, in order to continue access to healthy dogs. We also need more outreach to help more hobby breeders to increase the numbers of dogs available.

The day after the conclusion of the conference, an optional ‘lobby day’ was held. Although I have had no experience lobbying, I thought what better opportunity than to jump in, feet first, in our nation’s capital?! I was very lucky to have none other than Patti Strand, the National Director and Founder of NAIA, take me under her wing and show me the ropes. Before we headed out to the Capital, she prepared me on what to say, what not to say, and that it would be highly unlikely that we would get to speak with any legislators themselves, or even with their direct staff. It was pretty intimidating entering the first legislator’s office, but I soon got the hang of it and had my spiel down pat. It was also pretty awe-inspiring---I felt like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blue when she first walks up the steps to Congress, except I was sans dog in my purse. While I didn’t get to speak to any of my legislators, I did get to leave packets of information for them to peruse. I was also amazed to see how young the average age of the staff is!! I had always heard that Washington was run by interns, and that is no joke! We took a break in the massive cafeteria in the basement, and I felt like I was in a college lunch room. It’s crazy, and a little scary. It definitely drove the point home to me that you must make friends with the legislative staff—they decide what information gets through to the legislator.

The highlight for me was our last attempt of the day. Congressman Thaddeus G McCotter, Michigan 11th District, has introduced a bill called the ‘Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act.’ The HAPPY Act, if passed, would allow pet owners to deduct up to $3,500 per year for ‘qualified pet care expenses.’ This one of those ideas that sounds wonderful at the outset, but could have unintended consequences. Our concern is that possibly animal rights activists could be behind the bill, and using it as a means to elevate animals’ status from property to something more. It could be used to change us from owners to ‘guardians.’ So, we really wanted to question Congressman McCotter’s intent behind the bill. While we did not get to meet with the Congressman himself, we did get to meet with his Chief of Staff, which was a great experience. When we expressed our concerns and the whole idea of guardianship to him, he looked at us like we were crazy! We gave him a brief run down of the animal rights agenda so he understood the idea of guardianship and why it’s a bad idea, and he assured us that animal rights played no part in the creation of this bill. He said that Congressman McCotter is well aware of the impact the bad economy has particularly on pet owners, and sees this as a possible relief to help pet owners from losing their pets due to money issues. We felt much better after speaking with him, and we were also glad we could educate him on the dangers of the animal rights activists. It was a fantastic experience

All in all, the conference was again a great education for me in many aspects. It showed me lobbying is much easier than you would think, so next time you have an issue in your county or state, get out there and talk to someone! It has much more impact than sending a form letter or email, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. The conference also opened my eyes to the many, many agendas outside of dogs that the animal rightists are pushing, some more quietly than others. It also proved to me how very important it is that all facets of animal industries join together to fight the animal rights machines. There are more of us than there are of them, but since we are so fragmented and worried about our own issues, they’ve got the upper hand and more influence on the general public than we do. If we don’t take a stand together soon, one of these days we might all be vegans that can be sued by our dogs.