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The National Animal Interest Alliance’s Annual Conference
Posted on 01/03/2013 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

For the fifth year in a row, I attended the National Animal Interest Alliance’s annual conference. It never fails that I learn something new each year. I was especially looking forward to this year’s conference as Temple Grandin, famed animal scientist, author and professor, was the keynote speaker. More on her later. This year’s conference was called, “Brave New World: Caring for Animals in an Age of Mass Media and Misinformation”. In this day and age, knowledge and understanding of technology and social media is a must for those in any animal industry. Not only do we need to understand how to positively market ourselves, we need to be prepared to react in cases where social media outlets are used against us. I learned a lot at this conference, as I always do, and following are some of the highlights.

The first speaker of the conference was one of my favorites and directly addressed these issues head on. Andy Vance is a nationally-known agricultural journalist and currently writes for the weekly newspaper of agribusiness, Feedstuffs. He said that farming has undergone a major shift through advances in technology and science, to the point that one farmer can now produce enough food for 155 people. While farmers are able to do a lot more with less, they have also faced greater attacks from the animal rights front. Starting in 2002, HSUS has been successful in their campaign against gestational stalls, veal crates, and battery cages in Florida, Arizona and California (the largest victory.) HSUS has been successful through ballot initiatives; once they get these issues on the ballot, it’s not very hard for them to convince the public with all of the negative images. It doesn’t matter that the horrible images come from one or two few bad actors that are, in reality, the minority when it comes to these practices. If that’s what the public sees, it’s what they believe.

In Ohio, the agricultural community got wise to the HSUS game and beat them to the punch. HSUS threatened a ballot initiative there, but compromised when the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board was created. It’s a mix of farmers, agricultural schools, veterinarians and consumers, and the standards of care are set by this board. It’s a good example of an industry coming together and working proactively before HSUS can come write their own legislation. If only the dog breeders were so organized (and well-funded!)!

Andy also talked about a piece that was on Oprah in 2011. When he first heard about her bit on “where meat comes from,” he cringed. However, he said it was actually a wonderful presentation that gave a more positive spin. It turns out that the Oprah show had to ask 24 slaughterhouses/meat plants before one, Cargill, agreed to let the film crew inside. Cargill is a privately owned company and so it faced a little less risk than a publicly traded company. Regardless, it was a refreshing change from the negative YouTube clips we’ve all seen. It illustrates the importance of the need to “YouTube-proof” farms. Opening the doors and letting the public see how things are done right is a wonderful thing.

We also got to hear some good dietary information. Dr. Lance Baumgard, a NAIA Board Member and Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University, talked about dietary fat and the controversy over animal food products. For decades we have been told that animal food products = saturated fat, and so allegedly animal food products are very bad for us. Much of this misinformation, however, originates from people and groups with vegan agendas. The individual who wrote the original dietary goals for the U.S. in 1976 was and still is a vegetarian. Dr. Baumgard gave examples of several studies that have demonstrated the complete opposite: that animal fats are not bad for you. Some of the studies even show that animal fats are good for you.

Gary Taubes, award-winning science and health journalist and featured speaker, spoke about his hypothesis on what really makes us fat. He disagrees with the simple theory that if you take in more calories than you expend, you gain weight. He showed several studies of extremely poor populations from around the world - no fast food, low calorie intake and lots of manual labor; yet they had a high rate of obesity combined with malnutrition. Why were these populations overweight? While genetics plays a dominant role in determining weight, there are many other factors at play. One of the major factors is that these people eat high carbohydrate diets; however, Gary finds that carbohydrates are an indirect effect - carbs drive insulin, which in turn drives fat. Refined grains and sugar = insulin secretion, therefore leading to increased fat storage, so it sounds like animal fats are better for you than carbohydrates. There’s proof of this in French people; they have lower rates of obesity. While they have a high fatty diet, they have half the sugar intake that we do.

In keeping with the agriculture theme, we also got to hear from Greg Satrum. Greg is a third-generation egg farmer from Oregon who knows firsthand how the various farming practices work. Their farm originally kept outdoor hens; outdoor hens had lower production and much higher death rates. They later moved hens indoors, which resulted in a healthier chicken population, with many problems resolved. Hens were moved off the floors and away from feces, which was better for both the animals and also food safety.

In order to have a sustainable egg production system, several factors must be considered: food quality and safety, farm worker well-being, farm animal well-being, environmental impact, economic viability and consumer attitudes. There has been a major push in this country by HSUS towards cage-free for chickens, which actually lowers both food and animal safety, but there’s not really an easy way to explain that to consumers and voters. The European Union banned cages in egg production. As a result, the United Egg Producers has decided to act proactively to come up with a federal law to set standards that can make all parties happy rather than fight state by state.

Dr. Betsy Greene, a Professor of Equine Science at the University of Vermont, gave a very interesting presentation about her experience in the American Horse Protection Association Independent Observer Pilot Program. The program was created to observe a Bureau of Land Management wild horse round-up and ensure humane care and handling. Dr. Greene felt that, overall, the round-up went very well and that the horses are well-cared-for.

One aspect of the round-up that has gotten a bad rap is the fact that helicopters are used. Dr. Greene showed pictures and video that clearly showed the helicopters keeping a respectful distance, and anyone who understands equine body language could see that the horses were not panicked, upset or fearful at all. The horses are brought in to the “trap” area using helicopters, some horseback, and Judas horses at the end. A Judas horse is a tame horse that knows grain awaits him, who is set loose near the trap area and leads the herd into the trap corrals. The video footage she showed of the Judas horses was pretty cool to watch, that these wild horses would follow the lead of a strange horse. Once the horses are in the trap corrals, they are sorted by age and sex, then moved to the short-term holding area, where they are then sent out to be adopted or placed in long term holding areas.

We also got to hear from Dr. Kay Carter-Corker, Assistant Deputy Administrator for APHIS-Animal Care. I’m sure you all remember the proposed USDA changes to the Animal Welfare Act that was the big legislative topic of the summer and could very negatively impact breeders. As such, emotions are pretty high about this topic, so I give Dr. Carter-Corker major kudos for walking in to the lions’ den.

APHIS not only enforces the AWA, but also the Horse Protection Act, which outlaws the practice of soring in gaited horses. APHIS performs compliance inspections of facilities that must be licensed under the AWA; research facilities must be inspected once a year. The inspections are unannounced, photos are taken, the owners/agents are given an exit briefing, and an appeals system exists for any citations that may be given. The inspection reports are also posted on-line for transparency, for both APHIS and the facility being inspected. If the proposed changes to the AWA are implemented, these inspections would apply to most hobby dog breeders. She had no update on the proposed rule changes; only that almost 500,000 individual comments were received and read, and that the final rule was being developed. A wealth of information can be found on the APHIS website at www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare.

Temple Grandin was the keynote speaker and who everyone was eagerly awaiting. If you haven’t seen the HBO movie about her life and career in the livestock industry, Temple Grandin, I greatly encourage you to watch it. Not only was she successful in the very male-dominated livestock industry but she did so with autism.

More than half the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are handled by equipment that she designed. She has published hundreds of industry publications, book chapters and technical papers on livestock handling, plus 63 journal articles and ten books. She’s currently a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and, in addition to other numerous awards, she was honored as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time Magazine in 2010, and also inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2011. Needless to say, I was honored to meet her. Dr. Grandin has said repeatedly that science has proven that animals have basic emotions, and as such, we have to give them a life worth living.

Dr. Grandin began her talk by emphasizing the importance of reaching young people; that we need to get them more involved and interested in what we do, whether it’s farming or dogs. She revealed there’s a very bad disconnect; a recent study showed that only about half of young people could pair up where food comes from. Other statistics show that 48 percent associate beef with “factory farming”. Dr. Grandin defines this as “abstractification”, meaning that the more people get away from practical things such as sewing, cooking and art, the more abstract these things become. We need to truly expose young people in the first place. She praised Fair Oaks Farm as a wonderful example. It’s a farm that has opened its doors to the public and has had a hugely positive PR campaign. It’s become a tourist attraction and allows young people to see and touch everything in person.

Fair Oaks illustrated another point that Dr. Grandin discussed: that we need to “clean up the house and open the doors.” She thinks we need a lot more transparency since so much of the public has the wrong idea of what we really do in our various industries. She says that in reality, public views are actually fairly moderate and that the internet amplifies the radicalist views. She allows opposing viewpoints to be posted on her website so long as it remains civil; she does throw out the “nasty boys”, but otherwise allows dissent. She will not, however, use what she calls the BS terms like “harvest facility”.

One point of advice she gave when it comes to posting on websites, Facebook, message boards or anything else online: don’t ever type directly onto a website, but rather write your post or response somewhere else first. During the question period, one of the dog breeders in attendance asked Dr. Grandin if she had dogs. She said that she unfortunately travels too much, which makes it impossible to have dogs. If she retired, she would have pets, but she said she would never retire and will probably work and tour until she “drops dead”.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the content and the company throughout the entire conference, and would encourage anyone who is able to attend. Not only will you learn a lot, but the people you meet and network with are priceless as well. No matter what, you must check out the NAIA website. It’s chock-full of interesting articles, helpful position statements and columns, and wonderful model legislation for you to use when talking to lawmakers. There’s so much invaluable information that is right at your fingertips, which can be found at naiaonline.org.