The Texas Agriculture Law Blog is an outreach project of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service. It is specifically focused on water law, oil and gas law, leasing, property rights, right to farm statutes, and animal cruelty issues. The blog provides interesting reading not only on the variety of subjects listed above but others such as the Farm Bill, easements, landowner liability, and the ESA. Currently the blog is offering a series on how to avoid and survive undercover video investigations. This three-part series was previously published in Dairy Herd Management magazine. Part 1 covers hiring practices and Part 2 covers farm policies and training practices. The blog can be found at http://tinyurl.com/qbvrtky
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HSUS’s INTIMIDATION TACTICS IN RHODE ISLAND
HUMANE WATCH August 13, 2015. When is a “Humane Society” not humane? When it launches a harassment campaign singling out a state senator.
For over a month, Rhode Island State Senator Susan Sosnowksi has endured the bullying of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The radical animal-rights group has taken out full-page ads attacking the Senator, passed around inflammatory fliers in her hometown farmers market, and accused Sosnowski of “doing the bidding of animal abusers.” What is Sosnowski’s offense? She doesn’t support an HSUS bill that creates cumbersome regulations for egg production that would have harmed a family farm in the state. Sosnowski is herself a farmer, so she most of all would understand what’s going on here.
What is particularly unjust about the Humane Society’s harassment is that there appears to be little-to-no evidence this bill would actually improve animal welfare. Rhode Island’s Livestock Welfare & Care Standards Advisory Council said the bill’s requirements are “far in excess of any standard set forth in any state without any evidence to support this increase improves hen welfare.” In fact, the legislation may result in worse conditions for hens with weaker chickens being left unprotected from the pecking of more aggressive chickens in the coop. The bill would also result in higher prices for eggs, and quite possibly lead to diminished food safety. Research published by Oxford Journals found that the safest housing system was a cage system that HSUS opposes.
However, the facts don’t matter to HSUS. Far from trying to improve animal welfare, what this extremist organization cares about is creating burdensome regulations that disrupt farming in every way possible. HSUS’s food policy director has compared farms to Nazi concentration camps and HSUS’s CEO has compared the treatment of animals to slavery. These guys don’t support any kind of egg farm—cage-free, free-range, or otherwise.
For years, animal-rights activists infamously used terror tactics against UCLA’s biomedical researchers. Activists set cars ablaze, placed incendiary devices on researchers’ doorsteps and under their cars, and sent violent threats to others. What HSUS is doing here obviously doesn’t rise to the level of violence, but it’s still disturbing. Is this how HSUS donors would want their money being used, to send some someone to Rhode Island to hassle people at a farmers market? Undoubtedly no.
Since no farm will meet HSUS’s standard of veganism, it appears unlikely that HSUS will stop harassing Senator Sosnowski anytime soon. http://tinyurl.com/p2gcea2
COSTCO VS HSUS
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is taking its public relations fight against Costco Wholesale to another level. HSUS plans to broadcast graphic footage of hens allegedly being mistreated at a Pennsylvania supplier of eggs to Costco on a 1,700 square-foot billboard in Times Square. The undercover footage was shot at Hillandale Farms as part of a campaign to pressure the retailer to only sell eggs from cage-free hens. More than 300,000 pedestrians enter the heart of Times Square each day, according to the Times Square Alliance, a group that promotes businesses in the area.
HSUS also filed legal complaints with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that Hillandale Farms, a Costco egg supplier, deceived consumers with its poor animal welfare standards and “filthy and unsanitary conditions,” resulting in food safety concerns.
Costco’s CEO Craig Jelinek told FOXBusiness that they’re being unfairly targeted. Costco said in a June statement regarding the video that there are "vigorous debates about animal welfare and laying hens." "Some, such as the Humane Society, advocate that hens be cage free and not confined in cages. Some advocate that cages are safer for hens," the statement reads. “Inspections that we have conducted there as recently as this week confirmed for us that Hillandale is behaving appropriately. Hillandale has identified some areas in which it believes it can improve, including process improvement and more training for its employees.”
In the Hillandale Farms statement regarding this video they say that they have had audits by the FDA, United Egg Producers, and the Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program (PEQAP), all of which report excellent results for this farm. Hillandale provided copies of these reports to ABC after HSUS sent ABC a copy of the video. “We believe our high standards were compromised by this undercover employee, who shot the video in a barn where he was the primary caretaker, with responsibility to maintain cleanliness in the barns, address any equipment issues and remove mortality on a daily basis. It appears clear that he disregarded required operational procedures and then videotaped the barn and flock with the intent to misrepresent Hillandale Farms. A full internal investigation by our team and by independent outside academic experts in food safety and hen welfare confirmed our belief – that the images in the video reflect an isolated incident in a barn where the undercover worker held primary responsibility. It was his job to identify and address the types of issues that were shown, and he did not adequately perform his job requirements.” http://tinyurl.com/q843rsh
Sources: HSUS website; Food Safety News; Egg-Cite; CBS Interactive
CHICAGO PET STORE BAN SUIT DISMISSED
A federal judge last week dismissed an amended lawsuit filed by area pet stores against a Cook County ordinance that limits the sale of animals from large-scale breeders. The ordinance, which was originally set to take effect in October 2014, limits the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in Cook County pet stores to those that come from rescue groups, humane societies, government-run shelters or federally licensed breeders who possessed no more than 5 reproducing female dogs, cats, or rabbits. The ordinance was drafted to allow an incorporated municipality to opt out under home rule powers by passing its own ordinance governing pet shop sales. Plaintiffs, including the Missouri Pet Breeders Association (MPBA) and three Cook County pet shops and their owners, claim that the ordinance is invalid under the U.S. Constitution because it violates the Commerce Clause; the Equal Protection Clause; and that the ordinance is impermissibly vague. Pet shop plaintiffs also alleged violations of the Contract Clause.
The Court found the ordinance is facially neutral, and any disparate impact on out-of-state breeders is indirect and incidental. The Court also found it implausible that the ordinance will affect interstate commerce. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly wrote, “Plaintiffs' Equal Protection Clause and Contract Clause claims, which the Court dismissed in its order dated May 21, 2015, have not changed. Accordingly, the Court reaffirms its dismissal of those claims. (See Mo. Pet Breeders Ass'n, 2015 WL 2448332, at *6–7, *10–11. In that opinion Judge Kennelly wrote, “The ordinance does not raise equal protection concerns, even if it will not completely solve the problems it was intended to address. Any disparate effect that stems from the distinction between sales by breeders and sales by pet stores is rationally related to the legitimate government interest of limiting the use of mass-breeding facilities.” Kennelly continued, “Defendants have offered “plausible reasons” justifying the challenged classifications. Id. Lawmakers imposed breeder-size requirements to ensure that pet stores bought animals from small breeders as opposed to inhumane mass-breeding facilities. Because defendants have presented legitimate public interests that support the ordinance, the Court dismisses plaintiffs' Contract Clause claim”.) http://tinyurl.com/q7oelrq
MASSACHUSSETTS BALLOT INITIATIVE
Citizens for Farm Animal Protection has announced a new ballot initiative in Massachusetts to curb extreme confinement of breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens. The coalition includes the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), United Farm Workers, Center for Food Safety, veterinarians and others. Although confining-cage practices are virtually non-existent in Massachusetts, supporters claim a ban will prevent them in the future. While previous ballot measures backed by HSUS in other states limited the ways farmers can produce meat and eggs, the Massachusetts measure also targets what products businesses here can sell. The measure is opposed by agricultural groups and the food industry who say a ban is costly and unnecessary, if not unconstitutional. The ballot question must first be certified by the attorney general. Once approved, the coalition must collect more than 90,000 signatures in order to qualify this proposal for the 2016 statewide ballot.
USDA ANIMAL HEALTH PANEL INCLUDES HUMANE SOCIETY VET
Agri-Pulse August 18, 2015. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has named 19 members of his Advisory Committee on Animal Health that will serve through June 2017. The panel, which is supposed to represent “a broad range” of groups within agriculture, includes a veterinarian from the National Pork Producer Council, several academics and livestock producers as well as the director of veterinary policy with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), an animal welfare group that is widely unpopular in some circles of the agriculture industry.
In a 2012 interview posted on the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association website, the HSUS vet, Michael Blackwell, called HSUS “the most capable organization to influence our direction as a society.” When asked to name his top priority issue, he pointed to the health of food animals “especially as that is threatened by mechanized and industrial systems” that he said “can and do threaten public health and environmental safety.” Agriculture groups have criticized HSUS for its tactic of engaging in lawsuits to force producers and producer groups to spend money on legal fees and for helping to create legislation perceived by some as harmful to agriculture, such as the California egg law, which increased the space allocated in cages for every egg-laying chicken in the state. Continue reading: http://tinyurl.com/nvf6jlu