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.
Agri-Pulse 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.
“We know that HSUS is an activist organization that we think is being given a little bit of an undue preference here with this announcement,” Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says. “And we think the administration really needs to make sure that true stakeholders in this game are the one who are able to provide this type 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 we have a responsibility in a democracy to listen. If people have concerns, if they are legitimate, we have a responsibility to listen. Now that doesn’t mean we have to listen in a vacuum. What it does mean is that we have to listen and we have to solicit viewpoints, and so 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 between 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. If I have to make a decision on things that I have to decide, I will, but we’re trying to create a conversation here, and we’re trying to create a trusting relationship so that people have 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, that may not 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.
Source: NAFB News Service