If you look at the history of the relationship between The HSUS and the American Farm Bureau Federation, there’s not much we agree upon, and there has been a noticeable scarcity of goodwill. We seem locked in regular political combat.
The American Farm Bureau and its federated state groups put more than $100,000 into a failed effort to defeat an HSUS-led ballot initiative campaign in Arizona to ban veal and gestation crates in November 2006. The Farm Bureau is fighting legislation that would require animal producers supplying federal programs with meat, dairy and eggs to comply with a most basic set of animal welfare standards. The Farm Bureau has fought, at every step of the process, our campaign in Congress and in the states to stop the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. The Farm Bureau fights HSUS’ efforts to curtail the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program, which spends millions executing indiscriminate and inhumane predator control programs in the West. And that’s just a taste of the polarities that have developed between the organizations.
But the American Farm Bureau Federation asked me to address the members of its policy gathering last Wednesday, and for me, I saw it as an opportunity to establish better dialogue. I took the dais with optimism, and the folks there were more than polite and welcoming.
We talk to members of the animal welfare community a great deal of the time—and that’s vital in educating, motivating and organizing our core constituency. Our “base” provides the financial support that enables our work; they carry the message in their communities; they write letters to lawmakers; they rescue and shelter animals in need, and so much more. Without this core group of supporters, The HSUS and the other organized entities of the humane movement simply could not exist.
We also need to talk to that large mass of Americans who love animals, but don’t know much about the gravity and varieties of animal abuse and are not consciously active on our issues. Yet that group—when it comes to voting behavior, consumer choices and general perceptions about animal welfare—unwittingly exerts an enormous impact on the lives of animals and the outcomes of many a political battle (such as ballot initiatives). Our goal must be to transform these sympathizers into advocates and invite them to join us in our cause to protect animals from cruelty and exploitation.
But the third leg of the stool—the people working in industry or making decisions or taking actions that have negative consequences for animals—is a vitally important group to have dialogue with, too. Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation have enormous power over the lives of animals, and we would be foolish not to talk with them and open a channel of communications.
Small changes in course that these folks make can have enormous positive and negative consequences for animals. It’s our job to push them in the right direction. They are not bad people; rather, they have a different orientation and often a contrasting world view about animals and our responsibilities to them.
And while I did not expect to convert the professional advocates of the agribusiness industry at Wednesday’s talk, I thought it was important for them to understand our vision, recognize its consonance with basic American sensibilities about humane treatment of animals, and ask them to think about cooperation.
When you are honest and sincere and passionate, you never know where the dialogue will lead.
Our work is driven by a concern about improving the lives of animals. But more than anything, it’s about people. When we understand sociology and human behavior, we will accelerate the pace of progress and be that much closer to achieving the goal of creating a humane society.