Pennsylvania farmers taking proactive approach to animal welfare standards


HARRISBURG, Pa. — States across the country are ramping up their animal welfare and animal care standards in the expectation that the Humane Society of the United States may be on the way to their state next.

Battle rages. A battle between producers and the HSUS has been spreading after a proposition passed in California in 2008 creating laws against sow crates, veal farming and caged chickens.

Now, Kentucky, Idaho and Indiana are either trying to create a board or have implemented legislation that will give boards the right to create livestock care standards. And Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Board has been seated and starting its task.

Nearby, Pennsylvania seems to be keeping quiet, but ag community members are actually preparing for what is ahead.

Change may be needed. David R. Wolfgang, with Penn State’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, gives HSUS some credit for making producers think about what goes into raising animals and what happens to the animal in that time.

“They have helped us to realize we needed to change our ways a little bit. The ‘same old, same old’ philosophy just won’t work,” Wolfgang said.

Wolfgang added that the group’s influence on popular culture has made farmers step back and evaluate animal welfare as much as possible.

Pa. Ag Alliance. Pennsylvania has what is known as the Pennsylvania Agriculture Alliance, which is comprised of several entities — the Pa. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Dairy Excellence and Beef Excellence, other agriculture or ag-related industries and one or two members from a local humane society.

The group was originally formed to regulate auctions in the state but has grown over time to include animal welfare. The group meets every couple of months and members are appointed to the group from the different organizations they represent.

Currently, the group is developing guidelines, but they are only voluntary at this point.

Goals set. The goal of Pa. Ag Alliance is to encourage the best management practice.

Wolfgang said farmers have to step up to help match guidelines from national organizations with the state guidelines.

“They (HSUS and other animal rights groups) haven’t made things black and white. Everything is a little gray now,” Wolfgang said.

Proactive vs. reactive. Wolfgang said more producers need to be proactive in telling their story in Pennsylvania.

“HSUS has been proactive in showing the public individual bad acts in agriculture and now we need to do the opposite. We need to show them what good is happening on many farms to produce food,” he said.

Specifically, what farmers are doing that is good, not just for animals, but the environment, and not what farmers are doing just because it provides cheap food.

Wolfgang said one example is showing how fewer animals today mean less of an environmental footprint. He added it needs to be highlighted how efficient agriculture can be, meaning it can be better for the environment and the consumer.


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