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Published November 30, 2010, 10:09 AM

What does humane production mean?

FARGO, N.D. — I always am fascinated with recommendations from groups like the Humane Society of the United States.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — I always am fascinated with recommendations from groups like the Humane Society of the United States.

HSUS is among about 35 entities that came out in a recent news release from a group called the Humane Animal Farm Care organization. (No, the farm care group doesn’t include the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Maybe PETA prefers an all-vegetarian cause.)

The farm care group news release cheerfully urges American consumers consider a “Certified Humane” turkey for the holidays. What does humane production mean?

Well, according to this group, that’s a “turkey that can flap its wings around, can perch above the ground at night, eat nutritious food that doesn’t contain antibioitics or other chemicals and can express other natural behaviors.” I wondered, what if you’re a North Dakotan and you want to consume these products?

The farm care group acknowledges that only a “few producers raise turkeys in this way,” but doesn’t say why. The two the group lists are Ayrshire Farm in Virginia and Footsteps Farm in Connecticut. I looked online and saw a lot about Ayrshire’s historic facilities and history, but little about its production capacities. The Farm Fresh people get their animals from a variety of producers, but it’s unclear how many meet the “humane” certification standard.

Again — no production capacities.

I’m thinking the number of Americans eating turkey in this fashion must be infinitesimally small.

You can’t get “certified humane” turkey within 200 miles of Fargo, N.D., according to the website.

You can get Smart Chicken at the Cashwise store in south Fargo. The other is the Wal-Mart store, where you can buy duBreton All Natural Fresh Pork.

The Smart Chicken brand is from a company based in Waverly, Neb., that was founded in 1998 and became certified organic and humane in 2005. The birds are raised in “our spacious, free roam farm.” The company’s processing facilities are the only ones in the U.S. that use “controlled atmosphere stunning” in the kill process.

I think the “humane” endorsement offers the consumer a notion that everything else is not produced humanely — but inhumanely?

If that’s so, should consumers be calling the cops over the holidays, as though the neighbors were leaving their dog outside in subzero temperatures? I doubt it.

It seems obvious that the majority of people in the region apparently are satisfied to trust farmers, farm groups and researchers to determine whether turkeys are properly treated. It’s a system of trust that’s developed across decades and centuries, really.

I talked with Eric Aasmundstad, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, at the group’s recent convention in Fargo. We chatted about how I had, before the election, in a story about Measure, described him as “militant” when it came to his aggressive stance against the measure, which would have banned “high-fence” hunting in North Dakota. He had predicted that the HSUS would be among the supporters of the proposed ban and that the ultimate goal is beyond hunting and takes aim at conventional animal agriculture farming in North Dakota.

I have to admit: I was skeptical about Aasmundstad’s concerns. And then I saw the television ads, with the HSUS sponsorship. Aasmundstad says he thinks the measure cost the HSUS $175,000 in advertisements, including the ones that showed authentic-looking hunters with bows and guns over their shoulders. Aasmundstad notes the measure actually passed in North Dakota’s Cass and Grand Forks counties. He thinks the election actually proved to HSUS how easily it can gain victories over property rights concerns of farm organizations like his. Stay tuned.