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Published February 25, 2013, 09:44 AM

Farmers know their animals best

How does an industry that is attempting to feed animal protein to America and the HSUS, which promotes a vegan agenda, find common ground?

By: Emily Erickson, Agweek

Let us set aside our political rhetoric and sit down with the Humane Society of the United States and find common ground in support of Minnesota’s family farmers. How does an industry that is attempting to feed animal protein to America and the HSUS, which promotes a vegan agenda, find common ground?

In a Feb. 5 editorial from HSUS attorney Joe Maxwell in the Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe, Maxwell states that in 2012, HSUS provided direct care for more than 100,000 animals through rescue, rehabilitation, veterinary care and sanctuary. In 2012, the family farm I work for oversaw the care for more than 1.2 million market-sized pigs and more than 50,000 sows. These animals received food, good quality air and water and individual animal care on a daily basis.

Maxwell claims that a company such as New Fashion Pork is not progressive and fails to accept new techniques, proper genetics and solid animal husbandry skills. The foundation of any family farm is solid animal husbandry skills. Without proper care given to the animals on the farm, a farm cannot succeed. The individuals caring for our animals are paired with experienced employees upon hire. We expect our employees to be trained and certified in the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus program and Transport Quality Assurance program. They must also complete several on-farm competencies before they are allowed to work on their own.

New Fashion Pork has an on-staff licensed veterinarian who is available at all times to offer her expertise on animal care and best practices. We participate in the most advanced genetic improvement program in the world, which uses livability and carcass data to select the best animals for the operation.

The company has an on-staff nutritionist (equipped with a doctorate) who adjusts the rations given to the animals based on their age, their needs and the continued efforts at our in-house research facility. We have adapted new animal loading strategies and marketing efforts to ensure the animals are minimally stressed throughout their life on the farm. We have also introduced pain management processes on our sow farms to further promote animal well-being. All of these items are not progress?

Maxwell also stated that “the HSUS believes that consumers in the marketplace should have choices.” If the American pork producer is to set aside his or her political rhetoric to find this so-called common ground, then why does HSUS whole-heartedly support state ballot initiatives that would regulate the way a producer raises his or her animals — most notably, forcing the elimination of individual sow houses? By many standards, that would eliminate marketplace options and instead would support one aspect of the potential market.

Whether or not Maxwell or HSUS believe in the science that supports the use of individual sow houses — increased live births, decreased cortisol, or stress hormone in the sow and increased employee safety — using the individual houses, by right, is a marketplace choice. It is one option that the educated American consumer has not fully asked to be eliminated.

Maxwell was hired by HSUS as the vice president of outreach and engagement. On top of being an attorney for HSUS, Maxwell owns a family farm. Heritage Acres Farms, which raises antibiotic-free pork using traditional production methods that include range-style living in outdoor huts.

Heritage Acres Farms chooses to raise its hogs using 40-year-old production practices, which frankly, aren’t conducive to the environment in Minnesota. Although those 40-year-old production technologies are a respectable way to raise hogs, New Fashion Pork chooses to use new, progressive technologies to house, feed and care for its animals; technologies that work with our environment. Again, the concept at hand is consumer choice in the marketplace.

It appears that HSUS and Maxwell may have more of a political rhetoric than any family farmer in Minnesota. The hog producers of Minnesota have stood by each other for years, supporting the changing industry. But in the end, even as new technology is added, new practices and standards of care initiated, nobody knows their animals better than the farmers themselves. That is all the common ground we as hog producers need.

Editor’s Note: Erickson is the animal well-being and quality assurance manager for New Fashion Pork in Jackson, Minn.