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Published November 18, 2013, 10:45 AM

HSUS state director pushes ND farm effort

The organization wants ag councils to influence policy.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. — Karen Thunshelle, North Dakota state director of the Humane Society of the United States, says she wants to start an HSUS “Ag Council” in the state, to help influence agricultural and animal policy direction.

The national organization hopes to have ag councils in each state.

Thunshelle says she will work with farmers who are traditional, humane and sustainable.

“We’re looking for market-driven solutions for farmers who want to raise animals with higher welfare standards,” she says. “We want to make the market more profitable for these farmers — for your traditional farms. I think ‘Big Ag’ is pushing out family farms.”

Thunshelle, 41, has been on the payroll of the HSUS for more than a year. She led the organization’s unsuccessful effort to get an anti-cruelty measure passed in 2012. Measure 5 failed with 65 percent opposed,Thunshelle believes the HSUS-backed efforts put pressure on the North Dakota Legislature to pass an anti-animal cruelty bill in the last legislature.

“Looking back on it now, I think it was huge,” Thunshelle says. “I do not think the animal cruelty bill would have moved forward in the Legislature if it hadn’t been for Measure 5. That effort brought forward that awareness to the lawmakers that this is something the people want. It made it, basically, a priority issue.”

Not everyone agrees. Julie Ellingson is the executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, which vigorously opposed Measure 5 and considered its defeat a major victory. Ellingson denies that HSUS had any impact other than “heightened awareness” that allowed the Legislature to complete a comprehensive anti-cruelty bill and animal practices bill that it had been working on for more than one session.

As North Dakota HSUS director, Thunshelle started working in what she calls a “broad tent” of HSUS issues.

She says she doesn’t know how many HSUS members there are in North Dakota. There is no official membership list or dues, she says, but she thinks there might be “tens of thousands” of members.

Ultimate goals

Thunshelle’s aims are consistent with national efforts, says Eric Swafford, Tennesee-based HSUS director of rural development and outreach.

The HSUS created its first agricultural council in 2012 in Nebraska and now has them in Colorado, Ohio and Iowa.

He says HSUS hasn’t yet determined which states are its next priority areas for ag councils, or whether North Dakota is likely to be one of them.

Swafford says HSUS is pro-agriculture, but against practices that prevent animals from exhibiting their natural behavior. The only things the organization is officially against in agriculture are veal-raising crates; battery cages for laying hens; tail-docking for dairy cattle; and gestation crates for sows in farrowing operations.

For her part, Ellingson says her organization’s interactions and study of the HSUS has raised “strong concerns about anti-agricultural initiatives” in the cattle industry and that its initiatives often have the potential to be “problematic” for producers. She says HSUS remains on her organization’s “watch list.”

The stockmen’s group maintains that all livestock producers — small, medium or large — must be good stewards to keep their businesses healthy, she says.

She says the job of the livestock industry is to foster animal stewardship, and it was making progress with that long before HSUS operatives became active in the state.