Ag, Ag, Ag
Colorado's not just home to Bernard Rollin, the Harley-riding animal ethicist from Brooklyn who brokered a deal between the Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle and the state's agriculture interests. It's also headquarters for the American Humane Association, the oldest humane group in the country, and one that Kathi Brock, director of Strategic Partnerships for American Humane, says "has a very different viewpoint" from that of the Humane Society, with which it's all too often confused.
The Englewood-based outfit bills itself as "protecting children & animals since 1877" — the year humane organizations from across the country gathered in Ohio to unite their resources to protect livestock from inhumane treatment. American Humane immediately went to work to improve conditions for farm animals in transit, and continued to include animal welfare as part of its mission even as its scope expanded over the years. "If you want to effect change, you go to the people who own the animals," Brock says. "By making the changes voluntarily, that's a better way to the solution."
Over a decade ago, the AHA was contacted by officials from Texas Tech, who thought the organization might be able to come up with a "reasonable approach to farm animal welfare," Brock relates. The result was American Humane Certified, the first farm animal certification program in the country, a voluntary, fee-based service that provides independent, third-party audited verification of the care and handling of animals on enrolled farms. Since it was launched in 2000, the AHA has certified producers representing more than 60 million farm animals; producers who meet the standards get to use the American Humane Certified label on their products. Those standards are based on the Five Freedoms, as outlined by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as input from animal science experts, veterinarians and other animal husbandry specialists.
The American Humane Certified program reflects "a common-sense way to do things," Brock says. And then there's the Humane Society approach. "They have taken the tack that says litigation, legislation and intimidation are a way to effect changes in farming," she notes. "We're much more science-driven. We don't make pronouncements that hens need to stand with their wings out all day when that's not what good animal science says."
And American Humane is continually working on the science. In fact, one of its investigators will make an interim report on a study — technically known as the "Layer Study on the Behavior of Laying Hens in Intensive and Extensive Housing Systems" — at the Federation of Animal Science, which will meet in Denver in July. "You need a balance," Brock notes, one that takes into consideration keeping food safe and affordable. "Animal welfare has to be met, but you can't have hand-fed chickens for $37 apiece."
The AHA doesn't just focus on laying hens, but also reaches out to laypeople. The American Humane Certified website also features the Humane Table, which includes seasonal recipes and testimonials from professional chefs who work with humanely raised foods. "We have been rather quiet," Brock concludes, "but we're not being that quiet anymore."