Cattle Network : Five Minutes With Adele Douglass
Not that there is anything wrong with treating animals with care and respect. Most everyone in agriculture understands that from both an emotional and fiduciary point-of-view.
A well-trained and properly groomed horse is an amazing thing. The folks at the California Milk Advisory Board claim their members own happy cows, pampered animals that repay their owners many-fold with thousands of gallons of milk that can be turned into many tasty pounds of artisanal "Real California Cheese," regardless of what some ninnies maintained recently in one of the more insane court cases. Treat a hog well and PSE is just a set of initials that stands for Philippine Stock Exchange.
So it was with a little trepidation - OK, the kind of serious doubt that would have me chanting "liar, liar, pants on fire" if I were still a kid - when my friend Dan Murphy suggested I interview Adele Douglass, a well-known name in animal welfare circles. Dan has reported on the meat industry for over 25 years so I had to take him at his word when he described Douglass as an intelligent, well-spoken voice of reason. In the interest of full disclosure, Dan does serve on the board for her Certified Humane Program.
But when I did some background research on Douglass I noticed another friend, Temple Grandin, worked with her to develop Farm Animal Welfare standards. If two of the most painfully blunt people I know respect her enough to lend their names to her work, I had to spend five minutes with her to see if she really was a voice of reason in the animal welfare movement. She is. Read on.
Why did you get involved in animal welfare issues?
I worked for a member of Congress from 1980 until 1987 and one of the issues I covered was animal welfare. Animal welfare runs the gamut from wildlife, farm animals, laboratory animals, pets and lots of other areas. I became familiar with these issues and saw how much work needed to be done to make positive changes for animals. I was really shocked at the perception we have as to how farm animals are raised versus the reality of how they are being raised. I was asked, for example, by a pork producer what I thought was the worst thing about raising pigs in the US. I said, "The gestation stall because the sows can't move except to lie down and stand up." The response was "Why does a pig have to move?"
In January of 2000 I went to England and met with representatives of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) which had started the "Freedom Foods" program that set standards for humane animal husbandry. This program is successful and encourages change through the marketplace.
When I returned to the US I started working to create a similar program here in the US because the speediest way for change to occur is through the marketplace. That is why the "Certified Humane" program was created - to improve the lives of farm animals through the marketplace and through consumer demand.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? What is that? Actually, I have 3 grown children and 5 grandchildren. I spend time with all of them, reading stories, taking them places and just giving them lots of love. I knit them hats and scarves and sweaters every year for Christmas. I also enjoy reading histories and biographies. I used to make quilts, and someday, I hope to go back to quilting, as well.
What were the considerations behind the development of the Certified Humane program?
To have standards that met animal needs, based on the knowledge of experts in the field. We were able to do that with a first rate scientific committee. I also wanted an organization that had integrity and was credible. That is why, from day one, we created our program based on the International Standards Organization (ISO) guide 65 for certification bodies. Last June, we achieved that accreditation. We also believe that it is important to have inspectors that are knowledgeable of the species they are inspecting and therefore that is a requirement to be an inspector for this program.
You worked with a lot of animal welfare experts, including Temple Grandin, to develop Farm Animal Welfare standards. The group is largely composed of academics with almost no representation from agriculture or the processing industry. Has that hindered the goals of your organization?
When each of our draft standards were completed, we sent them out to various producers and ranchers who raised that species of animals, for comment. Their comments and suggestions were very helpful and were included in the standards. There were many livestock producers that we received comments from. Not all of those producers and ranchers then joined our program, but they did help us enormously with their expertise. As for processors, we use the American Meat Institute guidelines to inspect processors. Those were written by the processing industry. I would say that's a lot of input from the industry, wouldn't you?
Only a few packers and processors have signed onto your Certified Humane program. Why has acceptance been limited and has the program helped improve the profitability of those companies that have joined?
Our program certifies that products from animals were raised and processed to meet our standards. We don't certify processors, nor do we certify companies. Our standards cover the animals from birth through slaughter so the product of that animal is certified. When we inspect a processor it is to make sure the animals that are being certified are being processed based on the American Meat Institute standards. In order for a rancher to have his beef certified, for example, we would inspect his ranch, and inspect the same animals when they are at the processing plant. We also verify at the processing plant that they have a good traceability system for separating the certified animals from those that are not.
A few animal activist organizations have resorted to extreme measures yet your group chooses to operate in the main stream. Would you comment on the effectiveness of both tactics?
When I left Congress in 1987, I started to work for a humane organization lobbying Congress. I was working on laboratory animal issues and I'd go to Congressional offices and say, "Researchers should be required to give laboratory dogs in research exercise like taking them for walks."
They would politely throw me out of their offices. Then PETA came along and demanded the end to research immediately. As a result of PETA's efforts, when I went back to those same Congressional offices asking for dogs in research laboratories be given exercise, they were now happy to speak with someone as reasonable as I was. They, too, agreed that giving dogs cooped up in cages in a laboratory some exercise was the right thing to do.
Activist organizations play a role in any issue, not just animal issues, of making the public aware of things they most likely are not aware of. The public can then respond to the issue in either demanding change, or ignoring the activists. We are a great country and we are that way because we allow discussion and debate on all issues.
Thousands of cattlemen read Cattle Network. What would you like to say to them?
Since the Cattlemen have always been leaders, you should know that eventually animal welfare will be a trade issue. I would hope that the cattlemen reading this will have the foresight to know that. Those cattlemen that are on our program will have the advantage when the time comes of being certified to high welfare standards and being certified by the only ISO Guide 65 accredited certification body for animal welfare in the US.
I'd also like to thank you for taking your valuable time to read these comments.