Mr. President, yesterday we concluded our work in the Senate on our version of the agricultural appropriations bill. I am a member of the Appropriations Committee; I am a member of the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, and I supported the legislation that we passed, but there is an outstanding issue at the Department of Agriculture that I was only recently made aware of. It, to me, is a very serious issue, which, given more time, I would have taken action here on the Senate floor, as an issue that I’ll continue to pursue as a member of the Conference Committee as we work toward our final FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
The issue involves a memo issued by the Department of Agriculture last month, on October the 6th, authorizing the Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to conduct an animal welfare scientific forum. This forum approved by Undersecretary Edward Avalos on October the 12th. I’d ask unanimous consent to submit the USDA’s memo for the record.
Mr. President, thank you. The ironic thing about this forum is that there’s little science involved. It is nothing more than, in my view, the Department of Agriculture spending taxpayer dollars on a forum to provide the Human Society of the United States [HSUS] a public forum to espouse its anti-agricultural views. The document speaks for itself in this regard, and on page two the document states that APHIS, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Representatives believe that the Humane Society’s intent is to promote and position the organization to be recognized nationally as influencing APHIS policy on critical and sensitive welfare issues.
After reading that statement, it becomes clear that the Department of Agriculture is catering to an outside organization instead of relying upon the advice of animal scientists at our land grant universities or even within the Department of Agriculture. If the Department of Agriculture was interested in science, why would it allow an animal rights organization to steer its agenda? Why wouldn’t APHIS simply request the latest animal research from scientists across the country to make sure that its guidance is up to date? In addition to catering to HSUS in planning this forum, the Department of Agriculture is precluding input from members of the agriculture industry it is supposed to promote. The memo states HSUS and other welfare advocacy groups would be invited to participate in a pre-planning meeting for the forum with senior leaders from wildlife services, animal care, and veterinary services. These groups would have input into the topics to be discussed, potential speakers for the topics, dates and times for the forum, how the forum should run, et cetera. That’s quoting from the memo.
No mention is made in the memo of asking any agricultural organization or animal scientist for pre-planning assistance. According to the memo, HSUS is going to set the agenda for this forum. Even if the agriculture industry is later invited to the event, agriculture would already have the cards already stacked against them. I think it’s important for most Americans to understand that HSUS is not your local animal shelter; HSUS is a national lobbying organization that spends most of its budget to lobby against farmers and ranchers that provide us with the food and clothing that we enjoy in this country. In fact, tax documents show that HSUS spends less than 1% of its budget on grants to animal shelters. Given these facts, you would have to wonder why the Department of Agriculture is giving this organization this platform and shunning producer organizations.
This is one more demonstration that this administration is no real friend of rural America or the American farmer and rancher. My purpose this morning is to inform my fellow Senators on what I consider this troubling development at the Department of Agriculture and to put the Secretary on notice that this type of conduct from the Department is unacceptable. The Department’s mission statement reads like this: we provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources and related issues based upon sound public policy, the best possible science, and efficient management. USDA should live up to its mission statement and work to promote agriculture, not to work against farmers and ranchers best interest—and I would say, not to work against the best interests of the consumer of food in this country. Going forward, I will do my best to ensure that the Department of Agriculture adheres to its mission statement.
Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to speak.