I have just received a PDF copy of a letter the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sent to Denver City Council concerning the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance. Read the whole thing (PDF document) here.
The letter raises a number of interesting points, some of which have not been publicly expressed so far in the discussion. Key items include:
1. The letter supports the idea of backyard chickens as long as humane standards are met. “Every family that gets their eggs from backyard hens is likely reducing or eliminating their purchase of eggs laid by hens who suffered on factory farms.”
2. It expresses concern over the methods of acquisition of hens from hatcheries which involve use of excess chicks as “packing material” and sending of unwanted male chicks (which are illegal under the ordinance). It suggests several adoption programs, including the “Hen Again” program of Grant Farms.
3. It suggests standards to protect hens from the cold and from predators, and refers to the Chicken Run Rescue site as a source for housing recommendations.
4. It recommends requiring permits and annual license fees for individual animals. “There is no way [under the proposed ordinance] to relate a license to individual animals or to tell, on the basis of licensing, how many livestock animals are being legally kept in Denver at any given time or over a period of time.”
5. It expresses concern about the dwarf goat provisions in the proposed ordinance, pointing out that there has been “considerably less discussion of urban goats” compared to discussion of chickens. “Our fear is that Denver is going into unexplored and unsustainable territory by entertaining the prospect of goats at all.” It raises several issues such as space requirements for goats, the “constant production of baby goats” (goats have to be pregnant before they will give milk), and the problem of goat diseases, at least one of which (soremouth) can be transmitted to humans.
I hope that the City Council and others concerned about the effects of the FPA ordinance on the animals themselves will study this letter carefully.
UPDATE July 6, 2011:
Well, it’s water under the bridge now (the ordinance passed), but the HSUS has evidently modified their position as expressed in this letter. On Sunday, June 12, Sundari Kraft wrote a rather concerned response attacking parts of the letter, and on Monday, June 13 (the same day as the hearing), the HSUS posted a “clarification” (which actually muddied their position). The ordinance only passed by one vote. It’s quite possible that HSUS could have made this a better ordinance, but didn’t.
We could try to parse out the particulars of what the “clarification” means. But the common sense interpretation is that HSUS has changed its mind and now supports the Sustainable Food Denver (SFD) approach, which the “clarification” praises effusively, rather than the Chicken Run Rescue (CRR) standards referenced in the original letter. These two standards are clearly very different.
HSUS has done a lot of good things. They have made considerable efforts to “mainstream” opposition to factory farms, and I love Dr. Gregor’s new “Nutrition Facts” web site. They should be the natural leaders of efforts to support more humane treatment of backyard animals. But for the time being, it looks like they aren’t. Activists in other cities should not rely on this HSUS letter, nor should they rely on HSUS support for the Chicken Run Rescue standards.