A few weeks ago, farmers and ranchers who sent an RSVP to attend a local Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) meeting in Sioux Falls, SD were uninvited to attend. Darci Adams, the HSUS state director for South Dakota, wrote to the interested parties, "Perhaps you've been misinformed, but this is not a public event. This is a private gathering for members of HSUS and supporters who want to get involved in our work to alleviate animal cruelty."
The meeting was canceled at the original location and relocated to ensure that agriculture’s presence wasn’t at the meeting. Luckily, agriculture had a second chance the very next day with a meeting held in Rapid City at Seattle’s Best Cafe in the Hotel Alex Johnson. Matt Dybedahl, a senior animal science and ag business student at South Dakota State University (SDSU), happened to be in the area for his internship the day of the meeting.
After several attempts to RSVP for the event, Dybedahl was told by Adams that the meeting was full. Not easily run off, he showed up to the meeting anyway and was one of only 14 people at the meeting, hardly a large enough crowd to turn away interested college students. Politely, Dybedahl listened to the three HSUS staff members discuss their goals for the future. It wasn’t until they brought up factory farming that he joined in the conversation.
“When they talked about factory farming, they basically described the conditions as horrific,” explains Dybedahl, who says they talked about cage-free eggs, free-range pork and the terrible living conditions in feedlots. “They described farmers and ranchers as extremists and terrorists, and they promised to pass legislation, saying it’s not if they can, it’s when. Adams told the audience that the time might not be right for enactment in South Dakota, but the activists hope to weasel in new laws through different pieces of legislation, if they can’t pass a ballot initiative. Those of us defending agriculture will definitely have to be watchful of those efforts in the future.
Of his attendance at the meeting, Dybedahl says, “they were definitely nervous I was there, as I’m sure they didn’t know what I was going to say or do.” He admits he was nervous, too. “They did let me make a few points but would quickly cut me off if I spoke too long. I didn’t want to get in a big fight or cause a huge debate because I didn’t want to leave a bad taste of agriculture with them.
“At the meeting, I was told that South Dakota has 19,000 HSUS members and that one in 28 people in the U.S. are also members of the HSUS,” Dybedahl says. “The folks who are members will never change their minds about us; it’s the other 95% we need to work with and share the real story of modern agriculture. We definitely need to pay attention to what HSUS is doing here in South Dakota, especially if they are going to try to sneak in legislation,” Dybedahl notes. “Down the road, they will probably try to do something here in our state; we just have to be aware.”