Beef ranchers lean on Cal Poly

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2010:


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.– “Top officials at Harris Ranch are
trying to use their clout as big-money donors to censor what’s taught
at Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture,” editorialized the San Luis
Obispo Tribune News on January 17, 2010.
“Specifically,” the editorial charged, “they threatened to
withhold $500,000 in donations for a new meat-processing center,
unless the university tones down teaching about alternatives to the
traditional factory farming methods practiced by Harris Ranch.”

The editorial came after Tribune News reporter Nick Wilson
and columnist Bob Cuddy cited e-mails obtained through a Public
Records Act request to disclose that Harris Ranch lobbied to have
California Polytechnic State University faculty member Robert T.
Rutherford quit teaching an Issues in Animal Agriculture course he
had initiated more than 10 years ago.
Rutherford, a Cal Poly animal science faculty member since
1974, told The Tribune News that he voluntarily turned the class
over to another faculty member, yet to be named, because he expects
to retire within a few years.
“Harris Ranch, based in Selma near Fresno, is one of the
nation’s largest beef-processing centers,” explained Wilson. Harris
Ranch is headed by Cal Poly alumni David Wood and Michael Smith.
“Wood had pledged to donate $150,000, and company owner John Harris
pledged $350,000 toward Cal Poly’s new meat-processing center,”
Wilson continued. Construction is to start this spring.
But the plans were jeopardized, Wilson and Cuddy wrote,
when Wood and Smith learned that Rutherford’s reading list included
Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, and Fast Food Nation, by
Eric Schlosser. Both books criticize factory farming.
“After a September 14 (2009) phone conversation between Smith
and Rutherford, Wood sent an e-mail to Cal Poly President Warren
Baker seeking Rutherford’s removal from teaching the course,” Wilson
Wood objected in later correspondence that Rutherford had
said “grain-fed production systems were not sustainable, that corn
should not be fed to cattle, and especially not in large-scale
animal feeding systems. Mr. Rutherford then had the audacity to
offer Mike (Smith) an entirely unsolicited opinion that water should
have never been provided to farmers on the west side of the San
Joaquin Valley,” Wood said. “As Harris Ranch operates one of the
largest farms in this region, Mr. Rutherford implies Harris Ranch
should not be farming.”
Apparently speaking of Pollan, Wood added, “I do not need
Cal Poly making this business even more difficult by giving this
activist an audience.”
Facing the consequences of a January 21, 2010 ruling by the
U.S. Supreme Court that will allow agribusiness to increase spending
in support of favored political candidates, Humane Society of the
U.S. president Wayne Pacelle acknowledged to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “We’ve
been following it a bit.”
Pacelle called the Harris Ranch corres-pondence a “Typical
heavy-handed approach from agribusiness. There is an unholy alliance
between industry, government, and academia,” Pacelle charged,
“and Harris Ranch is seeking to rein in a university flirting with
the idea of exposing students to alternative views of conventional
Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur described the Harris Ranch
pressure on Cal Poly to ANIMAL PEOPLE as, “The actions of an
industry that depends on keeping the public in the dark about the
abuses animals are forced to suffer behind closed doors. If Harris
Ranch is so interested in education,” Baur challenged, “they should
open their doors to visitors.”

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