AgriTalk interview with Host Mike Adams, June 30th, 2009
featuring Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO
Humane Society of the
(listen to the podcast here)
Mike Adams – We have had a lot questions about where you come down on animal rights and welfare. The livestock industry and people I know believe in the humane treatment of animals. There is a difference between animal welfare and animal rights. How do you define the two? Are they same or different?
Wayne Pacelle – We at the Humane Society of the
I get distressed when I read so much of the ag trade press and when I heard spokespersons from the Farm Bureau caricature the positions of me or the HSUS. It’s easy to knock down a straw man if you make that straw man look like a nut. If you look at the actual things we do, and I do insist that people look at them, and we’re transparent, you can go to www.HSUS.org and my blog where I write 5 days a week and see what we campaign and talk about. We are focused on matters of decency and mercy toward animals. We’ll have some disagreements depending on what your orientation is, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably claim that our work is moving in the direction of eliminating animal agriculture as some of the folks in the industry keep repeating.
Pacelle: Yes, that is correct.
Adams: Some would say if you are out there working to get things passed like Prop 2 in
Pacelle: No. We have to drop the paranoia and look at the situation in another way. It is my core belief that Americans are going to continue to eat meat, milk and egg products. That is the way it is. These are long-standing cultural practices. Our diet has been at work for a long time with people and it will not change certainly not overnight and it’s not going to change over a decade or 50 years. We do think there are issues with the current state of production and the per capita consumption of animal products. We’ve said many times that our view with the effects of concentrated animal feeding operations on the environment, with the contribution that livestock concentration makes to greenhouse gas emissions there are sensible, practical, compelling reasons to have people think about eating a little less, whether that’s one day a week or one fewer meal a week where people reduce their consumption. HSUS has associated itself with those ideas but I don’t think in any kind of practical way one can say we are trying to eliminate animal agriculture.
Pacelle: It’s not correct, actually. The most I ever talk about veganism is when I talk to the ag community or hunting lobby or someone who is trying to diminish or poke a hole in our work. If you listen to me talking about Prop 2 or any campaign whether it’s clubbing seals or combating dog fighting, I never bring it up. My personal dietary choices are my choices, but the folks within industry bring it up and I rarely do. Our board of directors is a national volunteer board of directors. Very few of them are vegetarian. I have been since I’ve been a teenager. Whatever I do in my personal life does not necessarily reflect the policies of HSUS and we support certified humane programs, we support other farmers, we work with farmers, we think farming is a noble profession.
I think it’s most important to recognize that we all need to eat and consume food. None of us suggest we want to go back to a hunting and gathering strategy. Modern agriculture is here to stay and it’s really about how it’s done. Putting animals and animal welfare into the calculation. Agriculture in my view got lost when it came to animal welfare. It was all about production and it was all about economics. Animal welfare got lost. You can talk about husbandry standards, you can talk about how you are not going to be productive if animals are not treated well, but we know that welfare and production are not tied closely. We know animals can suffer a great deal and still be productive. The basic views we espouse on confinement issues where veal calves or breeding sows or laying hens are in such small cages they can barely turn around, stand up, lie down, engage in the most basic behaviors is a view that agriculture represents that is out of step with common notions of what agriculture is about.
You can pillory HSUS, exaggerate what we are about, but at the end of the day the public is not going to make its decisions about these matters on what agriculture groups or HSUS says. They are going to look at what the ballot question and the legislative proposal offers. If we say animals should be humanely slaughtered, they shouldn’t be dragged if they are downers or moved with a forklift, or we say animals should be allowed to move if they are living for a year, two years or three years and not be crammed into a cage, I think the public will go with our view because that is the common sense view of the world. You can have an echo chamber within the world of industrial agriculture or confinement agriculture and people will say they are just a bunch of vegans and vegetarians that want to end our way of life. That is not the debate. The debate is about confinement systems, humane transport and humane slaughter.
Pacelle: We don’t’ have a cafeteria. People bring their lunch or go out. We don’t’ have a food service line.
Pacelle: Let me mention that it’s not just
We’re willing to sit down. We never really just present things as take it or leave it. A ballot initiative is a last resort after legislatures fail to act and after state ag departments fail to act and after leaders of agriculture groups fail to act. We prefer not to resort to initiatives. They are costly, they are divisive and we always prefer another route. We won’t just completely relent and allow what we regard as a dangerous and inhumane situation to proceed.
Pacelle: That is the caricature that is the kind of one way writing of the situation, but if you look at the reality, we did three ballot initiatives after discussions and talks failed and we reached an accommodation in several other states. I sat around with leaders of the agriculture community in
Our preferred measure would be very quick turnaround on these confinement methods. We completely left one issue aside and we extended the time frame on the big issue because there is a lot of pig production in
Adams: When a group of veterinarians, if they would say this particular production practice, whatever it may be, stalls or confinement or whatever, if they say they think the animals are being humanely cared for in that type of system and you feel they are not, what makes your group more of an authority to say you are right, our (HSUS) changes that we are proposing have to be implemented and they are wrong in saying the system being used is a good one? What gives you that authority?
Pacelle: There is no authority; it’s just we live in a representative democracy. We do have direct democracy in some states provided by the state constitution to allow for public policy decisions-making. Science is a big part of it. Let’s be clear that all of the science doesn’t rest on one side. You can have scientists who work for industry -- it doesn’t have to be animal agriculture, it could be any industry -- if scientists who work for the tobacco industry for years said smoking doesn’t cause problems to one’s health you also had scientists on the other side. You can find a scientist on any side of almost any debate.
The question is where is the preponderance of the science? Where is the careful work of the scientists? Science really doesn’t give us ultimate answers. It gives us options and it’s an evaluative tool to look at these questions. There are all sorts of science on our side. A lot of the science in
Adams: Let’s move to the state of
Pacelle: Because one has to understand the genesis of the idea in order to see it in its proper context. I went to
We were kindly treated at the meeting where we talked and the folks listened and we were told that they were going to get back to us but we didn’t hear anything back from them. It was all monologue on our side. They proceeded to essentially develop a campaign and to push this constitutional amendment to amend
Pacelle: Well yes that’s true, but again it’s designed to prevent this initiative from taking effect. It’s clearly a blocking maneuver. I really don’t think that it changes the equation at all. You have the same people kind of making decisions now in the realm of agriculture with no checks on intensive confinement and no reasonable humane transport or slaughter standards. You essentially have the same people controlling it. You could have minority representation of a local humane society which truly may have no familiarity with agriculture. Say what you want about HSUS but we have professional animal scientists, we have a good amount of experience with the agriculture issues. We have two departments devoted to that issue.
Pacelle: What kind of research?
Pacelle: Well yes we do but you have to remember that we work on all issues of kind of human animal relationships whether it’s companion animals or horses or animals used in laboratories or animals in agriculture or other settings. We’re not a research-oriented organization. That is not what we do. We don’t fund research. We don’t fund every local humane society.
Adams: Do you have plans for a ballot initiative in
Pacelle: We’re committed to stopping the intensive confinement of animals. Veal crates, gestation crates, battery cages. We’ll continue to work on that on all fronts.
Pacelle: We’re looking at various places.
Pacelle: I know a lot of folks in the agriculture community, the more large scale agriculture community that would love us not to look at slaughter and transport and production practices and put all of our money into animal shelters. The fact is there are 10 billion animals raised for food in this country and 7-8 million who go into shelters. We put a lot of energy on that. We are working aggressively to address that problem. We are rolling out a major national advertising campaign, the shelter pet project, in mid-July. We provide a lot of support to animal shelters. We actually run five animal care centers. We have an emergency services unit, we have a rural veterinary services unit. There is no organization in the nation that does more direct care services for animals than HSUS. None. Not one.
This notion that we don’t care for animals directly is completely false. But at the same time we don’t just address the symptoms of the problem. We look where there are large numbers of animals used in society and we focus on what we regard to be as the most abusive treatment of the animals. That leads us to these inhumane slaughter practices, confinement practices and the like. So that is why we focus on it. I know some of your listeners would love for us to give all of our money to shelters so they could have a free-running field to do whatever they want to animals in agriculture but we’re not going to
Pacelle: It depends on how you define animal shelters. We run the largest trade show in the nation that services animal shelters. We publish the magazine of the field called Animal Sheltering, we do shelter evaluations, we give millions of dollars in grants, but when there is a puppy mill in Washington State or a dog fighting operation in Colorado, and the shelters can’t handle that, we typically do the investigations, find out where the problem is and then send our emergency services unit in that helps shelters. The Shelter Pet Project alone – which is a national advertising campaign to drive adoptions to shelters – is expected to be $40-80 million a year worth of advertising value. You can’t quantify the work that we do, but again if people want us to spend all of our hard dollars on animal shelters, they can support their local humane society. We think that is fabulous and we support the shelters and we hope all of your listeners support their local animal shelter, but we have other issues we want to work on.
Dogs and cats are less than 1% of the animals in society. There are horses, there are farm animals, animals used in research, wild animals. We have program that address all of those issues. That’s what the founders of the organization imagined the organization doing when it was created in the 1950s. It’s how every CEO of the organization has imagined the work. It’s how our entire 27-member national volunteer board of directions imagines the work of the organization. We’re totally transparent in our work.
Adams: If you find an operation, whether it a livestock operation or a puppy mill or whatever, to be in violation of animal welfare regulations, if they are in the wrong, do you immediately put hat word out or is there a lag time there? Are you waiting for the most publicity you can get out of it? If you know about things that are wrong, why aren’t you right now saying this is wrong, something has to be done? Why is there a lag time on these things?
Pacelle: I’m preaching from the top of the mountain that there is something going wrong. That’s why we are concerned about inherently inhumane systems that deny an animal the opportunity to move or stand up. If you are talking about the Hallmark/Westland case where it was HSUS that documented terrible abuse, where USDA had five inspectors and was allowing terrible abuse to go on, where there were 17 third-party audits hired by the slaughter plant and they basically got A+ ratings, we did not have confidence at that point that USDA would handle the situation appropriately.
Pacelle: No, we went’ to the local prosecutor in
Pacelle: I didn’t say that.
Pacelle: Stuff kicks around the Internet and they have been quoting stuff since the 1980s and 1990s. I have been with the organization since 1994. There has been so much fabrication out there.
Pacelle: The HSUS position on hunting is on our website for anyone to see. We say and I’ve said this time and time again, we focus on the worst abuses. Canned hunts, bear baiting, contest shoots, shooting of endangered species, pure trophy hunting. If you look at any of our campaigns, that is what we focus on.
Pacelle: Zoos, absolutely not. We work with many reputable zoos. We work with the accredited zoos on some programs and you can see from our website and our other campaigns that we have no campaigns to shut down zoos. That is a completely false characterization. The unregulated roadside zoos which confine animals and acquire them in disreputable ways and starve them are very much in our focus.
In terms of wild animals in circuses, we do not think that wild animals belong in circuses. Elephants traveling around to 50 or 75 or 150 cities a year in railroad cars being chained 22 hours a day constitutes inhumane treatment of these very intelligent, sociable animals. Yes, we are very concerned about terrible mistreatment of wild animals by the circus.