Who’s against promoting animal welfare? No one. Who’s opposed to “reforming” livestock production? Nobody. Who’s capitalizing on those obvious platitudes? Take a wild guess.
I have mixed feelings about the Humane Society of the United States.
The organization’s politics are as ill-advised and misguided as it gets, but it’s impossible not to acknowledge the impact of its positioning, its political clout and, God knows, its fundraising success.
Think back 10, 20 years ago. Food safety problems, labor-management strife and export trade conflicts were all on industry’s front burner. With the exception of a small but vocal protest movement over the confinement of veal calves, there was little leverage being applied to such issues as cage-free eggs, gestation crates or the sale of horsemeat.
All of those issues were kept alive by fringe group activists burning with zeal over the alleged abuses they perceived. But far more of the protesting, lobbying and activism was centered on demonizing the health impact of eating meat, or convincing the public that the very idea of animal agriculture was somehow immoral and unnecessary.
Until HSUS ramped up its efforts to pressure foodservice operators and grocery retailers to demand that suppliers provide animal foods produced without antibiotics or gestation stalls and battery cages. Among the companies that caved were a who’s who that included McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Starbucks, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Sodexo, Aramark and Unilever. The strategy of promoting “reform,” rather than an all-or-nothing rejection of conventional livestock production and meat processing, was cleverly conceived and smartly executed.
At the end of the day, who’s against reform — of any kind? The very word itself connotes positive, progressive change that’s good for everyone.
As a result of that positioning, as our friends at Humane Watch pointed out, a majority of the public now believe that HSUS is “a moderate group focused on animal welfare, something HSUS is all too happy to have people believe.”
Anyone who earns a living in animal agriculture knows better, but the other 98% of Americans who aren’t farmers, ranchers or feeders have swallowed that imagined branding wholesale.
Buying into the activist line
Last week, the National Institutes of Health announced an official end to the use of chimpanzees for biomedical research. NIH Director Francis Collins said that 50 chimpanzees held by the agency would be sent to sanctuaries.
“It is time to acknowledge that there is no further justification for the 50 chimpanzees to continue to be kept available for invasive biomedical research,” Collins wrote in an email to NIH administrators, according to The Washington Post. “Americans have benefited greatly from the chimpanzees’ service to biomedical research,” he said, “but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary.”
OMG. That is exactly the line that HSUS, along with PETA and primate protection groups such as The Jane Goodall Institute, have been touting to justify an end to all animal research. It’s not scientifically valid, but it’s the out that Collins chose to justify his agency’s decision.
This was the result of constant pressure tactics funded by HSUS — make no mistake.
In the aftermath of the NIH decision, CEO Wayne Pacelle’s wrote on his “A Humane Nation” blog, “It’s rare to close out a category of animal use so emphatically. That’s exactly what’s happening here, and it’s thrilling.”
By the way, on the same blog site you can read Pacelle’s pre-Thanksgiving post titled, “Undeterred, Unbowed in Seeking Reform for All Animals.” There’s that R-word again.
As Humane Watch noted, Pacelle wasn’t writing about ending animal abuse, he was crowing about ending animal use.
“To Pacelle and likeminded people, the use of animals is abuse, whether it’s using a dairy cow to make butter, fishing for trout, or housing an animal at a zoo,” the group noted.
Up for debate is whether federally funded chimpanzee research might have come up with an effective antidote for the Ebola plague that has decimated Africa’s population of wild gorillas and chimps. We’re still a ways away from creating a vaccine for humans exposed to Ebola, but without continued live animal experimentation, there’s little chance of reversing what has been a devastating epidemic for both people and animals.
No longer debatable, however, is the reality that HSUS is firmly and forcefully engaged in nothing other than promoting the fantasy that an all-vegan, animal-free society is not only practical but essential to human and ecological health.
The pushback from everyone who understands the absurdity of that stance has to be as unrelenting as HSUS’s campaigning itself.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.