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Leading the 'perfect life': HSUS Confidential

Emily Metz Meredith Published on 24 March 2014

“Our metric at [the Humane Society of the United States] is not whether you’re leading a perfect life and not eating animal products, but rather forward progress. Are you living consciously, and doing better – and that’s what most farmers would argue is their duty.”  —Wayne Pacelle, HSUS

Last week I attended an event hosted by the New America Foundation where speakers including Wayne Pacelle, Christopher Leonard (author of the new book "The Meat Racket"), members of HSUS’ new "agriculture councils" and others were speakers on the agenda.

No subject was off the table: From confinement to painful procedures, even the beef and pork Checkoffs. It was like a firing squad, and agriculture was guilty in the eyes of the panelists – and the audience – from the get-go.

For 25 minutes, I sat quietly in the audience listening to HSUS President Wayne Pacelle discuss HSUS’ new agriculture councils, their "goals" for the future of agriculture, and plead with the audience to recognize HSUS as a legitimate organization dedicated to "animal welfare."

"This whole notion that we at the HSUS shouldn’t be concerned about animal agriculture, or that society shouldn’t be concerned seems hard-headed, seems wrong-headed," quipped Pacelle. "I hope that everyone involved in agriculture remembers that animals are at the center of animal agriculture."

Wayne, as usual, came across cool, calm and collected. He delivered his points eloquently, competently and strategically – much like the most polished politician or seasoned lobbyist (of which, I would argue, he’s both).

Certainly, there’s no better way to get my dander up and blood pressure raging than to sit passively by as Pacelle smears our industry at an event filled with intellectuals and members of the press corps.

But while I wasn't surprised by what Pacelle had to say (after all, I’ve heard it many times before), I was surprised by the vitriol and disdain that the farmer panelists had for our industry.

There were two farmers, Sheila Nichols from Missouri and Mike Callicrate from Colorado who participated in the event, and both are members of HSUS’ newest "agriculture councils."

Both seemed like passionate, engaged farmers – the folks we would expect to be the most dedicated "agvocates" – and the exact opposite of the individuals I would expect to be persuaded to join in on HSUS' latest scheme.

In fact, the relationship between HSUS and farmers struck even the moderator as odd – so odd, in fact, that she asked Sheila and Mike if they felt that HSUS made for a "strange bedfellow."

To which Shelia responded, "The myth that keeps getting thrown at me is that HSUS wants to end all animal agriculture and turn everyone into vegans. I wear leather, I eat meat – so do many members of HSUS. You might not agree on everything – they’re great bedfellows."

Added Mike: "The fact is, if we don’t work together, we suffer. We all have a common interest: healthy soil, animals treated humanely. We need to work together. The only way we can address this power is with power and that’s people working together with common interests. Of course we don’t agree on everything."

Look, I’m a big believer in choice: consumer choice, producer choice, choice all around. As my grandmother would say, "mind your Ps and Qs," which I’ve modernly interpreted to mean: "you do you, and I’ll do me."

Mind your business and I’ll mind mine.

That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t think that partnering with an organization that so clearly misrepresents its true intentions – to end animal agriculture – is a huge mistake. Huge. Epic. Disastrous.

I’m not trying to be alarmist; in fact I hate the black helicopter conspiracy theories that sometimes circulate through our industry. But I do find it difficult to see how farmers and ranchers are persuaded to join forces with HSUS, especially in light of recent events.

Take, for example, HSUS' recent video targeting a Kentucky hog farm. This farm was already devastated, like much of the pork industry, by porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv.

PEDv is an illness that causes severe diarrhea, dehydration and a 100 percent death rate in piglets less than 4 weeks old. The undercover video began by showing multiple boxes overflowing with dead piglets, and then went on to show farm workers eviscerating the dead piglets. A voiceover then informs the viewer that the workers grind up the intestines into a “smoothie” to be fed to sows.

In the pork industry this process is known as “feedback.”

Currently, there is no vaccine for this relatively new virus that first appeared in the U.S. last year, after already being a serious problem in Asia and Europe. This virus attacks with equal fury in both small hog farms and in large operations.

The process of "feedback" is meant to help immunize pregnant sows through exposure – an immunity that will hopefully be passed on to her next litter. The pork industry has already spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate this virus – and has plans to invest much more to find a cure.

And what has HSUS done?

They’ve sent an employee onto a farm, someone who fraudulently represented himself/herself to the farm owner or manager in order to get hired and then took video – not of abuse or neglect – but of a practice that HSUS knew would bring the "yuck factor."

A process that would likely disgust consumers and make them think twice about purchasing that pork loin or sausage at the grocery store. Which of course, fits in perfectly with their well established "humane eating" motto, or what they call the "Three R’s," which are “reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods; refining the diet by avoiding products from the worst/certain types of production systems (e.g., switching to cage-free eggs); and replacing meat and other animal-based foods in the diet with plant-based foods.”

So while the pork industry and pork producers are working diligently to find a cure for this virus, protect their animals and prevent them any undue or unnecessary suffering, HSUS was making videos, fundraising  and trying to turn consumers off meat, milk, eggs and bacon.   

Let’s not forget their complete disregard for potentially spreading this devastating virus to other farms that their “undercover” employee is likely seeking to get hired by.

Sounds like a perfect bedfellow, right?

I try to be open minded. But I just don’t get it.

Sheila, the farmer panelist, herself is a hog farmer. How then can she support an organization that systematically and strategically tries to decimate her own industry? To curb the market for her products?

I understand if you’re a farmer and you believe that practice XYZ isn’t feasible or sustainable for you any longer. I understand if you want to raise your sows in pens instead of stalls. I understand if you want to raise organic, or without antibiotics – I think that’s all great. In fact I firmly believe that providing consumers with an abundance of options will ensure our entire industry’s success for the future.

If HSUS truly cared about animal welfare, then why wouldn’t they be commending the pork industry for trying anything and everything to stem the spread of a deadly virus affecting baby pigs?

Moreover, why wouldn’t they – an organization that rakes in more than $100 million dollars in annual donations – put their money where their mouth is? I don’t see HSUS or any other animal rights organizations who joined in on the PEDv “party” putting their donations towards research on PEDv or any other issue affecting animal agriculture.

Instead, I see them investing those resources in smear campaigns, undercover videos, lobbying efforts and lawsuits, like the most recent one against the state of Idaho and its recently enacted Farm Protection Legislation.

Oh, and did I mention that HSUS just secured another $1.5 million windfall thanks to Ellen DeGeneres and her infamous Oscar Sunday “selfie” taken with her Samsung phone? True story.

Saying that HSUS and farmers make odd bedfellows is in my mind, putting it mildly.

HSUS has never been, and never will be, concerned about animal welfare. What they are concerned with is the three R’s – the first of which is reducing the consumption of meat, milk and eggs.

While they can message it up and down by saying things like if we “reduce our meat consumption, we’ll value meat more which will benefit the animals and the farmers,” the truth is still just that, true.

And the truth is that their ultimate goal is to say buh-bye to animal agriculture.

Sheila and Mike may disagree with how their neighbor down the way farms, but what unites them – that they are both farmers who produce food for our growing population – very clearly divides them from the likes of HSUS, a group that has never lifted a finger in the name of animal agriculture. HSUS has never milked a cow, risen at the crack of dawn to check the temperature in a poultry barn, or euthanized sick piglets from a deadly virus.

Maybe Sheila and Mike will recognize that there are other forums to air their grievances – and that we can do so much more as an industry by standing united, rather than partnering with organizations that only seek to divide us.

But more than that, I hope, for Sheila and Mike’s sake, that HSUS isn’t successful in its relentless campaign against conventional agriculture. Because if they are – they’re coming after you next.

Make no mistake about it. end mark

Emily Meredith

Emily Metz Meredith
Communications Director
Animal Agriculture Alliance