Ag vs. HSUS: The Rural Battlefield

The war between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and certain agriculture and hunting groups has grown so intense that the conflict now includes a comic book about Ellen DeGeneres.

There’s a company, you see, that is publishing a series of comics — “Female Force” — telling the stories of famous women, such as Sarah Palin and Barbara Walters. DeGeneres is famous, being, after all, a judge for American Idol. So Bluewater Productions produced a comic book about her. DeGeneres asked that any proceeds from the book go, in part, to HSUS.

“The move has outraged pro-hunting supporters in the US Sportsmen’s Alliance who oppose the HSUS campaigns to ban hunting and to seek the regulation of dog breeders,” reported David Bentley. The hunters said the HSUS hurts farmers and sportsmen and demanded the comic be withdrawn. 

No issue is too small in what has become an all-consuming battle between HSUS and its opponents, most of whom are in rural America.

Consider, for example, the 4-H dust-up from just last month. At the National 4-H Conference in late March, there was a session titled “Animal Instincts: Service Learning and Animal Welfare.” Susan Crowell, writing in Farm and Dairy, continues:

“Now the name of the March 23 break-out session doesn’t sound too unusual, but the presenting organization sure was — the Humane Society of the United States. Hmmm. An anti-animal agriculture, vegan-promoting lobbying organization is presenting information to our brightest youth? What were organizers thinking? That’s what a lot of folks would like to know.”

The Kansas 4-Hers issued a statement saying they disagreed with the HSUS. And Iowa Rep. Steve King wrote a column about the incident, describing the HSUS an organization “run by vegetarians with an extreme anti-meat agenda.”

Animal rights has now become an all-consuming issue. At a meeting of rural legislators earlier this year, animal rights “activists” were a prime topic of concern. Legislators compared notes about how to stem the flood of ballots initiatives aimed at regulating livestock and they heard from a university professor who said that agriculture was the “greatest target of terrorist activity in the country.” 

Some farmers are responding. South Dakota rancher Troy Hadrick posted an anti-Humane Society talk on YouTube, filmed in one of his cattle pens, that became something of a sensation. (See below.) Hadrick was protesting a promise by the Yellow Tail wine company to give the Humane Society $300,000. After Hadrick’s YouTube started getting some good play, Yellow Tail turned tail and cancelled the remaining portion of the grant.

At the center of everyone’s concern is the Humane Society of the United States. And, thank you Rep. King, but the HSUS is not run by a vegetarian, but by a vegan, Wayne Pacelle, who took over as chief executive of the organization in 2004, after spending ten years as the HSUS’s head lobbyist and spokesman. 

The Humane Society’s Wayne Pacelle.

Pacelle has led a very effective effort at changing the way livestock is raised in this country. His strategy hasn’t been to try to force new laws or regulations through Congress. Pacelle has worked state by state. The most famous HSUS success was the passage of Proposition 2 in California in 2008, which set new standards for animals raised in confinement. But according to the HSUS website, the group has won more than 25 statewide ballot initiatives since 1990, from banning mourning dove hunting in Michigan to the prohibition of veal crates in Arizona.

The best story about the rise of the HSUS and its conflict with some in the agriculture community was written by Kristen Hinman, a staff writer for Riverfront Times, the alt-publication in St. Louis. 

The logo of the Humane Society of the United States.
The logo of HumaneWatch, the HSUS’s arch-enemy.

Hinman describes how Pacelle and HSUS moved from state to state, asking voters to ban certain practices of confined animal livestock raising. The first factory farming initiative passed in Florida eight years ago, and that success has been followed in six other states. In each, Pacelle says, he asks voters if they believe “animals built to move should be allowed to move.”

Often, campaigns begin with videos taken undercover at livestock raising operations or slaughterhouses. The California campaign was shaped by video of “downer” cattle being forced into the kill line with prods, chains and forklifts. They also come with money — $12 million, reportedly, for a Colorado referendum — and polling.

HSUS’s success has spawned opposition. The food and restaurant industries have paid for the Center for Consumer Freedom, which launched HumaneWatch.org in late 2008, a web site that really began cranking early this year. HumaneWatch has paid for full-page ads in some of the nation’s biggest newspaper. Its favorite argument is that HSUS uses only one percent of its funds to shelter homeless animals. HumaneWatch’s David Martosko now travels about giving anti-HSUS speeches as the battle between commodity groups and the Humane Society intensifies.

Pacelle doesn’t think much of Martosko and HumaneWatch. “”We are an organization with 11 million supporters, and David Martosko gets his money from a handful of animal-abuse companies, and he won’t disclose who they are,” Pacelle told Hinman. “His group has not cared for one animal, sheltered one homeless person or provided a cure for one disease. They are an entity that works to subvert the work of organizations trying to benefit a civil society. He’s a paid gun.”

HumaneWatch has been running full page ads, such as this one, in national newspapers.

The struggles continue. The Humane Society is trying to get an initiative on the ballot in Missouri that would regulate “puppy mills.” HSUS has also taken on the egg producers, starting with a video of chicken coops in Iowa. HSUS wants
eggs produced by cage-free hens. Wal-Mart, Subway, Burger King, Wendy’s and Trader Joe’s already purchase cage-free eggs. McDonald’s board of directors has recommended that shareholders vote against a proposal that five percent of its egg purchases be cage-free. 

What? The board of directors of McDonald’s is voting on which eggs go into the McMuffin? That shows, as much as anything, the power of the movement HSUS has started.

HSUS’s tactics, however, are aimed at dividing people, says Tim Gibbons, communications director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. “They’re causing the industry to say, ‘You’re either for us, or you’re for the Humane Society.’ And that’s not the truth,” Gibbons told Hinman. And the trouble is that this division is forcing small farmers to choose between big agricultural interests and the Humane Society — when neither has the best interest of the small producer at heart.

“You don’t have to be either/or,” Gibbons continued. “There is another position out there, and that’s having independent family farmers raising livestock ethically on open, competitive markets. It’s good for a state, and for farmers, and our national security, and for a whole multitude of reasons it’s good for the economy.”

 

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