Jan 29, 2010

Humane interests

Humane interests

The business of humanity doesn’t seem like it should be a business at all. But the Humane Society of the United States ( HSUS) has done just that, made it a business. HSUS has been a creative bunch when it comes to bending the public’s perception of agriculture. Last week, there were several announcements that HSUS purchased stock in several restaurant chains in order to influence their use of cage-free eggs and free-range hogs.

Sonic restaurants recently announced that they bought into those concepts and will offer those items to consumers. Of course, they will also use that as a marketing tool. HSUS has also bought stock in Domino’s Pizza, Steak and Shake restaurants, and Jack in the Box. Restaurant companies are already on the financial ropes and I would think that some may welcome an opportunity to have HSUS endorse them.

The ironic thing about HSUS is that they have, for the most part, built their organization on the empathy for dogs and cats and companion animals. HSUS actually has little to do with local humane societies that are doing the real work of animal care. HSUS is nothing more than a fund-raising, lobbying organization. They are a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation which allows them to lobby and campaign under the banner of social welfare. It’s a small twist in the tax code that allows them to be a nonprofit hardcore lobbying organization.

It was interesting to see their press release stating that they, along with affiliated organizations, were in Haiti just 10 days after the devastating earthquake taking care of dogs and cats wandering the streets and checking in on the animals at the local zoo. Were they really helping, or were they in the way of rescue efforts? It seems to me they saw the opportunity to gain some compassionate press and capitalize that into a fund-raising tool.

Last week, HSUS released their legislative report card on the House and Senate to show who is animal friendly and who is not. I’m also sure that they think if you’re not with them, you’re against them. But these guys are a real threat to animal agriculture and, as a result, society itself. They know every senator and representative’s position on horse slaughter, antibiotics, wild horses, climate change and many other policy issues, many of which shouldn’t be policy issues at all. They are all choices.

It’s fine if these restaurants want to offer cage-free eggs and free-range pork. But it must remain a choice for consumers, not a public policy, which is where HSUS is attempting to take things. I honestly feel that HSUS is one big lie. They focus their fund-raising efforts on the emotions of dog and cat owners and ask them to donate $20 a month to make folks feel good about themselves. Then they turn around and use the funds for lobbying when most think they are using it to care for wayward dogs and cats.

The way I see it, HSUS is threatening food production for everyone who doesn’t believe in their cause. Free-range chickens and hogs are fine for one segment of the food-consuming public, but it’s not fine for all the market. Is it fine for HSUS to mandate food production practices for animal agriculture? Is it okay to impose food inflation on society because of a belief in certain policy issues?

Wayne Pacelle, HSUS chief executive officer, was included in Supermarket News’ annual powerful 50 list of influential people in food marketing. Pacelle is one smart, creative person and is responsible for making HSUS the lobbing organization that it is today. This guy is a master at turning human emotion into cash. The problem is, he’s spending it to destroy animal agriculture.

HSUS is a dangerous organization, but it may also be a danger to itself with its far-reaching policy agenda. They can afford to be reckless; they have no investment to protect, or skin in the game. They have built their brand equity on the backs of local humane societies and are taking the credit for their good work and they're not giving back. Perhaps we need to shed a little light on how they are spending money that’s meant to care for stray pets. It’s downright dishonest. — PETE CROW