HSUS board of directors emphasizes media, law

Jun 1, 2012

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been in the news lately for its videos. But some less-publicized activities should raise some interested eyebrows. Recently announced additions to the HSUS board of directors include a marketing vice president of HBO and a beauty product CEO with a marketing background.

The new appointees have swelled the ranks of HSUS’ board members who hail from marketing, media and/ or law backgrounds. Such members make up over half of the board. Of the 27-member board of directors, there are two veterinarians.

There are no ranchers or farmers—or anyone with an obvious ag-related background—on HSUS’ board of directors based on its own board-member biographies.

Considering HSUS’ board of directors is “charged with the oversight of the organization,” the apparent emphasis on marketing and legal expertise is interesting. Since it purports to be an animalwelfare group, greater representation of those with hands-on authoritative knowledge of animals, such as veterinarians, would be expected.

One of the aforementioned veterinarians on the board, Dr. Michael Blackwell, has past association with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Despite this, his experience with livestock animals is unclear and he is currently the owner of a management consulting firm.

In an email exchange on the topic, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle responded in no uncertain terms to the question of “why the emphasis on marketing and media rather than veterinarians?” “I think this argument… reflects a profound misunderstanding of the way the organization runs and how vets are deeply involved throughout our organization. Our critics in agribusiness are not running one of the most complex, large, and diverse charities in the United States. I am, though, and I and our board leadership is keenly attentive to having the right blend of people in positions of volunteer leadership with the organization.”

Pacelle went on in great detail to describe the many ways and places in which veterinarians feature in HSUS’ structure. Among the numerous things he referenced was the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA)—an HSUS affiliate—of which 14 of the 15-member leadership board are veterinarians. He also pointed out how the group serves the animal care needs of rural communities in developing countries as well as in the U.S.

Despite the vet-heavy example, none of the leadership board members of HSVMA are dedicated large-animal vets and only one has experience working with farm animals, according to the member biographies. The outreach programs to rural communities in developing countries also has a distinctly companion animal focus, according to a press release on an upcoming event.

On the topic of the interesting composition of the HSUS board of directors, Pacelle cited diversity of backgrounds as essential.

“An organization like ours needs experts in veterinary medicine, finance, law, politics, marketing, ethics, campaigns, and so many other areas. That’s exactly what we have at the organization, and that’s why we are so successful.”

Pacelle closed with a challenge to groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and its pork and poultry counterparts, noting a lack of veterinarians in their ranks.

Beef Quality Assurance’s (BQA) senior director, Ryan Ruppert, countered this point, explaining that his program was founded by cattlemen and veterinarians. Though he did speak of the value of veterinarians in groups like his and NCBA and how they shape standards for welfare, he emphasized how the practical knowledge and experience of ranchers was just as important.

“Cattlemen have been working on humane handling for decades, if not centuries. And you can see that in history and today.”

Ruppert offered an example of a longstanding cattle drive where steers are regularly noted to gain weight during the drive. He explained that if the cattle were mistreated or stressed, they would not only not gain weight, they would lose it.

“And that means that we’re doing something right.”

He offered numerous other examples highlighting the animal welfare-conscious culture of American ranchers. Among them was an anecdote regarding range cowboys chiding others who were not following humane branding practices set forth by BQA then teaching their fellows the best way.

“It’s become the culture,” Ruppert said of the dedication to welfare issues at all levels of cattle operations, following his cowboy story.

Another of Ruppert’s examples was a piece of economic evidence for ranchers’ dedication to animal welfare.

“We spend hundreds of millions on safety and welfare. All of those Temple Grandin systems or the Bud Williams systems? Those cost a lot of money. … If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t spend that sort of money.”

Despite this historical and cultural dedication cattlemen have to animal welfare issues, groups such as HSUS continue to try to dictate best practices in spite of a distinct lack of agricultural background. Where cattlemen spend hundreds of millions of dollars on equipment and systems to improve the way they do things, HSUS operates on a similarly large annual budget with an eye to legislative activities.

The new HSUS board members are James Costos and Cathy Kangas. Costos is the current vice president of global licensing and retail consumer marketing for HBO. Kangas is currently the CEO of PRAI Beauty Group Inc. but started her career in brand management and marketing for Revlon. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor