HSUS' Pacelle seeks Tyson board seat

Oct 5, 2012

In another PR move, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is gaining media attention with an attempt to infiltrate one of the largest meat companies in the U.S.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, announced last week that he has filed paperwork seeking election to the board of directors of Tyson Foods.

Pacelle’s plan as a board member is to get Tyson to commit to a definitive time frame to phase out gestation crates.

Well-known activist investor Carl Icahn has agreed to serve as an adviser in Pacelle’s efforts to join the board. According to the Wall Street Journal, Icahn is a billionaire investor with a reputation of engineering boardroom shakeups.

Icahn stated in the release: “When Wayne Pacelle reached out to me as a longtime supporter of The Humane Society to advise HSUS on the possibility of seeking a board position at Tyson, I told Wayne that given the existence of A/B (low vote/high vote) stock at Tyson, it would be extremely difficult to elect him as a director through a proxy fight. However, I firmly believe that the position of HSUS regarding gestation crates is the right one. Eliminating those crates will both prevent cruelty to animals, and will improve Tyson’s business prospects by putting the company on an equal competitive footing with the bulk of the industry that is already rejecting gestation crates. Further, in my experience, corporate governance and transparency at companies with A/B stock is often poor and those companies in particular benefit from the sunshine of shareholder examinations as permitted under Section 220 of Delaware’s corporate laws, which may be useful in this situation and which HSUS intends to seek.”

HSUS has, for the last two years, owned a modest amount of stock in Tyson Foods and regularly urged the company to revamp its policies, the HSUS release stated.

“It’s certainly unusual for a lifelong animal advocate to run for the board of the second-biggest meat company in the world,” said Pacelle, in a press release. “Nonetheless, it is imperative that a voice on Tyson’s board speak for the company’s many customers, partners, and investors who are demanding the end of gestation crates and more humane treatment of animals.”

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company is committed to humane animal treatment and expects the same from all of their producers, whether it is chickens, hogs or cattle.

“We’re not surprised Wayne Pacelle wants to sit on our board,” Mickelson said in a statement.

Mickelson said the company is handling its nomination process according to the law and the company’s bylaws.

HSUS has successfully convinced several food companies—including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sysco, ARAMARK, Sodexo, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, ConAgra Foods, Oscar Mayer, Hillshire Brands—to buy only pork purchased from producers who use gestation crates, despite the science behind the crates.

Smithfield Foods agreed to a 2017 timeframe to complete its transition to group housing systems for its company-owned facilities. Hormel Foods also announced the same policy, and Cargill has been at least 50 percent gestation crate-free for five years now, according to the HSUS release.

In addition to the Tyson board attempt, HSUS has been busy planning its next timely lawsuit, this one against the National Pork Board, claiming the group “struck an unlawful backroom deal with the National Pork Producers Council [NPPC] for the purchase of the iconic ‘Pork: The Other White Meat’ slogan.”

The slogan was introduced in 1987, and National Pork Board purchased the slogan from NPPC in 2006; the lawsuit was filed Sept. 24, 2012.

According to HSUS’ press release, “The deal allows $60 million in pork producers’ money collected for marketing and promotion purposes to be diverted into industry lobbying efforts aimed at harming animal welfare and small farmers.”

Similar to other HSUS lawsuits, the group has garnered strong support from one producer, but this one also happens to be the director of rural development and outreach at HSUS.

“While we can’t force NPPC to care about animals or family farmers, through this lawsuit we can work to stop our money from being unlawfully funneled straight to its lobbyists who work against us,” said HSUS’ Joe Maxwell, also a Missouri pig farmer.

The group is asking the court to cancel the purchase. According to HSUS’ press release, the complaint does not challenge the constitutionality of the checkoff program but alleges a gross misuse of a massive amount of federally-compelled checkoff payments funneled into lobbying purposes.

NPPC CEO Neil Dierks commented on HSUS’ latest “bullying tactic.” Dierks said there appears to be no legal merit to the claim.

“What does merit concern, however, is the fact that HSUS preys on the emotions of domestic pet owners with deceptive advertising and fundraising. It raises money on images of abused puppies without homes, yet virtually none of those funds go to local shelters. Instead, those dollars go toward multimillion dollar campaigns to attack family farmers and American meat production,” Dierks said.

Dierks pointed out that this latest tact is another attempt to force NPPC to abandon its position on allowing farmers to choose the best production practice for the welfare of their animals.

“Over the past few months, HSUS has threatened NPPC with a Federal Trade Commission complaint; filed notice of its intent to sue a number of hog operations over alleged emissions reporting violations; and charged that NPPC was responsible for the deaths of hogs in barn fires because the organization asked to give input on national fire standards for agricultural facilities. All of the allegations lack merit,” Dierks added. — Traci Eatherton,WLJ Editor