Smarter than the fox

Jan 25, 2013

On one of my last days at the National Western Stock Show, I had a great visit with a longtime friend and ag educator, Pat Stanko from Steamboat Springs, CO. We spent some time discussing the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and their latest attempts (some rather successful) to “infiltrate” the ag industry. Some of our producers and ag supporters appear to be going along with HSUS’ attempts, including Ag Secretary Vilsack who recently told attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation Conference in Nashville that ag needs to reach out to activist groups. Is that an “if we can’t beat them, join them” message?


Pat reminded me of the Fox and the Scorpion fable that is often used to explain the irrepressible behavior that causes people to act in a certain way, despite the consequences.

The origins of the fable are credited to Aesop, and have variations that include frogs, toads, turtles, snakes and people. I prefer the fox version. I have a phobia of talking frogs thanks to Kermit.

This particular version is about a scorpion that asks a fox to carry him across a river because he cannot swim. The fox is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the fox, the fox would sink and the scorpion would drown. The fox gives in, but midway across the river, the scorpion does indeed sting the fox, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains that it is simply its nature.

So can we ever reach a point of trust with groups such as HSUS, or will they always be the scorpion on our back? Reviewing past history of our relations with activist groups, along with their shady tactics, I have to lean towards the latter.

There are countless examples of these activist groups sending someone into a farm or ranch under false pretenses, finding possible abusive situations, and then waiting, sometimes months, before reporting it. They take hours of video, splice it down to a few minutes, and use it for propaganda, usually before they even turn it over to officials. In cases where no abuse occurred, the damage is already done with the media coverage.

New Hampshire has proposed a law that would require people who have filmed cruelty to livestock to give the footage to authorities within 24 hours. Apparently, HSUS and other animal rights groups are up in arms about this one. Why? By opposing it, aren’t they supporting animal abuse?

The answer is simple. They stand to lose the millions they make off of the videos. They use them for months, even years, to collect funds. “Instead of cruelty going on for weeks or months while activists ready a media barrage—excuse us, while they “investigate”—authorities will be notified almost immediately and will have discretion on how to proceed,” points out.

A few states have passed legislation that makes it illegal for these “covert operations” to continue, and a few more are looking at various legislative versions for 2013. HSUS has dubbed these types of legislation an “ag gag” and continues to fight them.

In 2007, an HSUS activist worked in the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company for approximately six weeks, obtaining video that, four months later, would run rampant through media outlets and create the largest meat recall in history.

According to testimony from HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, “HSUS conducted a thorough investigation that took several months, with our investigator undercover at the plant for six weeks during October and November 2007, and then the investigation continuing after he left the site as we analyzed documents and compiled further evidence.”

Until these activists groups really care about the health and welfare of animals, instead of their media presentation, they are not ag friendly.

Another gap that seems a bit too wide to bridge is the animal rights versus animal welfare. They believe that animals should have rights. “The Humane Society of the United States has long been in the forefront of advocating the recognition of rights of and for animals.” – printed on an HSUS fundraising mailer. With these rights, the animals should not be raised for human consumption.

Until animal activists give up their animal rights agenda, or until my dog speaks English, we should be very cautious of crossing a river with any of them. After all, we are smarter than a fox, right? — TRACI EATHERTON