HSUS CEO greeted with sea of aggie orange

Feb 1, 2013

The CEO of arguably the most controversial animal welfare group visited Colorado’s land grant college to promote his latest book and share his thoughts on animal welfare, but instead of a room full of like-minded vegetarians, the room was filled with agriculture supporters.

When Colorado State University (CSU) announced that Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), would be visiting the campus Jan. 30 to speak about current issues in animal welfare, the social media buzz started.

While some of the posts centered on past CSU graduates ending donations or pulling sponsorships, the main concern was balance. Why was Pacelle invited to speak on animal welfare, at a land grant college? Why wasn’t someone from the ag industry invited to speak, too?

According to CSU, “The University does not endorse one particular set of ideas on the issue of farm-animal welfare, but rather seeks to encourage a rigorous exchange of viewpoints and opinions in the name of education and improved decision-making.”

The presentation was sponsored by the CSU Department of Philosophy, and Pacelle was invited by Dr. Bernard Rollin, a University Distinguished Professor and, according to CSU, a world-renowned expert in animal ethics.

“As the head of the largest humane organization in the United States, Mr. Pacelle is the leading voice for animal welfare and has launched more than two dozen initiatives and referenda, including measures to phase out extreme confinement of farm animals on large operations,” said Rollin, in a CSU press release prior to the event.

“..the leading voice for animal welfare…” was another strong contention point on the social media blitz.

But all of the discussions led to a strong turn-out of ag students and supporters. Students standing at the doors handed out bright red flyers, sharing six key points of Colorado agriculture, including, “Cattle is Colorado’s largest ag commodity, with more than 12,000 beef producers.”

Pacelle’s speech was somewhat of a surprise to some attendees. “I thought Wayne’s message was a polar opposite from previous messages we’ve heard and what is on their website,” Kenny Rogers, Yuma, CO, rancher said.

Starting his speech off with, “there is some devoted people of animal welfare here and some devoted people of agriculture here,” Pacelle set the stage for “us” against “them” but seemed to steer clear of that for the remaining hour he spoke. Instead, his focus centered around working together.

“The debate is not about whether or not animals should be raised as food,” Pacelle said.

Another apparent shift in Pacelle’s speech was on the animal rights topic. “We believe that animals matter. It is not a matter of animal rights,” he said.

The Wyoming Premium Farms video surveillance that HSUS took at a pork farm was part of Pacelle’s discussion, but used primarily as a promotional point for the organization. According to media reports, the undercover HSUS member, posing as an employee, worked at the farm for 27 days. HSUS has been in hot water over the length of time it takes them to report alleged abuse, and also for the questionable tactics used to obtain videos, prompting some states to enact laws forcing a more timely report and banning undercover operations. Pacelle did not discuss either of these points during his CSU visit.

Pacelle showed an undercover video of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer abusing a horse in order to accentuate their well-known high step. The practice, known as “soring,” involves using acidic chemicals on the horses’ ankles and hooves as a way to force them to lift their legs higher. Soring has been illegal under the federal Horse Protection Act since 1970. According to media reports, the video was shot over a seven-week period, by an undercover HSUS member.

After the video came out, Marty Irby, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ And Exhibitors’ Association, released a statement saying the group continues to work to ensure all Tennessee Walking Horses are cared for properly.

“The walking horse holds an inherent natural gait that has been in existence for nearly 100 years,” Irby said. “(The association) adopted a zero tolerance policy in regards to soring a number of years ago and has recently challenged every member to adopt a zero-tolerance policy themselves.”

Pacelle also showed a video with several Colorado producers from the HSUS Agriculture Council for Colorado, including Brad Buchanan, owner of Flying B Bar Ranch in Strasburg, CO, Tom Parks, DVM, from Yuma County, CO, and Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct, Callicrate Banders, and Callicrate Cattle Company. The video, far from undercover, paints the picture-perfect setting for happy farm animals and is an HSUS promotion. Pacelle did not mention this in his speech.

With a room more than half full of ag representatives, it was no surprise that the question and answer session was controlled, despite a CSU statement.

“Members of the agricultural community are welcome to attend the presentation on Jan. 30 to ask questions, to share their viewpoints, and to participate…” Rollin read a few questions that were submitted prior to the presentation, and sheets of paper were handed out at the end for anyone wanting to submit a question.

The first question asked was about the growing population, and how would HSUS’ practices provide for the need? According to Pacelle, “Animal agriculture is quiet inefficient.” While he contended that we would probably not ever return to the 1940’s ways of agriculture, the use of grains to feed animals was creating the inefficiency.

Another question was asked about the ban on horse slaughter, and Pacelle was quick to point out that there is no ban on horse slaughter. The person who asked the question did not get a chance to clarify the question. Pacelle discussed owner responsibility and pointed out that the same number of horses are being slaughtered today as when the U.S. had horse slaughter plants open.

Pacelle discussed four key areas of HSUS early in his speech: public policy, corporate work, public awareness, and direct animal care. Rollin read a question relating to HSUS funds, and which area received the most money. According to Pacelle, the majority of HSUS funds go to direct animal care, with public policy a close second.

But according to some agriculture advocates, the lump sum of their budget is dedicated to misleading advertising with deliberate emphasis on hurt and struggling animals. These television ads are what some believe generate a large portion of the fundraising and support for HSUS, and that the ads are misleading and do not portray a clear image of HSUS.

According to the Humane Society for Pets, not affiliated with HSUS, based on a nationally-representative poll of local animal shelters, humane societies, and rescues:

• Nearly 80 percent of animal shelters are “frustrated that the Humane Society of the United States shares so little with local animal shelters.”

• Seventy-one percent of shelters believe “HSUS misleads people into thinking it is associated with local animal shelters.”

• More than 80 percent of shelters think HSUS makes it harder for local shelters to raise money. • And 93 percent of shelters say there is a lot of confusion regarding HSUS’ support of local shelters. Similarly, 93 percent of shelters believe “HSUS should be more explicit in its fundraising materials that it isn’t affiliated with local humane societies or pet shelters.”

• On average, shelters believe that HSUS should give 36 percent of its budget to local groups. In reality, it gives less than 1 percent of its budget to local pet shelters.

The survey was conducted Nov. 8-9, 2011. It included 400 animal shelters, humane societies, rescues, or other organizations dedicated to finding adoptive homes for pets (margin of error /-4.8 percent).

After each question Pacelle answered, at least one attendee would bring another to Rollin to be read.

With a growing stack of questions unread, Rollin called time on the speech after just a few were answered.

With no balance to the one-sided speech, Pacelle’s HSUS pitch was enough to make some attendees, long since educated on the organization’s typical anti-ag tactics, joke about joining.

“He barely mentioned confined animal feeding except to say it was an inefficient way of utilizing feed grains. He really painted themselves as shiny knights saving the poor baby seals and stopping cock and dog fighting. Heck, even I was ready to join up,” Rogers said.

The old adage, “a leopard cannot change its spots,” may very well be the underlying perspective from many of the attendees. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor