While fights with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) continue, the responses of the egg vs. the pork industry provide guidance as to how animal agriculture should deal with these activists.
On the one hand, the egg industry faced hardship after its losing ballot strategy in California (that is a story for another day). During that campaign, HSUS filed complaints with the federal government against a number of major producers alleging price-fixing based on ironic evidence: industry attempts to improve animal welfare by giving hens more space. This HSUS complaint to the FTC triggered egg buyers filing antitrust lawsuits against producers, which led to one company agreeing to a $28 million settlement. Others are expected to follow.
The egg industry subsequently felt financially insecure and doubted its ability to win a ballot measure. Instead they sought economic security by partnering with versus fighting HSUS by supporting federal egg regulations. But it has achieved the exact opposite. Not only has the egg bill floundered in Congress, but California producers are faced with uncertainty on required cage sizes as the drama drags out and the law’s 2015 deadline approaches.
HSUS hasn’t just been unhelpful in defining the law’s cage space requirements—HSUS has refused to indicate what specifically they believe the vague law means. They have been working to undercut egg farmers behind the scenes. HSUS has been applauding retailers who buy “cage-free” eggs, despite the larger-cage California rule and the federal egg bill they have bludgeoned the producers into supporting! HSUS has also been covertly investing donor money in the egg-replacement company Hampton Creek Foods that seeks to make eggs obsolete. If there is a pony in that pile I have yet to see it.
On the other hand, the pork industry also faced hardship. HSUS was successful in banning individual maternity pen sow housing in several states. It went to restaurants and retailers and got some to make pledges to phase out individual maternity pens from their supply chains. HSUS filed legal threats and SEC complaints against producers.
The pork industry faced an HSUS playbook similar to the one that worked on the egg industry: Beat them into submission. Except the pork industry chose not to submit and to stick by its guns. This strategy has achieved success.
The pork industry started an education campaign over the past 12 months to not only make the consumer more knowledgeable about modern practices, but also to educate retailers and legislators. Pork farmers have determined that consumers trust farmers and veterinarians far more than animal rights zealots to make animal welfare decisions.
This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but it does take intestinal fortitude and commitment. And the outcome has thus far been starkly different for pork than for eggs. This year, HSUS-backed bills in low-pork-production states in the liberal Northeast have failed. The pledges by retailers and restaurants have slowed dramatically. Many retail companies have issued weasel-worded statements on switching suppliers that they can easily reverse in the future. The vast majority of restaurants and retailers, in fact, have made no statement on the issue of sow housing.
With the HSUS campaign stalling, animal rights activists have gotten more desperate and have inadvertently shown their cards. While HSUS says that it is only focused on maternity pen housing, its pals at the Animal Legal Defense Fund are suing the California state fair over its use of farrowing crates. (ALDF’s director of litigation used to direct farm-litigation at HSUS.) Elsewhere, vegan activists are complaining about castration of piglets.
The goal of HSUS, PETA, ALDF, and others isn’t to get group housing or reform other areas of hog management. It’s to get rid of pork production altogether. Pork farmers recognize that caving in to HSUS would not stop the harassment, the smears, or the attempts to put them out of business.
The Canadians are finding this out the hard way. They tried to be “reasonable” and change their code of practices to phase out individual maternity pen sow housing. But even before reaching an agreement, the idea was attacked by HSUS’s international arm as not being good enough because it allows for the use of individual stalls for the 4-5 weeks following insemination. HSUS simply can’t and won’t take “yes” for an answer.
The pork industry may not be experiencing the best of times while it is still locking horns with and being smeared by HSUS, but it has a strategy to secure a future on its own terms. It’s clear that the egg industry, in contrast, has secured for itself the worst of times by turning its future over to HSUS. Giving the schoolyard bully your lunch money is never a solution for peace.
Rick Berman is the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. Visit HumaneWatch.org to learn more. The views presented here are expressly those of the author.