I’ve never understood the reference to the “lazy days of summer.” It always seems to be the busiest time of the year. Certainly many activists groups are living by that notion, as this summer has seen a flurry of activity from them.

Here are some recent events worth noting:

  • The Humane Society of the United States rolled out its Halt Factory Hog Farms campaign in Iowa. HSUS officials say the goal is to eliminate gestation crates, farrowing stalls and all confinement pork production buildings.

    Make no mistake, HSUS is not a warm and fuzzy animal-welfare group; it is a dedicated anti-meat organization.

  • HSUS also introduced its Care4Iowa campaign – a four-year program to make Iowa farmers “more aware of humane ways of raising livestock.” The groups’ own news release points out that the Care4Iowa Campaign is “an outgrowth of the Halt Factory Farms Campaign.”

    HSUS officials say Care4Iowa will educate consumers about “humanely raised meat” and help producers market it. They cite two specific goals: 1) an immediate moratorium on new and expanded hog confinement construction, 2) a planned transition through public policy and private initiative away from industrial animal production.

  • Farm Sanctuary and HSUS are preparing their strategy for a California initiative to ban gestation-sow crates. The activists need 600,000 signatures to get the proposal on the state’s November 2004 ballot. They tried going through the California legislature, but the representatives dismissed a bill proposing such a ban.

    Remember, Florida was first. There have been other incarnations of the gestation-crate ban proposed and defeated in other states. The activists will keep trying.

  • On the heels of World Pork Expo, the WaterKeeper Alliance conducted a “Sustainable Hog Farming Summit” in Pennsylvania. But don’t let the name fool you, it was an anti-pork industry conference, complete with WKA’s leader, Robert Kennedy, Jr., warning of more lawsuits against “factory hog farms.” Kennedy has a stable of attorneys who took on the tobacco companies. So far WKA’s legal eagles have fallen short in their attempts against the pork industry, but they are a tenacious bunch who don’t like to lose.
  • Litigation seems to be activists’ favorite pastime. Even though the courts have so far dismissed the notion, obesity lawsuits are still a food-industry threat. Again, some of the same attorneys who beat the tobacco industry, are lined up to take on fast food. The charge: “fast-food restaurants have acted negligently or deceptively in selling products that are high in cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar.”

    Yeah, we wouldn’t want to imply that an individual bears any responsibility.  

    Meanwhile, Kraft Foods released a program to change the way it 1) produces – cutting fat, sugar and calories; 2) packages – limiting portion size; and 3) markets – not focusing on children; some of its foods.

    This proactive approach is a lesson learned from Kraft’s parent company’s (Philip Morris) experience with the tobacco issue.

    I applaud Kraft’s effort to provide healthier food options – but it’s a shame that it accommodates the activists’ wishes.

    What’s worse, Kraft received few kudos for its action. Rather, some activist groups actually criticized Kraft, saying the move was a marketing ploy.

  • PETA is suing KFC for what it describes as “misleading statements on the company’s Web site” about how its poultry suppliers handle chickens.

    This is my personal favorite, because PETA is the World Heavyweight Champion of misleading statements.

    It’s worth noting that KFC is one of many companies who have created an Animal Welfare Advisory Council to address animal-treatment and handling issues.

It’s also worth noting that today’s activists are not simply protesting to make their points. They are taking a much more business-targeted approach.

In last month’s issue of the Food System Insider, which Pork provides on a quarterly basis, I revealed some of the activists’ more updated tactics. The article offers even more insight into their strategies. Indeed, there’s no question that things are heating up.