The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has expanded its reach in an effort to pressure action toward the elimination of gestation-sow stalls. The animal activist group purchased stock in four leading investment firms -- JP Morgan, BlackRock, Ameriprise and Prudential.

The purpose of becoming shareholders, HSUS told the board of directors in a letter sent to each firm, is “for the purpose of utilizing shareholder channels (e.g. shareholder proposals) to advocate for animal welfare improvements in the pork industry.” Each of the four firms have invested in the pork industry in varying degrees.

The letters specifically call out Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods as all four firms have investments in the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork. The case presented to BlackRock also includes Seaboard Foods, based in Shawnee Mission, Kans.   

“Of particular concern to us – and the impetus for us using shareholder channels with these firms – is the inaction on the part of Tyson Foods and Seaboard Farms in getting gestation crates out of their supply chains,” Matthew Prescott, HSUS food policy director told Pork Network. “With so many of the nation’s biggest pork buyers enacting policies to eliminate these crates from their supply chains, Tyson’s and Seaboard’s inaction may put them as significant financial risk.” Prescott contends that consequently, the company’s top investors also are at risk.

In the letters, Prescott tells the respective investment firm that “we (HSUS) always prefer cooperative dialogue around these matters.” He tells the each of the boards that HSUS has tried to reach out to the respective firm, but since they since they have not responded HSUS has elected to go the shareholder route—“in an effort to raise our concerns through alternative channels.”  

“By focusing on the potential financial loss associated with the failure to act by companies like Tyson and Seaboard, we believe we can garner significant leverage in the form of management and/or shareholder support from the finance sector, thus exerting further pressure on the pork industry to move away from gestation crates,” Prescott points out.

HSUS has used shareholder tactics on both pork specific and food related companies. On Aug. 17, HSUS submitted a shareholder resolution to Tyson Foods, requesting that the Springdale, Ark.-based pork producer/packer “disclose to shareholders how it plans to meet the growing demand for pork produced without the use of gestation crates.” HSUS cited lower than expected third-quarter profits, which Tyson officials explained were due to an accelerated debt payment and cost increased due to this summer’s massive drought.