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.