Rick Berman
Rick Berman

Is asking pork producers to stand tall against HSUS controversial? Apparently it is, judging from the stir around my previous column. If you missed it, I encouraged producers to not flinch in the game of "chicken" with animal rights activists who have conned some retailers into making weak mealy-mouthed pledges against maternity pens (gestation stalls).

Apparently, the ruckus became more heated when the CEO of Bon Appetit, who swallowed the HSUS Kool-Aid on pork and egg issues, tried to reply to my piece. He was apparently encouraged to speak out by HSUS. I'd be surprised if HSUS didn't write the reply for him.

Next up, Tom Philpott at the über far-left Mother Jones (think Pravda for a comparison publication) took a shot at my column, but gave credit to my argument that "crate-free" announcements are not meaningful (packers are not making demands of their contract growers to stop using maternity pens). In essence, Philpott makes my case for me. A few packers, along with some misguided retailers and restaurants, have made public announcements that have gotten HSUS to stop bothering them. But that's why it really amounts to a public relations move, not a substantive supply shift. HSUS has basically said, “If you lie by saying you’ll change, we’ll make believe you’re telling the truth.” Win-Win!

It has a similar smell not unlike the HSUS maternity pen bans passed in Rhode Island or New Jersey. Those laws are about as relevant as banning palm trees in Maine.

Here’s the most pertinent question currently unanswered: Should retailers be afraid of backlash from HSUS if they reverse their kinda-sorta quasi-pledges? No, and the reason is because of the timeline. The deadlines to switch supply guidelines are several years or nearly a decade away. That's an eternity in business sourcing decisions. In the meantime, several things will change the playing field:

  • HSUS will suffer brand diminishment similar to PETA. The PETA wackos actually had a 72 percent favorable rating in public opinion polls as recently as 2004. Within five or six years that rating was down to 49 percent, thanks in part to campaigns such as our PetaKillsAnimals.com project that exposed the hypocrisy of the group. HSUS has similar weak points – a lack of support for pet shelters and unflattering evaluations from charity watchdogs, for instance.
  • A poll we recently commissioned, performed by Opinion Research Corp., (not the phony push poll of HSUS) found that when told of the facts that farmers and veterinarians widely support maternity pens, the public sides with them by a margin of 62-13, with an additional 24 percent of respondents not caring. The public trusts farmers and veterinarians over animal rights activists when it comes to farm animal welfare by a margin of 76-10. Our continuing campaign will keep the facts out there and counter the noise from the usual vegan suspects.
  • A more organized agriculture community will rise. Everywhere HSUS goes – from Missouri and Nebraska to more recently North Dakota and Oklahoma – HSUS has faced growing blowback and political losses as ag groups have recently banded together. HSUS lost in its election year activity in 2012, including its failure to pass a simple cat, dog and horse initiative. HSUS's political brand will become more toxic over time.
  • European financial losses from HSUS-type demands are becoming more apparent and add to the economic arguments against legislation.

But we still have to provide facts. None of this trend is set in stone, and you can be sure that HSUS will try to stay on offense. Beating HSUS on the facts vs. its phony narrative will require a willingness to fight. We are already seeing dividends from grassroots activism and campaigns such as our HumaneWatch.org project. Most of all, it will require commitment to staying on offense and being proactive.

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.

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