Commentary: Winning the future on maternity pens

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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 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 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 to learn more.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of PorkNetwork or official policies of PorkNetwork.

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NW Indiana  |  March, 28, 2013 at 08:49 AM

Maternity pens? Clearly the author has had too much "kool aid" Will the sows then be "birthing"?

kansas  |  March, 28, 2013 at 09:19 AM

Good for you and US Mr. Berman! Must be effective if HSUS sees the need to roll out celebrities to attack you/us. Keep sticking a finger in their eye - every day - and we may be able to undo some of the damage their misinformation and outright lies have done, while we've sat back and whined about how unfair it is. More Plain Speaking from Plain Spoken people and less over-their-heads lecturing by academics. Tactics must match those of our mortal enemies, without sinking to their levels of unethical, dishonest and vulgar methods. Thanks and Keep up the good work!

Pieter Bloem    
Otago Peninsula New Zealand  |  March, 28, 2013 at 02:19 PM

Great stuff .Hopefully we can learn a lot from you on dealing with these same problems here in New Zealand.

Minnesota  |  March, 28, 2013 at 04:08 PM

NAILED IT!!! All the promises by these wimpy executives mean absolutely Nothing. We cant even get most packers to take foreign pigs because of the cost of separating and labeling them due to COOL. Does anyone honestly think packers will have a separate line and label for stall free meat? Does anyone think all these company's that have jumped on the stall free bandwagon are going to spend the time and effort to insure they are receiving stall free meat from the packers? Think again suckers!!


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