Commentary: Ag must resist HSUS 'divide and conquer' strategy

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The failure of HSUS to get the egg bill inserted into the Farm Bill is a lesson: A lot can get done when a nearly united agriculture community works together.

While backed by UEP, the egg bill was opposed by egg producers in the Midwest and Eastern U.S., as well as beef, pork, and other groups. Against those odds, HSUS didn’t stand a chance. Nor did HSUS fare well when the House considered and inserted the King Amendment to protect interstate commerce from California’s egg overreach.

But agriculture should not wait until the wolf is at door—as was the case with the UEP bill—in order to ally together. Unfortunately, this has too often been the case in the past.

You need to understand HSUS strategy in order to counter it. HSUS isolates one part of the ag industry at a time. There is obvious advantage to this. HSUS is only fighting a one-front war, which limits its opponents’ size and allows HSUS to focus all of its P.R. resources into beating up one target. And with a huge pension plan you know it has a long timeframe to accomplish its mission.

Further, HSUS doesn’t seem to be an anti-agriculture or anti-meat/egg/dairy group when it’s just pushing for one type of reform in one part of the ag industry. This allows HSUS to continue to position itself as primarily a cat-and-dog group, when in fact HSUS leaders believe ag is the number one enemy.

HSUS took this piecemeal approach to beat up on the egg industry and create market uncertainty for egg farmers. We can’t let this continue.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is built on the idea that an attack on one is an attack on all. Want to screw with Latvia? You’ll have the U.S., Germany, and Great Britain to deal with.

The ag industry needs to make a similar pact. It’s not enough for individual companies or small groups to respond to HSUS when it comes knocking on the door. The fight is almost always lost by that point.

When HSUS attacks one part of the ag industry, whether it’s egg, hog, or dairy farmers or ranchers, everybody else needs to condemn it. We all know that HSUS’s goal is the elimination of animal agriculture. So why pretend like an attack on any one isn’t an attack on all?

Why play HSUS’s game when you can change the rules?

It’s not just meat producers that have a dog in this fight, either. HSUS, PETA, and other groups are always complaining about how meat is supposedly environmentally inefficient because it takes so much grain to produce a pound of meat. The more meat production declines due to HSUS/PETA efforts, the more that will harm feed producers.

I’ll throw out a few ideas that should be broad enough for anybody in agriculture to get behind:

1.      Farmers and veterinarians are in a much better position to make decisions about animal welfare than the HSUS/PETA crowd.

2.      HSUS gives only one percent of the money it raises to pet shelters.

3.      HSUS presents itself as a moderate cat-and-dog group, but HSUS wants to harm farmers.

4.      HSUS is not a stakeholder in animal agriculture.

There are a few instances where a broad alliance has occurred: Missouri and Nebraska being two notable ones. In Missouri farm groups united because of a 2010 ballot initiative and, after nearly beating HSUS at the ballot box, were able to repeal parts of the law and have since been on the legislative offensive.

In Nebraska, a broad ag alliance has largely warded off HSUS. The governor has publicly told HSUS to get lost, and HSUS has even agreed to taking a ballot initiative off the table. (Or so HSUS has promised.)

A mutual defense pact combines resources and covers weak points. No one sector of the ag community is footing the bill. Resources are spread out widely.

And it doesn’t have to be just a defense pact. Defense can be a deterrent, but playing defense doesn’t score points.  It’s important to maintain sustained operations to keep the general public informed about HSUS’s agenda and its deceptive factory fundraising.

HSUS has a weak underbelly. A recent poll finds that 69 percent of respondents take a negative view of HSUS when they learn that HSUS gives only 1 percent of the money it raises to shelters.

HSUS’s financial—and political—power relies on a gap between perception and reality. It’s time for ag to unite in closing that gap and make HSUS the next PETA: Noisy and a nuisance, but mostly irrelevant.

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 views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of PorkNetwork.

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USA  |  June, 17, 2013 at 03:31 PM

Mr Berman is a great man with wonderfully American ideas that support the cause of justice and that protect our fundamental God-given individual rights against the unjustifiable efforts of collectivists, mis-informed do-gooders and other misguided people.

DC  |  June, 17, 2013 at 07:32 PM

I may be one of few people (maybe the only one) who have worked for companies that both Wayne Pacelle and Rick Berman oversee. Go with Wayne if you want a pension and people to think you are nice to helpless animals. Go with Rick if you want to know what you are actually working on.

Shelley Powers    
St. Louis, MO  |  June, 20, 2013 at 07:41 AM

Rick Berman is well known as a corporate front man, who uses non-profits as a way of exerting influence on the behalf of large corporate concerns. Whatever your feelings on this issue, at least be aware of who you are dealing with. Face the deception openly, and honestly, rather than pretending he's some form of 'hero'. The egg bill that Berman deplores was a way for egg producers to have some control in a growing chaos. Now, they face dozens of different laws attempting to ensure better practices after a growing number of high profile, embarrassing busts of egg producers. It was a bill that gave egg producers the ability to adapt gradually, to what is inevitable, as more people decide they would rather their food be produced safely, and humanely, than not. The pork producers don't want this because they would rather fight the inevitable than take the wise business approach and realize that people are changing and they need to change to meet their customers. Heck, they'd rather sell to China than adapt--so much for the American farmer. Look at yourselves in the mirror and ask yourselves when you stopped having any integrity? That you'd rather promote lies than face the real reason you don't like HSUS? Where is the honesty that used to be hallmark for the American farmer? HSUS is a threat, if you want to freeze today's way of livestock management forever in amber; if you're not willing to adapt; if you're pretending that you can control people just by putting in bad laws that hide what you do. The farmer of years ago was proud of what he or she did. They didn't need laws to hide. They certainly didn't need someone like Berman.

Minnesota  |  June, 20, 2013 at 03:49 PM

I am a dairy farmer and a veterinarian. HSUS is a threat because people who donate to them do not realize that the vast majority of the money they raise goes for employee pensions and lobbying for legislation, not to the local humane societies. They hide their real purpose behind those cute heartwrenching commercials we see all the time. That is dishonest to me. Farmers are continuously adapting to what the consumer wants and changing to more humane methods. We resent being told how wrong we are by people whose only stake in the process is to promote their anti-agriculture agenda. Every person has a choice in how they want to eat. I chose to eat meat, milk and eggs because I believe that is the healthiest diet. I do respect those with a different opinion and I expect them not to try and dictate how I should eat.

MT  |  June, 22, 2013 at 04:55 PM

>>>Look at yourselves in the mirror and ask yourselves when you stopped having any integrity? That you'd rather promote lies than face the real reason you don't like HSUS? Where is the honesty that used to be hallmark for the American farmer?>>> Sorry to burst your bubble, Shelley, but HSUS is built on lies. We ARE facing the real reason we dislike the HSUS, we feel exactly like you would towards anyone that tried to force you out of business. The comment 'more people decide they would rather their food be produced safely, and humanely' is sickening to anyone that works in ag, because we know that too is a white-faced lie intended to convince people that the general public is asking for this legislation, when in reality it's nobody but the cronies at the HSUS trying to protect their 6 figure salaries. Go to Walmart and watch people select meat, the lower-income ones look for the cheapest prices, go home, eat it , and go do their jobs and let us do ours. They're smart enough to know that a happy animal makes for a productive animal, so why would our industry slit it's own throat by being abusive? UGGGHHH.... Here's hoping all of you run into activists someday that create the same aggravation for you as you do for everyone in animal ag. A waste of time, I'm not sure why we bother!!!!

USA  |  June, 22, 2013 at 05:47 PM

Why we bother? We're trying to feed the world, including those that contrive to destroy us.

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