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 HumaneWatch.org to learn more.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of PorkNetwork.