HSUS shows its true anti-animal colors

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Rick Berman Rick Berman There’s a quip that “animal rights means no animals left.” The logic is sound. Animal liberation groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA don’t want animals raised for food. So without an incentive or reason to raise livestock, these animals would go extinct. HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle himself has admitted that “We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.”

In this long-term sense, the animal liberation movement is ironically anti-animal. Farmers propagate domestic animal populations and treat them humanely in order to produce food for the rest of us. The PETA/HSUS crowd would rather see them gone.

But in a narrower way that’s been in the news recently, HSUS shows that concern for animals isn't at the top of its agenda. Several states are considering mandatory reporting of animal cruelty videos to authorities within 24 or 48 hours. It’s an attempt to stop animal cruelty quickly—and HSUS bizarrely opposes it.

Over the past few years, animal liberation activists have gone undercover at farms to surreptitiously videotape animal treatment. On a few occasions, they have found instances of animal cruelty by a handful of rogue employees, leading to criminal charges.

That’s a good thing. But there’s a downside to this reporting activity. 

Animal liberation groups can currently film abusive and unapproved employee behavior for weeks or months and report it when they feel like it. And they have an incentive to delay, even if it means individual animals face continued abuse.

Consider a January 2008 meat recall stemming from undercover footage filmed at a California beef processing plant. HSUS recorded footage for six weeks and found some employees guilty of poor treatment of cows. Yet the USDA didn’t learn of the video until it was leaked to the media two months later.

HSUS then milked the resulting controversy for all it was worth, latching onto fears about food safety. But if it really were so concerned, why didn’t it turn over the tapes months earlier?

Because a media blitz gives them a platform to attack animal farming. These groups have a larger agenda against using any animals for food. Mercy for Animals, one organization filming undercover videos, promotes vegan diets, meaning no meat, dairy, or eggs. HSUS, whose food policy director has compared animal farming to the Nazi Holocaust, has the same vegan agenda.

Not to beat a dead horse, but HSUS is essentially saying it’s OK for some farm employee to beat a live one for weeks or months if it’s for the supposed “greater good” of making animal agriculture look bad. While a good farmer cares for the welfare of individual animals, animal liberation activists are willing to put individual welfare lower on the totem pole than media campaigns.

Splicing footage over a few weeks or months can paint any kind of misleading picture for someone on a mission. If someone filmed an elementary school teacher for several months and then spliced together two minutes of the teacher raising her voice, yawning, or not paying attention, it could make a good teacher look bad—even though the video only represented a tiny fraction of the overall picture.

A Mercy for Animals investigation last year alleged to show cruelty at a pork farm. A panel of animal experts reviewed the footage and found that the animals were generally well-treated—but the review came after the activists had been able to poison the well in the media.

While fighting animal cruelty should be the top priority, undercover videos have instead turned into media exercises.  In most cases animals face abuse longer than necessary.

Mandatory reporting of animal abuse footage is a needed reform that places law enforcement in the driver’s seat. Law enforcement has the expertise and impartiality to make proper judgment calls. Authorities may determine that alleged cruelty should be further investigated and documented. They may choose to act immediately, resulting in an abuser’s arrest or termination. Or they may consult animal experts and determine that the vegan activists’ allegations of cruelty are unfounded propaganda.

The result will be that perpetrators are stopped faster. The public, meanwhile, can still learn of crimes, as arrest records and trials are open to the media.

Opponents have dubbed mandatory reporting bills “ag gag,” but the description is disingenuous. There is nothing preventing activists from testifying or speaking to the media about what they saw. There is simply a duty to report.

That’s something you would think that self-anointed animal protection groups would support, but you would be mistaken. 

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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Florida  |  May, 01, 2013 at 01:46 PM

Mr. Berman: Considering that you are running the Center for Consumer Freedom, a lobbying agency for the food and restaurant industries--and agency that runs vitriolic campaigns against Mothers Against Drunk Driving (hey, MADD cuts into your clients' profits), none of your accusations surprise me. Let me address just a couple of them. The industries you are so vehemently offending have selectively bred and engineered farm animals to an extent that these animals live in constant misery and pain. For example, broiler chickens and turkeys in the U.S. have been bred to provide more breast meat because that is what the US consumer prefers. By now these poor creatures are so top heavy that they cannot walk without falling. The bone physiology of broiler chickens is also totally abnormal, so the bones don’t have support while they’re hardening and end up misshapen. These birds are in constant pain and misery. But hey, it is profitable for your clients, so you are trying to tell us that preventing these poor creatures from being born is something bad. You also celebrate ag-gag bills that include mandatory reporting of animal cruelty videos to authorities within 24 or 48 hours and accuse the HSUS and Mercy for Animals of being for cruelty and against animal welfare because these organizations oppose this measure. You know as well as the rest of us that it takes more than 24 to 48 hours to show a pattern of abuse, and that you have to show a pattern to get convictions. What bothers me most of all are two things: You seem to believe that the industries you are lobbying for have a right to suppress my first amendment rights and you defend certain industry practices as "normal" even though they are cruel by any measure.

doug williams    
usa  |  May, 02, 2013 at 01:55 PM

Thanks Rick for a good report. here you have "animal lovers" supporting the continuation of 'absue" so they can 'show a pattern". Thy obviously do not care about the animals who are bused while they set a "pattern" Now THAT is cruel

Jonathan Gilbert    
Minnesota  |  May, 01, 2013 at 03:02 PM

LOL...Oh Rick Rick, you are really taking these pork producers for a ride while taking their cash. So far, your attempts at rallying the ranchers isn't working as more and more go to penned ranching . The general consumer has spoken. The end use retailers have spoken. Hell, even Canada has spoken. NO MORE INTENSIVE CONFINEMENT!! This is some scam you have. How log you plan on bleeding these pork producers. Berman=EPIC FAIL. But hey your still getting paid!

St. Louis, MO  |  May, 02, 2013 at 08:52 AM

Rick Berman has become so discredited for his corporate front activity that the only place that will take his doggerel is a publication only read by the same people who pay him. I find the man completely inconsequential and perhaps its time we should stop paying him any attention.

Virginia  |  May, 02, 2013 at 09:29 AM

Spoken like a true HSUS koolaid drinker, PhoebeS. Way to get out all the uninformed talking points spouted by HSUS and others of that ilk. Broiler chickens have misshapen bones because of their size and confinement, really? Conformation is part of USDA grading standards and for A quality the requirement is free from deformities. Broiler is also just a term for a chicken of a certain age, not a type of chicken. Spouting falsehoods is good for getting emotional reactions from consumers who are now far removed from the food production process so it's all good, right? I also don't buy your assertion that a pattern of abuse is needed. If a person is truly abusive to animals on the farm or the processing facility it would be easy to catch them doing it to numerous animals, thus your pattern of abuse. No, the intent is to vilify the livestock industry by misleading the above mentioned clueless consumers. Do you speak as adamantly against HSUS for their killing 90% of the animals they supposedly rescue? HSUS has been caught repeatedly doing that so there's your pattern of abuse.

elaine hanson    
MN  |  May, 02, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I have not seen any bill that says "Turn over your camera within 48 hours." The bills do not require immediate public airing, or notification to the owner of the operation that abuse has been observed and documented. The laws say "turn the film over to law enforcement promptly." As for the claim that law enforcement agencies will not take action unless there is documentation of systemic abuse - well, just keep on filming and turning it over! Unless the animal owner is in the picture, why is it assumed he or she knows of and condones the conduct of an abusive employee? There is no legitimate reason to let abuse continue and accumulate the evidence until the eve of a big fundraising event, or action on related legislation, and make it public prior to providing it to authorities. If law enforcement officials get documentation of a pattern of abuse and take no action, then there's a flaw in that system that needs to be addressed. But law enforcement should get the evidence promptly, and officials will decide when and how to proceed. As far as I'm aware, these laws do not prohibit the public release of copies, either at the time it is given to authorities or when it will enhance a fundraising or social action campaign. Just because the film handed over on Monday is not on the 6 o'clock news Tuesday does not mean that law enforcement is taking no action. It would be odd indeed for authorities to publicize this kind of evidence prior to charging confirmed abusers. So why are the filmers of animal abuse feeling persecuted by a requirement to report the situation promptly to those with legal authority to address it? Must be that it's harder to manipulate public sentiment if all the material can be verified.

elaine hanson    
MN  |  May, 02, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Anthony, I'm with you up to your last paragraph. HSUS does not actually kill any pets itself, because it is not sheltering any as our community groups and municipalities are. HSUS has been known to lose some after taking custody, but the practice is to turn the confiscated animals over to local shelters to care for as best they can without HSUS's financial support (although HSUS will happily film the confiscation and use select segments featuring people in HSUS logowear to raise funds for their OWN operation). It is PETA that boasts of killing more than 90%, claiming that the pets are "better off dead than being enslaved as pets." In addition to the popular name the acronym is derived from, PETA stands for "People Expediting the Termination of Animals."

elaine hanson    
MN  |  May, 02, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Anthony, I'm with you up to your last paragraph. HSUS does not actually kill any pets itself, because it is not sheltering any as our community groups and municipalities are. HSUS has been known to lose some after taking custody, but the practice is to turn the confiscated animals over to local shelters to care for as best they can without HSUS's financial support (although HSUS will happily film the confiscation and use select segments featuring people in HSUS logowear to raise funds for their OWN operation). It is PETA that boasts of killing more than 90%, claiming that the pets are "better off dead than being enslaved as pets." In addition to the popular name the acronym is derived from, PETA stands for "People Expediting the Termination of Animals."

NW Indiana  |  May, 02, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Pheobe, Jonathan and Shelly, the lot of you are shills for 'Agenda 21'. Google 'Agenda 21' for a larger view of what you are doing. I offer each of you a pork chop dinner, if you do a detailed tour of my Hoghouse. Bring several cameras. Not those coinky dink spy cameras either. Bring high resolution professional gear. We really want to be seen clearly.

doug williams    
usa  |  May, 02, 2013 at 02:00 PM

I will take you up on the pork chop dinner.. YUM.. and i won't ned a camera. These people are shills for the HSUs some even on the payroll. Mr Berman is a OH MY GOODNESS a lobbyinst for the RESTAURANT industry how horrible.. as you know Phoebe, Shelly and Jonothan never eat at restaurants.. and they also don't know that the head of MADD was arrested with a dui. They make hypocrites look honest

MI  |  May, 02, 2013 at 04:34 PM

Ag-gag bills protect abusive farms and slaughterhouses. Instead of being able to document repeated and systemic abuses (which occur more often than the meat industry wants to admit), these bills would make all abuse seem like a one-off event, sparing the perpetrators from criminal charges and/or lessening their sentences. The public has a right to know what goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms and slaughterhouses.

CA  |  May, 02, 2013 at 06:06 PM

Whether Rick and other special interest groups like CCF like it or not, distributing video and audio footage of factory farms is protected by the First Amendment, making ag-gag legislation inherently unconstitutional. Undercover investigations have led to criminal convictions, voter referendums, and consumer outrage over the most egregious treatment of animals raised and slaughtered for food. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from (right, Rick?) and have a right to be aware of systemic abuse--not just a few isolated incidents (most of which are never even reported). Mandating time restrictions on reporting abuse dooes not expose systemic cruelty, nor is there any guarantee that workers will come forward at all, especially those who are undocumented and fear law enforcement. Regardless of who opposes ag-gag bills (HSUS, PETA, etc.) and the irrelevant topic of euthanasia, supporters of these bills have financial interests in seeing them become law. Ag-gag legislation does nothing to enforce humane treatment of animals and threatens consumer safety. You don't have to be a vegan or an animal rights activist to see how fundamentally flawed and unconstitutional these bills are. In fact, just this week we saw how the first ag-gag prosecution fell apart in Utah when charges against a woman who filmed cows on a factory farm from a public road were dropped. In the end, even if ag-gag laws are passed, the U.S. Constitution trumps all.

SD  |  May, 02, 2013 at 11:46 PM

So trespass and fraud are ok-- HSUS recruits employees to infiltrate farms, posing as trained workers rather than the spies they are. You site of the first amendment is a very broad interpretation. Under the Bill of Rights- Amendment 1- it states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". So where does a "non-profit" agency whose sole goal is to incite people to contribute more money to a cause which does nothing for animals, actually have a constitutional right to trespass and commit outright fraud. Perhaps you should review the 4th Amendment before spouting constitutional rights of a non-invited intruder.

Suzanne Carlson    
Ontario  |  May, 03, 2013 at 05:19 AM

Rick, oh, Rick. The animals will go "extinct"? Not anytime soon. That "argument" is just so silly and your attempt to be inflammatory falls flat. If agribusiness has nothing to hide, they should be leading the charge to throw open their doors. We hear time and again how much they, er, care about the animals, so why the need for subterfuge and gag laws? Of course these exposes are media-driven. You may have noticed that we live in a media-driven society, one you have profited from considerably. So to dismiss these investigations as such is not only disingenuous, it's hypocritical.

SD  |  May, 03, 2013 at 11:36 AM

It will be a great day when animal RIGHTS activists admit that abused animals will not be profitable, that a profit is necessary for farm families to survive, and that about 98% of US farms are owned, managed, and staffed by FAMILIES. AND that our families, from tiny babies, to elderly great grandparents live on our farms and deserve protection of tresspass laws from these sometimes dangerous activists. Remember: some of the groups have been listed as terrorists by our government, and the most recent example of such terrorism was only a few years ago when several farm trucks were burned on a CA ranch. Why would we NOT be reluctant to open our farms/ranches to your activists with that example!???? Anyone who truly WANTS to know where and how their food is produced can find many such products in the markets, especially in 'health' food stores. There are choices for every lifestyle, if one will only look!

CA  |  May, 03, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Both the unauthorized recording and "resume fraud" provisions punish speech without proof of harm. There are very limited categories of speech (perjury, price-fixing, or threatening to punch someone in the face) that are subject to lesser First Amendment protection because they are inherently harmful. But ag-gag laws cover speech without evidence of harm, making it illegal to record video without consent, or to lie on your resume to get that video, even if you never do anything with it. Also, the employment "fraud" statutes are particularly bad because they are not actually fraud statutes. Fraud is one of those categories of speech that is not subject to full First Amendment protection, but to prove fraud you have to show injury resulting from a material misrepresentation. Here, not only do the laws not require proof of injury, the injury that could result isn't actually a result of the lie on the resume. Rather, when you lie on your resume to get a job at a factory farm and take a video of the abuse of downer cows, it's the abuse of downer cows that results in fewer people doing business with that company, not the recording of the abuse. Lastly, non-profits like HSUS do not pour thousands of dollars into undercover investigations simply to get more money from their supporters. As I mentioned, these investigations have resulted in criminal convictions, voter referendums, and consumer outrage, leading to changes in industry standards (i.e. prop 2 in CA). Also when people learn the truth about where their food comes from, some make changes to their diet to limit or eliminate meat. This affects the meat industry's profits, which is why they are so desperate to pass these bills.

SD  |  May, 03, 2013 at 02:56 PM

You have admitted to gaining access to a targeted operation through deception. There is no probable cause giving rise to such investigations. The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, and HSUS has no police powers, so equating what you are doing to law enforcement is ludicrous. However, the abuse of a cow in a packing plant in California which you repeatedly show, or the 10 year old video of a wobbly cow from the UK which is repeatedly shown, is portrayed to be the standard for the industry, which it most definitely is not. Equating one isolated event to an entire industry is wrong. It makes me guilty of abuses which never happened. At least have the guts to bring your fraudulent imposters to the farm, cameras in hand and in the open and document the industry as it is. I have no benefit from anyone abusing an animal, and have protocols in place to avoid such incidents. Why do your employees participate in and film such events, even promote employees under their direct control, to abuse an animal, solely for the theatrics of the event and the value as a fundraiser.

Florida  |  May, 03, 2013 at 03:12 PM

Rick Berman is big ag's favorite little puppet. First of all, farmers do not treat animals humanely. Check out www.meat.org to see undercover videos taken on factory farms. The camera doesn't lie. That's why big ag is trying so hard to have the ag-gag bills that you discuss passed in several states: to make filming on factory farms a crime. By requiring anyone who films an instance of animal cruelty to hand it over to authorities within 24 or 48 hours, theses laws would make it impossible for investigators to show that the cruelty is pervasive, a fact that is necessary for prosecutors to build a strong case and get the offenders convicted. Of course HSUS is against these bills! They want people who commit cruel acts against animals to be made accountable and punished. Obviously, Berman and his meat-industry front group, the CCF, do not. Filming for an extended period of time on farms has nothing to do with a "media campaign." It has everything to do with building a strong case and getting cruel people convicted for their crimes. And yes, anyone who cares about animals would rather see them not have been born than to be born on a factory farm where they are routinely mutilated, tormented, and then slaughtered for profit. People who care about animals are not fooled by your profit-driven smear campaign.

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