An HSUS staffer poses inside the stunt cage used to garner media attention for a bill to ban gestation stalls in New Jersey.
An HSUS staffer poses inside the stunt cage used to garner media attention for a bill to ban gestation stalls in New Jersey.

Like the old adage suggests, don’t listen to what the Humane Society of the United States tells you about being ‘reformers, not extremists.’ Instead, watch what they do.

Over the years, I’ve heard all manner of staff people at the Humane Society of the United States — including CEO Wayne Pacelle — insist over and over that “We’re not like PETA. They’re extremists. We’re reformers.”

That’s the argument I’ve heard more times than I can count, offered as evidence that producers shouldn’t attack HSUS; instead, they should work with them on the changes the groups wants to see adopted.

The coda to that assertion is a short list of “reforms” HSUS wants to see implemented, the notion being that the group just want to make the industry a little kinder and gentler, and that they’re far too professional and sophisticated to pull the “outrageous” stunts that are all that PETA ever does.

Really? Consider this news story from the Daily Record in New Jersey: “The push to convince Gov. Chris Christie to approve a law prohibiting gestation crates used by the pork industry is coming to the governor’s home base of Morris County on Saturday as the Humane Society of the United States ‘Great Crate Challenge’ arrives in Madison.”

Then check out the photo below, showing the stunt cage HSUS operatives will be using.

What’s the difference from what PETA does, with people locked in cages and wrapped in plastic to demonize producers?

Answer: Nothing. Just rewrite the photo caption, and it might as well be a PETA protest.

According to the newspaper, HSUS is inviting people “to step into small crates, built from metal bars and adjusted to human proportions, that are similar to the ones used by the pork industry to confine pigs for months at a time before they are slaughtered and processed for public consumption.”

The reporter might as well save time by trying to weave talking points into the story and just reprint the HSUS news release verbatim.

The ostensible reason for the stunt is a Dec. 1 deadline for Christie to either sign or veto a law passed by the New Jersey legislature in October that would order the state Board of Agriculture and Department of Agriculture to adopt regulations concerning confinement of pregnant sows during gestation.

In an editorial purporting to support a ban on gestation stalls, the Daily Record’s editorial staff actually makes the argument in favor of vetoing the bill, which, let’s not kid ourselves, would be vastly preferable in terms of how the governor would be perceived in Iowa in 2016 when his presidential campaign kicks off. As the newspaper editorialized, “More companies are moving away from using meat from farms using the gestation crates.”

In fact, widespread use of gestation stalls is on the way out, so there is little inventive for Christie to get out ahead of a trend that will soon obviate the issue, anyway.

And no reason for HSUS to climb onboard the PETA’s crazy train—except to try to claim a cheap “victory” if and when another unimportant state, non-pork-producing state passes a purely symbolic ban on a production practice already being voluntarily phases out.

So much for HSUS”s “progressive reformer” label.

› And now, a final footnote for the holidays: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray officially pardoned a tofurkey in mid-November.

You read that right: A tofurkey. Mayoral spokesman Jason Kelly told the Seattle Times that the stunt wasn’t a nod to PETA, which annually demands that the president scrap the White House turkey pardoning ceremony. He said Murray posed for photos with the faux fowl at City Hall to “draw attention to hunger in our community” ahead of Thanksgiving and the holidays.

“The mayor has a sense of humor,” Kelly said. “He was also poking fun at himself as a public official. Seattle has a reputation around the country for being a little ‘granola.’ ”

Ya think?

More important than dissing PETA, however, was Murray’s efforts to generate food donations, noting that most of the city’s food banks are oversubscribed. “People should think about families in their neighborhoods who need additional help and donate as much as they can,” he said.

The tofurkey, named Braeburn (after the apple variety), will “live out its natural life” at the Rainier Valley Food Bank, Kelly said. That’s a nice ending to a humorous story that raises awareness and ridicules PETA — all at the same time.

Definitely something to be thankful for.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.