Posts Tagged ‘HSUS

“Hoofin It” With HSUS

» August 16th, 2014

Beginning tomorrow, and lasting through August 20, the city of Denver will promote the gratuitous slaughter of animals who were raised with love.  On Sunday you can get bison; Monday “sheep is the star”; Tuesday is pig night; Wednesday it’s cow. Every meal will be served at a restaurant that prides itself on morally commmodfying sentient animals who farmers respected while they lived, before selling their bodies for cash.  The event is called “Hoofin It” and “farm to table” is the mantra. As The Denver Post reports, “a different hooved animal will be showcased every evening.” Cost of the showcase: $60.

Now, critics of animal agriculture, as well as animal advocates, have become all too familiar with these sort of Orwellian stunts. Essentially, what these events do is obscure systematic suffering under the false guise of humanity in order to serve a range of financial interests and a popular taste for animal flesh. It’s insulting, really. We’re especially accustomed to the oxymoronic–not to mention moronic—sponsorships of these moral carnivals: ethical butchers, humane animal farmers, compassionate carnivores, and the like. It thus may come as a surprise that the sponsor of “Hoofin It” is . . . .   The Humane Society of the United States. 

As you might imagine, there’s been outrage over this. Why would an organization that works so diligently to reduce the consumption of meat promote the consummation of meat? One letter I received from a Colorado critic of the event explained, “Needless to say, the vegan community in Colorado is quite upset with HSUS’ sponsorship of this  event and has notified HSUS of their concern.” Here is what HSUS wrote by way of an explanation:

Our farm animal efforts are two-pronged: reduce the number of animals being raised and killed, and reduce the suffering of animals who are being raised and killed. While the meat industry’s leadership reviles The HSUS, there are also farmers and ranchers who agree with us on gestation crates and other aspects of industrialized agriculture. They’re a powerful voice in our campaign to end unacceptable and particularly inhumane practices. We need the public’s support to pass these laws, and it’s a potent statement to have farmers assert that they oppose gestation crates (and other factory farming practices). We’ve always believe that politics is about addition and not subtraction, and some of the most powerful allies are people that some may think are unlikely allies. That’s why we do outreach to small farmers on factory farming issues.
This event, sponsored in connection with our Colorado Agriculture Council, is part of our growing work with farmers and ranchers to fight inhumane practices such as gestation crates and tail docking. We support farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals, and act in accordance with the basic ethic of compassion to sentient creatures under their control, and practice and promote humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture. We also sponsor VegFests along with other vegan and vegetarian events around the country. The HSUS takes a big tent approach to combat factory farming and both our employees and our supporters consist of those who choose to eat meat and those who choose to be vegan or vegetarian. 

My thoughts on this response too are many to articulate, and none of them are in sympathy. But in a nutshell it’s safe to say that there’s a fundamental difference between encouraging more humane methods of animal agriculture and throwing a party to celebrate animal slaughter. There’s simply no hoofin it around HSUS’s craven capitulation to compromise on this event. Shame.

(HSUS’s response came from Sarah Barnett. You can reach her here: Sarah Barnett <>)


The Economics of Animal Welfare

» April 18th, 2014

Pistol v. Poleax: a Handbook on Humane Slaughter was published in London in 1932. The book’s opening line explains, “If there is one quality in the British character which is so ingrained as to be almost universal, it is love of animals and hatred of unnecessary cruelty.” This sentiment underscores the book’s 500+ page effort to justify the transition from one form of stunning animals to another before killing them.

The poleax was primitive. Men swung it like crazed cavemen and, more often than not, missed their target, which was described as the size of a teacup. Or they hit it too hard, rendering the animal’s brain unsellable. Or they didn’t hit hard enough, which created a prolonged tragedy for the poor animal. As one slaughterhouse employee recounted in 1922:

I have seen three, four, five, and even ten blows levelled at an animal before it has been brought to the ground; and I have known cases, though these are exceptional, where all efforts have failed to bring the animal down through the repeated blows having caused the head to swell.

Hence the pistol: the supposed source of humane reform. Efforts to promote this new devise, avidly supported by the RSPCA, included having one Madame Douchez Menebode, President of the Council of Justice to Animals, dressed in heels and a coat fringed with fur delivering a mechanized death blow to a cow (see above). The gun was called the Temple-Cox Killer.

For those who currently follow efforts to reform animal agriculture in order to make it more humane—for example HSUS’s ongoing effort to eliminate battery cages without a corresponding effort to eliminate animal agriculture—you will quickly realize that history is as much about continuity as change. One form of death replaces another, sensible people feel better, and everyone has their meat and eats it, too. This axiom was as true in 1922 as it is today.

But there’s an interesting change that’s possibly obscured by this so-called humane transition form one form of killing to another. With the adoption of the pistol over the poleax, slaughter became much more efficient. One slaughterhouse owner, after adopting the pistol form of stunning, exhorted his colleagues (upon retiring):

Have you for your own business adopted a certain method of stunning?—In September, 1922, after a lifelong study, I was persuaded that something required to be done to get rid of the antiquated poleax. My firm agreed to my recommendation to adopt the use of the RSPCA gun, and from that day to this was have slaughtered approximately 12,000 cattle. . . . .  It is a decided improvement.

Readers of the abolitionist activist Gary Francione will be nodding their heads knowingly. Francione has long argued that welfarist efforts to reform animal agriculture backfire by making animal agriculture more efficient and, in turn, more profitable. This claim certainly seems to be the case with the historical example of the poleax/pistol transition.

It is not, however, the case today—and this is an important point to keep in mind as we evaluate the viability of welfare reforms. In 1922, humane reforms came through new technologies that happened to blend increased welfare and efficiency. This is no longer the case. Today, humane reforms come at a cost, as readers of Jayson Lusk’s and F. Bailey Norwood’s Compassion by the Pound will fully understand. The upshot is that the economics of welfare reform are, unlike a century ago, in trouble.

Whereas seeking humane reforms in animal agriculture once led to cheaper meat, today the situation is exactly the opposite. As a result, there will never be a mainstream transition to humanely raised animal products. Ever. As long as there’s a cheaper option—and until we seek to stigmatize eating animals rather than only stigmatizing eating industrially raised animals, there always will be a cheaper option—all efforts to improve the experience of animals before they are killed for food we don’t need will merely benefit those who can afford to feel virtuous.




International Flesh Peddling

» May 31st, 2013

Last week the Chinese investment firm Shuanghui International agreed to purchase Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest supplier of pork products (the offer has been accepted but awaits regulatory reviews). Remarking on the deal, one analyst said, ”The combination creates a company with an unmatched set of assets, products and geographic reach.” That’s an understatement. For the price (when debt purchase is factored in) of $7.1 billion dollars, Shuanghui will now capitalize on their unprecedented scope to begin the arduous but profitable project of feeding the growing Chinese upper-middle class an endless supply of industrial pork.  Through a single purchase that equals the GDP of Montenegro, one company will have the privilege of slaughtering millions of pigs a year.

The story has been duly covered by the mainstream media. Most critics of the deal have presented it as yet another ominous expression of Chinese economic hegemony. The Chinese have already bought loads of land throughout Africa to ensure that Chinese-owned animals are fed by Chinese-owned farms. With the Shuanghui deal, they are now further extending their reach by ensuring that any pork they import will also comes from Chinese –owned companies. In case you were wondering, commodity mercantilism still lives. The British were once pretty good at it.

Obscured in this accurate analysis of economic hegemony, however, is the thoughtless and degrading extension of human hegemony over animals, in this case animals who are as smart and sensitive as any on the planet. If there’s a farm animal that  can step back and conceptualize the horror bring perpetrated upon them, my guess is that it’s the pig. Listen to various media treatments of this story, though, and you’ll find that people speak as if they’re talking about car parts. Such is the inevitable result when sentient animals enter the lexicon of global trade.

While shareholders will become rich as a result of the Chinese buyout, activists will be as effectively silenced as the animals themselves. A critical aspect of this purchase is that Shuanghui is a private company with no intention of opening the books to stakeholders. Global privatization not only makes Smithfield more difficult to regulate, but it prevents activists from purchasing a share, showing up at annual meetings, and raising hell, a la Henry Spira.

Shuanghui has a dismal record when it comes to animal welfare and safety. Most notably, it was recently dinged for feeding pigs a toxic chemical called clenbuterol hydrochloride in order to produce leaner pork. It’s not a nice company. But they have shut the door on the public and are prepared to put billions of pigs through hell without accountability.

One ray of hope in this deal was noted by HSUS’ Wayne Pacelle, who wrote yesterday in his blog that “…we are relieved that Shuanghai’s  potential purchase of Smithfield doesn’t appear likely to affect the policies Smithfield has put in place to phase out the confinement of sows in gestation crates (at its company-owned facilities) over the next four years. That policy should be replicated by Smithfield’s major competitors and be applied to the company’s contractors, too.” Read the ray of hope here.

Of course, Shuanghui’s compliance with welfare agreements made by Smithfield prior to purchase must be considered at least somewhat precarious. I suppose, though, if one were in an unusually generous mood, you could hypothesize that Smithfield’s agreement to make nominal improvements in animal welfare could shape the future of industry standards in China, where welfare considerations are effectively nil. Although with Larry Pope, Smithfield’s CEO, saying that the deal “preserves the same old Smithfield,” I wouldn’t get too excited about this neo-liberal nightmare of a deal.


Steve King Has a Dream

» May 17th, 2013


You have to give the Humane Society of the United States credit for scaring the snot out of Big Agriculture. For those who persist in thinking that HSUS and other welfare organizations are in some sort of dark conspiratorial cahoots with our nation’s most powerful producers of animal products, I would urge you to look closely at the current Farm Bill.

In particular, consider the recent addendum snuck into the bill by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) during the latest House Agriculture Committee session.  An excellent overview of this sordid episode came yesterday from Mariann Sullivan, of Our Hen House. Read it here.

The King addendum stipulates that any state requiring minimal welfare standards in animal agriculture—think Prop 2 in California—cannot ban the importation of animal products from states that lack those standards.  This unctuous loophole effectively negates any and all local initiatives to seek better conditions for farm animals. In so doing, it leads to what Sullivan rightly calls “a race to the regulatory bottom.” Hard to imagine that we could get much lower.

Concrete if hypothetical example:  If you’re an egg producer in California, the motivation will be, under the King amendment, to move to Nevada (or Idaho or Montana . . .), abandon the costly welfare standards imposed by Prop 2, but still maintain access to lucrative California markets.  Frankly (and maybe they did), the political advocates for animal welfare improvement should have seen this one coming all the way from Iowa. King’s dream cannot be that much of a surprise.

Still, this is the cynical politics of fear, a politics inspired in part by the HSUS’s successful efforts to push “minimal” (that’s Wayne Pacelle’s own description) improvements onto animal agriculture on the state level.  It is, however, also the politics of politics, something more sinister, and something that one enters at his peril, or at least armed with low expectations and a regiment of lobbyists.

It’s hard to get much of anything done in a top-down sort of way in our Federalist system of government, much less the imposition costly welfare reforms for the voiceless. The horse-trading, as it were, began in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention and has since only intensified to make centralized change more costly and difficult than it need be. Sadly, frustratingly, the King amendment is just another loophole in the Swiss cheese of political reform for farm animals.

This ease with which the King hole was punched suggests very strongly that organizations such as HSUS are better off spending their time seeking change on the corporate rather than the political level. I don’t mean to overstate the dichotomy here between corporations and government, nor do I think political pressure is useless. However, I think that a successful melding of documented consumer interest in welfare standards with persistent corporate advocacy has the potential to render efforts by madmen such as King moot, or at least limit their effectiveness to serving as desperate cries for help under the immense pressure of compassion that’s still struggling to find its loudest bullhorn.


What to do? Here’s this, from Gene Baur at Farm Sanctuary:

I need your help. Right now, please call your Representative in the U.S. Congress and ask that she or he work to remove the King Amendment from the House Farm Bill, which passed by a voice vote on Wednesday night.

The King Amendment could negate most state and local farm animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, horse slaughter, and foie gras (along with other laws related to environmental protection, worker safety, and more).

Please make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representativeurging opposition to the King Amendment. You can say simply, “Hi. I live in CITY, I’m calling to ask that Representative NAME oppose the King Amendment to the Farm Bill, which could slash protections for animals and violates state’s rights.” If the person you speak with doesn’t know your representative’s position, please leave your name and phone number, and ask for a call back.

After calling, please submit this form to automatically send a follow-up message.



Responses to Post on the Burger King Award

» May 12th, 2013

Last week I wrote about what I thought to be a poor decision on the part of HSUS to give Burger King the Henry Spira Humane Corporate Progress Award for the company’s progress in ending the extreme confinement of farm animals in small crates and cages. My issue was not with the improvements, however nominal, for factory farmed animals (that still end up celebrated and consumed as Whoppers). Instead, it was with the implication, via an award in honor of Henry Spira no less, that less confinement was enough to warrant a public accolade. In other words, my problem was the ongoing failure to explicitly identify a vegan worldview as the ultimate end goal, something I suggested was all too common.

It generated feedback.

This came from Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy for Animals:

Big fan of your writing. Not sure if you have ever expressed this sentiment with Mercy For Animals, but one of the many reasons I am proud to work with MFA is because we do make the end goal clear (an end to all animal exploitation), even when praising companies or individuals for making positive strides in the right direction.

You may notice that at the end of any MFA blog post about an incremental welfare improvement, we say the best thing people can do to help animals is go vegan. Example:

While we do encourage companies to make welfare improvements, our first suggestion for people who want to help animals on our Get Active page is to go vegan:

On our website, we have an entire page devoted to explaining the humane myth:

At the same time, we realize that our message has to resonate with mainstream, omnivorous Americans. So we are strategic in our messaging. For example, we often start the conversation about veganism with the word vegetarian, because that word is more accessible to most people. More on that here:

My point is I think it is possible for organizations to praise companies that make some improvements, in the same way we may praise someone who takes the first step toward veganism by exploring Meatless Monday, but still be clear that the goal should be to end the exploitation of animals. Although some vegans seem to think we have to say “go vegan, go vegan, go vegan” all the time or it is implied that some forms of animal exploitation are okay, I don’t think that is the message most Americans take away. For example, here is an interview I did with an Ag News Radio station about MFA’s campaign to ban gestation crates in which the host seems to think he could call me out on our “secret” vegan agenda. He was surprised to find I had no problem admitting we want people to stop exploiting animals full stop:

Anyway, I guess I am just saying that it is possible to be strategic with our messaging, but also clear about the end goal. And I think MFA is a good example of that.

HSUS was in touch as well (privately).

They note—and I’m summarizing— that Henry Spira frequently praised companies that thrived on animal exploitation  for making progress in animal welfare. The source of the Spira award–or at least the idea of it—came from none other than Peter Singer, who knew Henry Spira well and still oversees the group Henry founded (ARI). HSUS added that Ethics into Action (Singer’s biography of Henry) paints a clear picture of the pragmatic advocate that he was. They go on to add that BK has made very real progress, so much so that it’s been condemned by a number of  Big Ag groups. All of this strikes me as quite important, evidence of HSUS effectiveness, and a good reminder that  methods of advocacy will never be perfect and that there is no avoiding some level of engagement with the enemy.

But, for the record, I still think a corporate award is going too far, Singer notwithstanding.