The Humane Society of the United States is an "opponent" whose agenda includes disrupting animal agriculture, according to two speakers at the World Pork Expo.
Animal rights advocates have gotten much more sophisticated than in the past, and animal agriculture faces a long-term war with the Humane Society of the United States, according to the speakers.
"The old PETA movement didn't sell themselves," said Brian Klippenstein, executive director of Protect the Harvest. Klippenstein said the PETA movement had an image of being radical, but HSUS is a "serious and capable" opponent.
Klippenstein told an audience at the World Pork Expo June 6 that pork, poultry and egg producers shouldn't think of the HSUS as an opponent with a cause, but as an opponent with a large financial motive. Klippenstein said their strategy is to attack one industry and identify states that can set regulation by ballot initiatives, such as the California cage ban for the egg industry.
"These nonprofits have become lucrative," said Klippenstein. "They have specific targets, and they rely on success for further fundraising. The HSUS is a big operation that takes care of itself and means to stay in business. They will do that by opposing animal agriculture. They want to impose their preferences, increase your costs, sour your image and try to put you out of business."
That view was backed by the second speaker, Rick Berman of Berman & Co. He said the HSUS raises money from the public, many of whom support animal shelters, though Berman said 1 percent of that money goes to shelters. He said the money instead goes to support HSUS and fight animal agriculture, which industry aims to show the public.
"HSUS would rather spend money helping chickens than saving cats and dogs. If everyone was against farming and was donating money to be against farming, we would have a problem," said Berman. "People are giving money to protect cats and dogs, not to fight animal agriculture."
In referring to HSUS' current campaign against the pork industry's use of gestation stalls, he said controlling the terminology used can do much to sway public opinion.
"If you tell people we use individual maternity pens, rather than gestation stalls, we will be better off," said Berman. "Maternity pens sound much better and still describe the process."
To combat the HSUS campaign to pressure restaurants and groceries to require their pork sources to ban gestation stalls, Berman worked with HumaneWatch to send a video to retailers with industry's side of the story on maternity pens. "If we tell people that veterinarians and farmers believe that these pens are humane, you can change public opinion," he said.
Berman also works with the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, which is educating the public on how little of the money the HSUS raises goes to shelters. The campaign encourages people to support local shelters with direct donations, instead of responding to HSUS ads that represent the HSUS as an organization focused on supporting animal shelters.
According to Berman: "We have stopped the momentum on HSUS drive to get restaurants and grocers to stop sourcing pork from suppliers who do gestation pens. Now we need to attack their misleading fundraising ads.
"Animal agriculture has to defend against this. Agriculture needs to be on the offense, not defense. Do you want to be on offense and defense?"
He said agriculture, by its nature, is at a disadvantage: "HSUS is in the marketing-message business with 130 million budget. Ag is in business of producing food and doesn't have that budget."