Just the mention of those four little letters – HSUS – can evoke strong emotions in most cattlemen. And those emotions largely are justified, despite the fact that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has removed from its website its vision of limiting animal agriculture. So while HSUS might claim otherwise, the organization remains the best-funded and among the most effective of activist groups aligned against our industry.
That’s the bad news in an otherwise bit of very good news recently that HSUS lost, and lost big, in its attempt to bully Feld Entertainment over its use of Asian elephants.
Recently, the organization was among a handful of activist groups forced to cough up $15.75 million to Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus. The activist groups had sued the circus folks their use of endangered Asian elephants, claiming it was a taking under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The settlement brings the total recovered by Feld Entertainment to more than $25 million in legal fees and expenses, which Feld Entertainment actually spent in defending the ESA case.
For the first time, HSUS picked on an entity with the financial resources and fortitude to fight back. Understandably, the future of the circus rested upon the outcome of the case, and Feld Entertainment put it all on the line. In the end, Feld Entertainment won, and won big, in gaining back all of its court costs because of the frivolous lawsuit.
Unfortunately, HSUS may succeed in getting its insurance company to bear the majority of the court judgment, though the insurance provider is so far disputing the claim, contending that it wasn’t informed of the lawsuit by HSUS.
It’s ironic that HSUS has taken to heart the oft-quoted P.T. Barnum, who said there’s a sucker born every minute. The strength of HSUS comes from its bank account. HSUS is a money-raising juggernaut that scrapes in hundreds of millions of dollars, giving it tremendous clout in its fight against our industry. Hundreds of HSUS staffers wake up every morning with their primary motive being the destruction of our livelihood.
I find it frustrating that HSUS’s revenue comes in large part from well-intended consumers who actually believe they’re supporting needy pets and animal shelters, rather than an agenda they likely would disavow if they were aware of it. The bottom line, however, is that HSUS will always be able to outspend livestock producers by a factor of at least 100 to 1. And that’s thanks to the masterful job HSUS has done in hiding its true agenda under the guise of animal welfare.
With HSUS licking its wounds, how will it react? Some say the organization will just fall back on its old strategy of picking on entities it knows can’t match its deep pockets. But reading the court opinions, I think it’s becoming clear that the judicial system is growing tired of such frivolous legal games.
Of course, the other great weapon HSUS has utilized is the ballot initiative. Here in Colorado, HSUS wrung some concessions from livestock producers by threatening a ballot initiative the industry knew it didn’t have the war chest to fight. However, when HSUS came back to Colorado again with the same tactic, the industry drew a line in the sand. Eventually, with the help of a little consumer backlash, HSUS decided to withdraw its initiatives.
But we know that HSUS will be back, and it will pour millions into the next fight. The livestock industry is on tenuous footing because it can’t match the resources that HSUS can muster, but at least HSUS knows it will face a fight.
The bottom line is that the industry needs to be vigilant in getting its good story out in front of consumers in order to utilize the added voices in the coming battle. The good news is that at least we now know that as powerful as HSUS is, it can’t simply buy all of its victories.
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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