The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) announced its plans this week to file lawsuits against 51 large-scale pork operations in North Carolina, Iowa and Oklahoma. HSUS contends that its research chronicles unreported releases of ammonia into the environment by the pork firms.
In reading the lawsuit and press releases, it’s clear that this move by HSUS is a very well orchestrated attack on the pork industry. It combines the environmental aspect with the animal welfare component; it also singles out the large production entities and those that have been supporters of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).
I suppose you could say that the HSUS move is a testament to both NPPC and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) effectiveness in thwarting HSUS’s anti-livestock agenda in Washington, DC. It’s increasingly clear that HSUS is frustrated by these groups’ ability to influence livestock policy in Washington, and thus are moving their attacks to the courts and the court of public opinion. These are areas where HSUS can stack the odds in its favor by using populist themes, teams of lawyers and millions of dollars to effect the desired outcome.
Even its opponents have to be impressed by HSUS’s moves to give money to what many had considered to be traditional ag groups. In some cases, HSUS has even formed its own entities, called ag councils, which it’s used to latch onto the hard-earned reputation and respect that most consumers have for American farmers and ranchers.
While most producers are enraged by these ag groups selling their souls for HSUS dollars, these groups do share some common ground with HSUS. For example, there’s a shared dislike for modern agriculture, large entities, checkoff programs, and the groups with political clout in D.C.
With that said, it still appears to be a pretty unstable relationship, though marriages of convenience have been known to last. Thus, it is incumbent on the industry, if it’s to remain viable, not to allow themselves and their organizations to be cast in this light. The truth is that NCBA, NPPC and its members may be the only forces of significance within their industries that are well known and well respected in the Beltway.
Thus far, the populist attacks upon them, trying to make them look like they are not grassroots organizations and/or are controlled by large corporations or packers have failed internally because industry leaders generally are involved and active in these organizations and know the truth about them. This is not the case with the general public, however, and it’s a race to see who can define themselves first in the minds of consumers.
While these national livestock organizations have been highly effective in protecting their industry’s members from harmful legislation and regulation, they simply don’t have the dollars to wage these battles in the court of public opinion or the courts. That’s apparently what HSUS is banking on.