Every agricultural organization out there has to be a little envious of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS). And it’s not just because of the group’s ability to amass huge sums of money and attract members, but its ability to claim and hold the moral high ground – whether it’s deserved or not.
HSUS went after its critics this week, attacking Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Rick Berman, a prominent lobbyist for the restaurant industry and an avowed HSUS foe. Berman has been raising questions about HSUS’s money-raising tactics, namely that most of its members and donors erroneously are led to believe they are supporting an organization (HSUS) that runs animal shelters or cares for abused animals. In actuality, pet shelters are a minute and token part of HSUS’s budget and an even smaller priority.
Of course, standing for animal welfare and standing up against the establishment and modern agriculture is a popular thing to do in some circles, and HSUS is great at it. HSUS also likes to point out its agreements with agricultural groups like the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Farmer’s Union and the United Egg Producers. And the organization is eloquent and vociferous in its pronouncements that it wants to work with the livestock industry to provide animal protection. The reality is that everyone wants to provide the best care available for animals; nobody opposes that.
You must understand that many of the groups that have “cooperated” with HSUS were almost forced to do so in order to avoid costly battles. In many cases, the resolutions were masterful, in that any harm to the industry was minimal and concerned changes in practices that a relatively uniformed public would likely highly support.
I acknowledge that most people I know who have worked with organizations like HSUS at the highest levels are convinced that the organization’s true commitment is the eventual demise of livestock production. Of course, HSUS denies this.
It presents a dilemma to the industry. If HSUS is an entity we can work with and is truly only concerned about animal welfare, then they should be an ally. But, if HSUS is truly driven to end animal agriculture, then we are, in essence, aiding the organization in a drawn-out process that will result in death by a thousand cuts.
Personally, I believe HSUS’s ultimate intentions are clear, but I don’t blame any of the ag groups that have aligned with the organization. By doing so, they avoided worse outcomes of a confrontation for which they had neither the money nor political power to match what HSUS could bring to bear.
I hope I’m wrong, because if I’m not then HSUS’s money and numbers combined with a divide-and-conquer strategy will be unstoppable. That is, unless the industry figures out how to claim the moral high ground, and that means absolutely eliminating any perception of animal abuse at all times.
Certainly words are not enough. No one disputes that animal welfare is not only the right thing to do, but the economically right decision for producers as well. But as long as the livestock industry wears the black hats, we’ll continue to pay the price.