Best known for their cute kitten and fuzzy puppy propaganda , the Humane Society of the United States has “come out of the closet” with their emotional pleas to stop abuse of “factory farm animals.”  It should now be clear that HSUS is more about driving animal agriculture out of our culture than they are about caring for abandoned pets.

There is no question – abusing animals is indefensible and is particularly intolerable if you work with them every day.  However, painting wide brush strokes of abuse allegations against all of agriculture is not the answer.  HSUS is a master at playing the heart strings of a public disconnected from their food production or processing.  HSUS video stunts have successfully re-shaped their image.  If the agrifood business doesn’t begin to speak out agains their posturing, the group is positioning themselves as the “logical choice” to oversee animal welfare.

According to an artilce in The Press-Enterprise,  the video footage released late January and captured last fall by an undercover Humane Society investigator at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. brought in funds for the group’s expanded investigation unit, increased its clout on Capitol Hill and helped the organization known mostly for helping pets to redefine itself as a hard-hitting watchdog. See http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_S_humane17.34c29c1.html  for the full article.

“It shows a tougher, harder edge to a group that many people might have thought was your grandmother’s humane society,” Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said. During the four years Pacelle has been at the healm, the nonprofit organization’s annual budget has nearly doubled from $75 million to $140 million in that period.

While HSUS grows their bank account, they are driving up food prices and likely moving more people away from meat consumption.  Matt Byrne, executive vice president of the California Cattlemen’s Association, said the organization supported the USDA recall stemming from HSUS videos and still does. The downside is that there’s less processing capacity and higher costs, he said.

Let’s get real. Publicity stunts by groups such as HSUS are helping to drive up food prices.  Increased regulations, longer distances between gate and plate and government spending to answer HSUS battle cries all result in higher prices for consumers.  They have nearly doubled their bank account in four years and are behind several ballot initiatives across the country to further diminish agriculture’s management choices.

This goes beyond just animal agriculture and reaches across our whole agrifood system.  What is agriculture going to do to connect our business with consumer heartstrings before our image is reshaped from one of trust to disdain?  And, what role do you have in that?

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