by Bradley Miller
(Bradley Miller founded the Humane Farming Association, www.hfa.org, for which he is national director, in 1985.)
By now you have likely noticed the flow of press releases from some of the largest marketers of factory-raised meat, dairy, and eggs –– and the Humane Society of the U.S. –– announcing supposedly “game changing” animal welfare policies. Unfortunately, the game HSUS is playing has changed very little. It merely shifted from misrepresenting public policy –– to misrepresenting corporate policy. Which means it can make the same grand claims, with even less accountability.
“California will be a cage-free state come 2015.”
––HSUS claim (2008 through 2014)
Until the first of this year, the above claim was HSUS president Wayne Pacelle’s promotional mantra regarding Proposition 2, the botched 2008 California ballot measure that cost the humane community more than $10 million –– and a good chunk of its credibility. Pacelle’s “cage-free California” yarn was repeated everywhere from star-studded parties in Beverly Hills, to self-congratulatory lectures in Hawaii, to his promotional book-tour stops nationwide.
But today, as you read this, literally millions of hens remain suffering in cages throughout California –– a glaring testament to the hazards of accepting HSUS claims at face value.
After completely blowing the single greatest opportunity the animal movement ever had to eliminate battery cages through state law, HSUS has turned to big business for something –– anything –– that can serve as a substitute “victory.” And Pacelle has a brand new claim to fame:
“General Mills Will Go 100% Cage-Free.”
––HSUS (July 2015)
That’s right. HSUS has gone from falsely claiming that the state of California has banned cages to, instead, claiming that the General Mills corporation will. And exactly when will that happen? Let’s just say that Pacelle no longer needs to worry about his claim having an expiration date. Because, this time, there isn’t one.
Welcome to the open-ended world of “corporate campaigns.” It’s a magical place where promotable “victories” can occur about every other week – and where false promises can last, not just six years, or eight years – but an entire lifetime.
The list of companies hopping aboard the humane-washing bandwagon reads like a who’s who of the biggest animal exploiting corporations in America. McDonalds. Burger King. Safeway. Kroger. Sam’s Club. Denny’s. Nestlés. Smithfield. Tyson Foods. General Mills. Costco. Walmart.
What do all these companies have in common?
First, of course, is that they are among the world’s largest marketers of factory farm animal products – and they plan to keep it that way. Secondly, their so-called animal welfare policies are worthless.
Take General Mills, for example. Far from eliminating battery-cage eggs, its recent announcement contains nothing other than non-binding public relations fluff. The company merely said that it intends to ask others, namely, its suppliers, to “determine a path” “toward” doing so at some un-specified point in the future.
Simply put, General Mills committed itself to doing nothing – and gave absolutely no timeline for (not) doing it.
Nevertheless, the company was instantly rewarded with widely-publicized accolades from HSUS. If that dynamic sounds eerily familiar, it should. Because, that’s exactly what happened eight years ago with another company that has been in the news lately, Costco.
Walmart and General Mills are only the most recent companies to use HSUS for the purpose of conning the public into thinking that the animal products they sell are from animals that are humanely treated and enjoy a life that is free from, get this, “discomfort, fear, or distress.”
Among the first to use this ploy was Costco, the world’s largest warehouse chain. Eight, count them, eight years ago (2007), Costco began receiving free publicity and accolades from HSUS for merely saying that it intended to stop (at some unspecified point in the future) selling battery cage eggs.
Fast forward to June 2015.
Literally within days of Walmart announcing its own Costco-like policy, Costco itself was “exposed” for selling eggs from horrific battery cage operations. The problem, of course, is that this was a surprise to no one! Least of all, to HSUS, which has been fully-aware each and every day for the last eight years that Costco was selling battery cage eggs. That never once stopped HSUS from invoking Costco’s name as one of their “corporate campaign” success stories.
It’s just that now, with the widely-publicized failure of Proposition 2 –– coupled with the fact that a failed deal with United Egg Producers to pass federal standards for hen caging infamously left Pacelle on record as endorsing egg factory cages as a national standard –– HSUS is now attempting to recast itself as being, once again, anti-cage.
And that’s what “corporate campaigns” are all about. Rebranding. Positive press for the marketers of factory farm products. Positive stories for HSUS to tell. And positively nothing for farm animals.