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July 10, 2007

Desperate Distortion

One reason I decided to blog was to have a rapid-response capability—to respond to breaking news, to bring up urgent issues not getting the mainstream attention they deserve, and to create a dialogue with our supporters. I also wanted a forum to rebut some of the pap that our opponents churn up.

Center for Consumer Freedom retraction about The HSUS
© Center for Consumer Freedom
The Center for Consumer Freedom retracts
a statement about The HSUS.

Our opponents have always resorted to dredging up very old quotes and taking them out of context, or even revising or inventing quotes out of whole cloth. But now in the age of email and the Internet, they have a means of disseminating their little gems farther and wider than ever before. It reminds me of the oft-quoted observation from Winston Churchill that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

A fair number of hunting writers and their allies at the NRA and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance are habitual and knowing offenders. But perhaps the most favored quote that many of our opponents return to, including the hired guns at the consistently reckless Center for Consumer Freedom, was one attributed to me in 1993 (14 years ago): “We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding... One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.”

I have made my views known in hundreds of public speeches and in writing on thousands of occasions, but in various forms this single, distorted quotation is the one a certain kind of adversary returns to again and again, as if a single comment negates two decades worth of statements and actions to the contrary.

Here’s what happened with this supposed iteration. Several years before I joined the staff of The HSUS, in 1992 or 1993, I appeared at an agricultural forum to address the issue of animal welfare in American agriculture. In the question and answer session, an attendee asked whether there should be an attempt to preserve all breeds of exotic livestock. I was specifically queried about so-called “heirloom breeds” (older breed variations that are often not used any longer for a commercial purpose and whose continued survival as a breed may be in jeopardy) and their value to agriculture. 

At the time, I did not consider the fate of such breeds an ethically significant dilemma (my views have become more nuanced on that topic through the years). At the time, I replied by saying that I did not believe we had a moral obligation to the animals to preserve such breeds; in short, I said we did not need an endangered species act for rare livestock breeds.

A representative of an extreme and now defunct organization called Putting People First, present at this forum, took this passing comment about rare breeds of livestock and morphed it into a comment about all domesticated animals—devoid of its essential and undeniably clear context.

In the ensuing years, my comments on that occasion have been willfully distorted as part of efforts to paint me falsely as an opponent of pet keeping and the keeping of other domesticated animals. It serves a kind of motivational function for cockfighters, dogfighters, safari hunters, trappers, puppy millers and others who wish to caricature the views of The HSUS and to deflect attention from their own conduct. Most recently, it has come up a number of times during the debate over a bill in the state legislature in California, A.B. 1634, to establish a state policy to promote spaying and neutering of dogs and cats. Their claim here is that this bill is part of a larger strategy to eliminate pet keeping—and that is demonstrably false.

The policy positions of The HSUS, of course, are not a secret. Anyone can go to humanesociety.org and read our board-approved policy statements.

Our opponents are fearful of us not because we are extreme, but precisely the opposite—because our ideas resonate with mainstream Americans. Without anything of recent origin to point to, they resort to manipulating comments that are a decade-and-a-half old, and even then are used entirely out of context. That’s pretty desperate stuff.

All one needs to do is look at our core programs and activities that are designed to confront cruelty—combating dogfighting and cockfighting, fighting factory farming, halting canned hunts, opposing seal clubbing, shutting down puppy mills. Take the temperature of average Americans on any of those issues, and 8 in 10 will agree with our position. That’s really what they fear.

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