February 2013 Blog Home April 2013


20 posts from March 2013


March 29, 2013

Sign Up for National Animal Protection Conference in Nashville in May

When I travel around the country, many advocates ask me, “how can I do more to help animals?” Responding to that question, sometime back, on “A Humane Nation,” I wrote a blog listing 55 ways to help. One of the best ongoing training grounds for engagement is our Animal Care Expo, a world-class educational conference and full-scale international trade show. This year, it’s happening in Nashville from May 8-11, and you can register online today (if you register by Sunday, you can get the bargain registration rate) to participate in a life-changing, inspirational event. 

2012_Expo_ExhibitHallI predict this year’s Animal Care Expo will be the biggest one yet, with more than 2,000 animal care professionals and other advocates from 40 different countries. We’ll also have a trade show, with booths and displays from more than 175 corporations in our field. It’s the largest education conference in the fields of animal sheltering and control, rescue and emergency services and animal advocacy. It’s a way to recharge your batteries by being around others of like mind, and to learn about innovation, best practices, and issues in our field. 

I’m excited to announce that Dan Heath, co-author of “Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard,” will be presenting during our welcome session on the Expo’s opening night. The HSUS team has found this book incredibly helpful in our work – and we’re sure Dan’s words of wisdom will empower our attendees and get them thinking in new and fresh ways. I’m also excited to announce that we’ve added new intensive networking opportunities and more than 55 professional development workshops, including new tracks in hot topics and rescue central. We’re also hosting a special session on the shelter community and its challenges in relation to cats and controlling cat populations called “Radically Rethinking Our Response to Cats,” as part of our continuing leadership on this issue.

In today’s world, about 3 million healthy and treatable pets are euthanized in shelters every year. There’s no simple or formulaic solution to this problem, but by combining our talents, together we have seen tremendous strides, and we will reach the goal of no pets euthanized for lack of a home. At The HSUS , our work aims to tackle this issue on multiple fronts from The Shelter Pet Project, which promotes pet adoption to potential owners, to our Pets for Life program, which extends the reach of pet care to under-served areas and through the support of local animal shelter and rescue groups. But at Expo, we’ll also be talking about horses, laboratory animals, farm animals, wildlife and every other kind of animal, and how we, together, can do something about their plight and to make the world a better place for every one of them.

March 28, 2013

Talk Back: Ag-Gag Suppresses Truth

Yesterday, The HSUS took out the first in a series of full-page advertisements in Indiana newspapers condemning proposed anti-whistleblower or “ag-gag” legislation, SB 373, which is designed to prevent the public from getting whistleblower-based information about the workings of factory farms. In the ad, we let Indiana newspapers do the talking, since most of the state’s leading news outlets oppose the effort to shut down the free flow of information about the conditions of animals and about food safety. One can only presume that if they didn’t have anything to hide, they wouldn’t be concerned about people taking pictures of how the animals are treated.

Anti ag-gag newspaper ad
The HSUS' full-page ad condemning the proposed
"ag-gag" legislation (SB 373) in Indiana.

“When government fails to fulfill its watchdog duty, citizens, especially but not exclusively in the news media, must take on that role.” – The Indianapolis Star

"This bill would thwart the flow of needed information by throwing a cloak of secrecy around an activity that farmers, at least those who have nothing to hide, ought to be proud to show off …Clearly, this bill is not in the public’s best interest.” – The Muncie Star Press

"Businesses, including large factory farms that are operating responsibly, don’t need – nor should they want – this bill to pass." The Journal Gazette

The Indiana Senate has already passed this bill, and this morning the House Agriculture Committee (on a strict party-line vote, with republicans favoring SB 373) passed the bill, in order to allow consideration of the full House. Now it’s up to Indiana voters to let their elected officials know that this legislation simply goes too far.

There are nine other states with similar bills, though most of them have been killed or are unlikely to move forward. The HSUS is working with a growing coalition of organizations and individuals who support First Amendment rights and who also believe that every American has a stake in the integrity of animal production and slaughter facilities, especially in relation to food safety and animal welfare. 

Because of the central importance of investigation and information-gathering, many of you have had something to say about the tactics of the agribusiness lobby:

Agribusiness groups have been made well aware of how much money Hallmark lost once their hideous abuse was exposed by The HSUS, and so now are quite understandably desperate to have anti-whistleblower measures put into place....but the public has a right to know where their food comes from. Demand transparency.
- Debbie Johnson

I ask that any of the lawmakers, business owners or politicians who are "for" preventing exposure of their methods with undercover investigations ask their children what they think about it all. They would find that the youth of this society believe such cowardice to be shameful, greedy and totally unsupportable. Which would agribusiness rather pay for: lawsuits, court battles, public outcry, loss of business, negative publicity and eventual defeat, or simple humane practices strictly adhered to in the name of honesty and responsibility?
- Ramey Zamora

How rewarding it is to be part of this organization. A great organization is a reflection of its leader and motivated members. Let's stay motivated to fight this kind of cruelty and evil! God Bless!
Dixie

Some of us are more than happy to write to the businesses and states who are promoting this, and let them know that we will boycott their products.
Bonnie Hale

Appalling what people are finding OK these days. Animals are not here to be abused. This is giving the world a message that to harm and abuse animals for their own gain is OK, but it is not OK. It’s been proven that if you inflict these acts on animals you are also prone to think it’s ok to do the same to humans. We will end up paying for these choices. Our children will see these acts, and that we do nothing to prevent them, and they will think it’s OK too.
Plbettis

Simply put: restaurant inspectors inspect without warning. Nursing home inspectors inspect without warning. Zagats representatives inspect without warning, and so on throughout the industries requiring inspections. So what gives agribusiness the right to be excluded from undercover inspections when they are routine and necessary in many other industries! Any judge should see that you shouldn't criminalize undercover inspections in one industry, while at the same time making it protocol in other industries.
CY

I agree wholeheartedly with what you have said.  Let us know to whom we may address our protest letters, as you have in the past.  We animal rights folks are legion.  We can make a difference.  Just direct us to the proper place to deliver our messages that will have the most impact.
- Patricia J. McClenahan

Agribusiness groups think that it’s okay to take a public relations hit in the short run, if they can shut down the information flow about their industrialized farming practices. We have to show them that their conduct, and this raft of legislation, will not be tolerated in our society.

More info on ag-gag here >>

 

March 27, 2013

Turning Things Around for Wolves

The HSUS has drawn a line in the sand – no trophy hunting of wolves in Michigan. 

Today, together with other members of a broad coalition of organizations, The HSUS submitted 253,705 signatures in support of a referendum to nullify the Michigan legislature’s December 2012 act to reclassify wolves as a game species, which is a pretext for setting up a trophy hunting and commercial trapping season. If the state certifies the petition – as it should, since petitioners collected well in excess of the 161,000 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot – it will suspend the wolf hunting law and block hunting seasons this year and next. There’ll be a statewide vote on the issue then, and if Michigan residents reject the idea of wolf hunting by casting “no” votes, then we can make that protection of wolves indefinite.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected
Volunteers and members of the Keep Michigan Wolves
Protected campaign at the state capital with the 253,705
signatures they collected in only 67 days.

I wrote earlier this year that 2012 was the worst year for wolves in the United States in decades – with ruthless sport hunting programs conducted in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, often involving hound hunting of wolves, steel-jawed leghold traps, and other inhumane and unsporting practices. We at The HSUS decided to implement a plan to turn it around with a series of lawsuits and our Michigan campaign, designed to show politicians everywhere that Americans value wolves and don’t think they should be killed for frivolous purposes.

In 2006, we blocked the shooting of mourning doves in Michigan, preserving their long-standing protected status in the state. Now we want to do that for wolves, who have not been hunted in Michigan in decades and are only beginning to recover from the brink of extinction. We and our coalition partners will have to conduct a sophisticated public-relations campaign to win that vote in a November 2014 vote, but we’ve taken a big and necessary step today by submitting these petitions, with so many Michigan voter signatures in support.

My thanks to the 2,000 Michigan volunteers who braved cold, ice and snow during these last 67 days to collect signatures from registered voters. We amassed signatures in every one of the state’s 83 counties, demonstrating support for wolf protection from every corner of the state, from Detroit to Iron Mountain. I am quite sure that every one of them had in mind the notion that killing wolves just for bragging rights or for the pelt or trophy is unacceptable and inhumane.

March 26, 2013

Horse Slaughter Controversy Won’t Quit

The issue of horse slaughter is playing out at the highest levels of government – both as a matter of policy and the actual mechanics of overseeing the industry and its effects. Presented with a half dozen applications for horse slaughter plants his agency will be called on to inspect, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week that there should be a “third way” to manage America’s horse population, and that we can develop a system to deal with homeless horses without sending them to slaughter. European authorities are still trying to figure out how some parties in the supply chain swapped out beef for horse, and duped consumers. They’re also trying to determine how to maintain food safety standards by allowing trade in a class of animals not originally raised for food, and in terms of the industries from which they originate, are routinely fed and injected with drugs not fit for human consumption.

In Congress, several veteran lawmakers introduced legislation two weeks ago to ban the live export of horses for slaughter for human consumption. Meanwhile, under pressure from agriculture interests, Oklahoma is poised to repeal its longstanding horse slaughter ban. That would clear the state path for a horse slaughter plant to open, but doesn’t guarantee any final approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on any particular plant.

Horses bound for slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The notion that the U.S. would resume horse slaughtering at a time when the global horse meat market is in turmoil raises all sorts of curious questions. Where does the financing come from? Why would anyone invest in a shadowy business enterprise like horse slaughter, with no domestic market, with congressional legislation looming to ban exports, and with the primary global market of Europe in a tail-spin over the recent horse meat scandal? It’s like investing in beach-front property right after a hurricane has slammed into the area.

The HSUS and the ASPCA have just released a poll that reveals that 66 percent of Oklahoma voters won’t support horse slaughter legislation. Yet the state legislature, goaded by the phony arguments of horse slaughter proponents that killing horses is good for the animals, seems hell-bent on the idea. Remember though, it took a ballot measure to outlaw cockfighting in the state. There were some lawmakers aligned with the cockfighting lobby who believed it was a form of economic development they didn’t want to squander. Hell, the family of the author of the horse slaughtering bill runs a major horse auction site, and she may be able to get a piece of the economic action that results if Oklahoma becomes the new hub of the American horse slaughter industry.

And why are the cattlemen so hot on horse slaughter? Yes, I understand they take a strictly utilitarian view toward animals, and would rather sell off a horse they no longer want for $200 to a killer buyer than to pay $200 to humanely dispose of the animal. But aside from that, if the U.S. has a horse meat scandal like Europe does, you can bet that beef sales will plunge here. As was the case with “downers,” sick or injured cattle they still wanted to slaughter, big beef is an industry that’s pennywise and pound foolish.

The whole thing smells like a rotting carcass. One thing you can count on is that The HSUS will not relent in our efforts to protect horses in the U.S. and throughout the world, especially from this predatory, vile slaughtering industry.


Help fight horse slaughter >>

March 25, 2013

Another HSUS Front of Action: Protecting Land for Wildlife

We campaign hard against baiting and hounding of predators, contest kills, captive hunts, trophy hunts, poaching, the trade in wildlife parts, and so many other human-caused problems for wildlife. But arguably the greatest anthropogenic threat to wildlife is destruction of habitat. That’s one reason why the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust works so hard to protect the living environments of wild creatures. 

Since 1993, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, alone or in partnership with other conservation groups, has participated in the protection of more than 2 million acres of wildlife habitat in 38 states and eight foreign countries.

Coyote - John Harrison
John Harrison

I am so pleased to report that we’ve just added a 1,122-acre wilderness property in Sonoma County, California to our quilt of protected lands. Located in the southern extension of the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforests, this sanctuary has spectacular views of Buck Knoll Ridge to the north and Marble Mine Ridge to the south. It is bisected by a free-flowing perennial stream that provides critical habitat for the foothill yellow-legged frog and steelhead trout. Mature forests — including redwoods, oak woodland, Douglas-fir and tanoak forests — cover nearly 90 percent of the sanctuary, and portions of the property provide habitat for the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet (a small North Pacific seabird), both species listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.  

The landowners we work with via HSWLT tell us how thankful they are to find a land trust that shares their concern and compassion for wildlife, one that cares about all wildlife, whether endangered or not, as HSWLT does. On these lands, we’ll allow no sport hunting or trapping, won’t sell off lands for McMansions or strip malls, or cut down trees or mine the earth for minerals or energy. It’s a special role, and it’s one we’re honored to fulfill for those who want to ensure such protections.

This shared sense of humane values is what led trustees of the Thelma Doelger Animal and Wildlife Preserve Trust to select HSWLT to permanently protect this beautiful patch of nature – which supports an estimated 160 wildlife species. Originally used as a family retreat, the property also became a sanctuary for primates formerly used in research. Thelma Doelger kindly took them in, providing safe, healthy housing and caregivers for their remaining years. Thelma Doelger’s deep interest in animals, and in particular, her sensitivity for research animals who had suffered abuse, as well as her desire to ensure that wildlife would continue to have the habitat they need to survive, makes HSWLT the perfect match for her vision for the land and wildlife.

We are here to carry forward Thelma Doelger’s compassionate vision, and we are deeply grateful to both her and the trustees for the opportunity to be responsible for protecting this significant landscape and all of its wildlife. Learn more about our habitat protect efforts at hswlt.org

March 22, 2013

Rash of Human Attacks on Sharks Must End

Texas is now the nation’s second largest state, and it’s a vital one for animal protection. In the last few years, we’ve seen the state adopt a law to set up a framework to regulate puppy mills; crack down on cockfighting by prohibiting spectators of the blood sport, as well as the possession of paraphernalia and roosters used for fighting; include pets in protective orders; ensure that animals seized in cruelty cases are not held in shelters for a long period pending an appeal; and impose a requirement for persons convicted of animal cruelty to reimburse the shelter for cost of care. Governor Rick Perry has signed all of these bills.

But there’s still much more work to be done. The HSUS helped to organize a lobby day in Austin last week, and many of the attendees were inspired to hear 11-year-old Sawyer Chandler, daughter of TV and movie star Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights,” “Argo,” and “Zero Dark Thirty”), speak about her personal campaign to end the shark fin trade.

Sawyer and her dad joined lobby day attendees asking legislators to support H.B. 852/S.B 572, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Lucio III and Sen. Larry Taylor. This bill will ban the trade, sale and possession of shark fins with the intent to sell them, and will eliminate Texas’ contribution to the cruel and wasteful global shark fin trade.

Kyle-chandler-katie-jarl
JP Bonnelly
HSUS Texas State Director Katie Jarl with shark advocates
Sam Mathieu and Sawyer Chandler, and Emmy-winning
actor Kyle Chandler at Texas Humane Lobby Day.

Overfishing, driven primarily by the illegal fin trade, is responsible for destroying an average of more than 73 million sharks each year. An inhumane and unsustainable practice, shark finning occurs when fishermen catch sharks, cut their fins off and indifferently toss the animals back into the sea, many of them still alive. Since their carcasses are only worth pennies on the pound, many fishermen focus only on the fins.

Addressing the crowd of attendees, Sawyer explained that she became aware of this issue after receiving the documentary “Sharkwater” as a gift from her parents. The self-proclaimed future marine biologist says she hopes to study sharks when she grows up and doesn’t want them to become extinct for future generations. Not only did Sawyer speak to attendees, but she also met with lawmakers and the governor, encouraging them to vote in support of the legislation. Other children followed her lead and did the same, and legislators were delighted by the show of support and enthusiasm from all the young advocates.

And just last week, our efforts to protect sharks globally paid off when the 178 countries that are members of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species agreed to protect five species of sharks — the oceanic whitetip, the scalloped hammerhead, the great hammerhead, the smooth hammerhead and the porbeagle — and two species of manta rays. This historic decision marks the first time that commercially valuable fish species have been protected by CITES and will mean that international trade in these species will now be regulated to ensure it is not harming survival of the species. Another shark relative, the freshwater sawfish, received complete protection from international commercial trade under the treaty.

The HSUS is also working in states across the country on this issue and is actively working in New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Delaware to pass laws that close important loopholes that prop up the market for shark fins. But it doesn’t take years of experience to speak out and make a difference for animals. Sawyer and the other kids in Texas prove that no matter what your age, you can lend your voice and make an impact for animals. 

March 21, 2013

The New Pope: What’s in a Name?

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to lead the more than 1 billion member Roman Catholic Church was met with widespread praise, and many have found much to admire in the new pope’s humility and initial focus. At The HSUS, we were heartened to learn that the new pontiff selected a name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the poor as well as animals and the environment.

Chickens
iStock

His two most recent predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, spoke of our call to care for creation and each expressed concern for the treatment of animals.

We’re hopeful that Pope Francis will put even more emphasis on caring for God’s creatures, and he’s off to a great start. In his homily on Tuesday, Francis said, "The vocation of being a ‘protector,’ however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.” He goes on to say, “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Over the weekend, Francis bestowed a blessing on a guide dog who was accompanying a journalist with a visual impairment. While there will be speculation about the meaning behind these small acts in the early going, Francis’ words say a great deal about what we can hope for in the coming years.

When speaking with the media just days after his selection, Francis said, “Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! … And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?”

March 20, 2013

HSUS Fur Investigations Produce Sanction of Neiman Marcus

Yesterday, The Federal Trade Commission announced an enforcement action against Neiman Marcus and two other retailers for misrepresenting animal fur to consumers by advertising it as “faux fur” on their websites. We applaud the FTC for this action and for its continued attention to fur labeling laws, and we urge them to stay on the case until people who wish to avoid animal fur no longer have to worry about buying “faux” and getting raccoon dog. The agency’s action was covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS News and others, and sends a strong message to the fur industry that it cannot get away with falsely advertising and falsely labeling animal fur. 

Garment with real fur advertised as faux fur
The HSUS
One of the garments addressed by the FTC enforcement
action that contained real fur advertised as faux.

The FTC’s enforcement action responds to many of the articles of misrepresented clothing documented by The HSUS and turned over to the agency in a 2011 legal petition. And for those who have been following our work to stop the misrepresentation of animal fur, this was just the latest in a long list of problems our investigators have turned up.

While the list of problems is indeed long, we have seen those findings translate into corporate policy changes. Just last week, I blogged that Sears Holdings Corporation, the parent company for Sears and Kmart, agreed to go fur-free on its Marketplace at Sears.com. And this comes on the heels of international coverage of our investigation into multiple animal fur garments being offered by the popular New York retailer, Century 21 Department Store, in violation of state and federal fur labeling laws. The undercover investigation included raccoon dog fur being sold as “faux fur” on a Marc Jacobs jacket. In previous years, a number of major brand name companies – including Tommy Hilfiger, Rocawear, Talbots and True Religion Brand Jeans – decided to halt their purchases of any fur garments as a result of our investigations.

With your help, we will continue to be a watchdog against fraudulent fur selling practices, and alert enforcement officials to the consumer deception we sniff out. Arm yourself with knowledge by learning how to tell real fur from fake fur.

March 19, 2013

Lions On The Brink

When it comes to sharks, big cats, bears and wolves, we humans are conflicted. We admire their physical prowess and power, but we also fear those attributes. Scientists have documented the essential role they play in ecosystem health, but ranchers, and even commercial fisherman, fear the very idea of predators killing their livestock or their catch.

These predators inspire so many of us, but they also inspire fear in others – principally because they are physically stronger and capable of killing us. I’ve long believed that fear of big predators (along with snakes, spiders and rats) is hard-wired in humans. That aversive feeling toward some animals can be overcome through education and rational analysis. But some fall prey to that fear, and they want to subjugate or dominate, and sometimes entirely wipe out, these big cats, bears and wolves.

240x270 lion face istock
iStock

It’s no surprise then that The HSUS is advocating for predators and for tolerance and understanding all over the world. We are working hard to end shark finning. We are grappling with wolf issues, trying to stop the slaughter of wolves in Alaska, the Northern Rockies, and particularly the Great Lakes – where we are pushing a bill in Minnesota and a ballot referendum in Michigan to stop the trophy hunting and commercial trapping of these wild canids. We are trying to protect polar bears in Canada from American trophy hunters and others who trade in their parts. And we are working to list African lions as endangered - one effect of that listing would be to prevent American hunters from bringing home trophies of the “king of beasts” for bragging rights.

Yesterday, a senior Tanzanian official pleaded with American officials, on the pages of the New York Times, to not provide additional protections for lions. He argued that Tanzanians make a lot of money allowing wealthy Americans to kill lions, and this aids conservation. It’s unfortunately true that American trophy hunters are the number one importer of African lions killed in Tanzania. Of the approximately 220 African lions killed in Tanzania by foreign trophy hunters each year, we import about 100.

The claim that they are providing a net benefit to conservation of species, through their license fees and other spending on the hunt, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Scientists who have studied lions and the trophy hunting industry in Tanzania have not only demonstrated that lion trophy hunting there is unsustainable, but it is also the primary threat to the survival of the species, causing population declines in recent decades. Trophy hunting is particularly harmful for lions because hunters prefer males, especially the large ones with big manes. These very same males live in prides of related females and their cubs, where their presence is a stabilizing factor. When such males are killed, new males take over the prides, killing all of the cubs, and sometimes the females who fight to protect their cubs. For each male lion killed by a trophy hunter, up to 20 other lions may die in the social chaos that results.

The African lion clearly qualifies as an endangered subspecies: there are as few as 23,000 left in all of Africa, down from 75,800 in 1980, a 48.5 percent decline; and lions occupy only 22 percent of their historic distribution. Listing the African lion as endangered would allow the U.S. to play a significant role in protecting this iconic animal from extinction.

The $1.96 million in revenue generated by lion trophy hunters each year, along with other revenue related to their hotels and guiding services, is a pittance compared to the $1.4 billion in revenue generated by the country’s tourism industry each year – one based largely on wildlife viewing. Kenya forbids trophy hunting and also generates billions in wildlife-associated tourism. Indeed, economics is important to the survival of these species, but it must also be the kind of commerce that promotes and enhances life, not the kind that denies and nullifies it.

March 18, 2013

Assault On American Values

Starting in the 1990s, The HSUS and a range of organizational partners launched statewide ballot initiatives to halt inhumane and unpopular practices – like cockfighting, bear baiting, extreme confinement of farm animals, puppy mills and the use of steel-jawed leghold traps – and lawmakers aligned with animal-use industries didn’t like that one bit. After blocking common-sense animal welfare reforms in their state legislatures, they tried to amend their state constitutions to make it difficult or impossible for citizen initiatives that help animals to be conducted or passed.

Among other tactics, they tried to shorten the time frame for signature gathering (to make it virtually impossible for volunteers to collect enough signatures); sought to impose requirements that a minimum number of signatures had to come from the most rural counties (to create a practical impossibility for volunteers to gather signatures since people are so dispersed in rural areas); and even moved to create a supermajority passage requirement (charging ahead with the notion that it was fine for politicians to be elected with a plurality or a bare majority, but that for animal issues to be considered, we had to have a three-fifths or two-thirds supermajority). It was the height of hypocrisy, and a subversion of democratic principles. Some of these efforts to gut the ballot initiative process succeeded, making direct democracy virtually unusable for animal advocates in states such as Florida and Utah. And they’re still at it today, these legislators – with anti-initiative proposals aimed at making direct democracy unworkable in Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota and other states.

270x240 hallmark cow - hsus
The HSUS
An HSUS undercover investigation at the Hallmark Meat
Packing Co. led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.

Today, these forces are unhappy with a different tactic employed by The HSUS and other organizations. With the exposure of abusive and illegal practices on factory farms through undercover investigations, lawmakers in lockstep with agribusiness groups are now trying to make it a crime to take video or pictures of animals on farms, or trying to impose requirements that video be turned over to law enforcement authorities almost immediately upon access to a facility. They are pushing so-called “ag-gag laws,” or anti-whistleblower measures, and this weekend, both ABC News and the Associated Press exposed this effort to wall off factory farms to unauthorized individuals. You can watch the ABC piece here.

Let’s remember that many of the farm groups backing these ag-gag measures also oppose any animal welfare standards. They don’t want citizens to vote on animal welfare measures. And now they don’t want the public to see what’s going on. Yet here’s an industry that should be of keen interest to every American. All Americans need to eat, and most of them want to know that there are food safety and animal welfare standards. The truth is, federal oversight on food safety is lax, and when it comes to animal welfare, it’s basically non-existent. With budget cuts for food safety inspections on the horizon, we need more eyes on our food system, not fewer.

Newspapers throughout the country are calling these reckless and unjustifiable efforts into question. Regarding the Indiana ag-gag law, which passed the state Senate 30 to 20, the Muncie Star Press wrote, “People have a right to know where their food comes from. There are not enough inspectors to keep tabs on what’s happening on every farm. That’s why citizens and the news media must take on the duty of watchdog. This bill would thwart the flow of needed information by throwing a cloak of secrecy around an activity that farmers, at least those who have nothing to hide, ought to be proud to show off.”

We really must wonder why the agribusiness groups are so afraid of the public getting an unauthorized look. Their claims about “doctored’ footage distributed by animal welfare groups are a fabrication. Our own investigations have uncovered legal and illegal cruelty, led to meat recalls and the shutdown of slaughter plants and helped to secure the arrest of perpetrators. Rather than blame The HSUS for exposing these gaps or transgressions in the food production system, it would be best to work for laws to protect animals, to train workers, and to show the public how this industry goes about its work.

 If the agribusinesses groups continue to push for these measures, they will continue to see erosion in public support. They are taking stands at odds with core American values – opposing efforts to crack down on cruelty, and aligning themselves against free speech, democratic decision-making, and transparency.