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February 14, 2014

Helping Hands, Hired Hands

It’s nice to see so many signs of progress in our work, and Valentine’s Day week presented still more of them.

We were so pleased to see Olympic Silver Medalist Gus Kenworthy pledge to rescue a family of dogs he saw on the streets of Sochi, with plans to take them back to his home state of Colorado. He could have been doing a victory lap, but Kenworthy decided he’d spend some time helping other creatures in need. HSI is reaching out to him. It’s our intention to help additional dogs at risk in Sochi and to try to convince local authorities to embrace the innovative street dog management principles we’ve pioneered in other parts of the world.

Today, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it recently seized 2,000 pounds of illegal shark fins from a San Francisco merchant. That merchant is a part of an association whose members sold and distributed shark fins to restaurants and grocery stores and had sued the State of California challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban on the sale and trade of shark fins. In the wake of this bust, the association has voluntarily dismissed its legal challenge. The HSUS was a leader in the coalition to pass the original bill in 2011, and we’re defending the state law in court. Meanwhile, we’ve gotten word from federal authorities at the National Marine Fisheries Service that they no longer have an issue with California banning the possession and sale of shark fins.

pigingestationcrate
More and more companies are making plans to phase out cramped gestation crates for breeding sows.

On another front, the country’s ninth-largest grocer, Delhaize America, announced that it will require its pork suppliers to produce reports regarding their progress in eliminating from their pork supply chains the use of gestation crates—cages used to house breeding pigs that are so restrictive, the animals can’t even turn around. Delhaize has more than 1,500 locations under the Food Lion, Hannaford and Bottom Dollar brands.

Food Lion’s announcement marks another undeniable setback for the pork industry’s stubborn reactionaries, and for public-relations operative Rick Berman, who has seen one company after another reject his absurd argument that gestation crates are “maternity pens.”  The pens are so small that the sows are immobilized for as long as three years, unable to turn around in their enclosure. 

The pork industry’s return on investment with Berman could not be worse. Basically, just about every major food retailer in the United States and Canada – and recently two of the largest, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods – have announced their plans to move to a gestation-crate-free future. It all happened when Berman was supposed to be looking out for the industry and leading the charge to defend these cruel crates.

Berman’s had a rough week, and not just because of the successes in our no-crates campaign and the revelation that one of his phony front groups, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, went belly up after he and his for-profit PR firm bilked it for hundreds of thousands of dollars (and to our knowledge gave nothing or just a dribble to shelters). Both the New York Times and The Washington Post ran stories exposing the Berman scam of fabricating “policy organizations” or “think tanks” on behalf of unnamed corporations seeking to prevent gains in the minimum wage for American workers and to promote sugar over corn syrup as a sweetener. We’ve known for years about his phony Center for Consumer Freedom and its attempts to defend animal cruelty, and how he’s lionized by the cockfighters, puppy millers, seal clubbers and others who abuse animals.

Yesterday on NPR’s Fresh Air, Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton said he went to the “office” of the Berman’s so-called Employment Policies Institute, which is fighting increases in the minimum wage for workers, and found there was no signage, no dedicated staff and no distinct operation. All that was there were Berman’s public-relations operatives, who bill out their hours for their work to more than a dozen groups to defend animal cruelty, drunk driving, tanning beds, trans-fats, low wages and other ignoble causes. 

Serious-minded journalists are starting to pay more attention to his web of deception, including Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review. And, oh yes, people are picking up that the guy almost never wins any of his contract fights. He just makes money for himself. Ask the National Pork Producers Council or other pork industry operations who fund him how the relationship has turned out for them.

Success in our work, for street dogs, for sharks, for pigs and all of the other creatures whose fate and well-being depends on our best efforts, and is the best response to the defenders of cruelty, and their hired hands.

 

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