By Patricia Peak Klintberg
As images of oil-covered birds weigh on America’s conscience, it’s tough to criticize an organization whose very name conveys relief for animals. If the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spent the majority of its money on such efforts, however, America’s farmers wouldn’t have a beef with the group.
According to HSUS’s own financial records, of the more than $130 million spent by the organization in 2009, $70 million went toward fund-raising, advocacy and public policy, and strategic communications. HSUS has used the bulk of this money to, in its own words, "square off against factory farmers, hunters and other animal industries" in 41 state ballot campaigns between 1990 and 2008. Last year, HSUS helped pass 121 new animal protection laws, according to the organization’s press office.
Recent HSUS efforts at the ballot box in Florida, Arizona and Cali-fornia showcase the results. Voters in all three states have agreed to ban gestation crates for sows, and in California voters have also made it illegal for farmers to use battery cages for laying hens. HSUS takes credit for these votes, stating that "the animal protection movement scored a series of major ballot measure victories on Election Day."
Paul Shapiro, senior director of HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign, says the organization is only responding to what American consumers want. "Animals who are raised for food are subject to standard industry practices, such as veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages, which are unacceptable to most Americans," Shapiro says.
Former congressman Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas), long an animal welfare advocate, strongly disagrees. "No one wants to be on the side of abusing animals, but there is no evidence modern production methods lead to abuse," Stenholm says.
The Farm Impact. HSUS bills itself as the nation’s largest animal protection organization and states that its main goal is to ban cockfighting, puppy mills, dog fighting, horse slaughter for human consumption, seal hunts and the docking of dog and dairy calf tails. Yet the organization’s lobbying efforts to end livestock agriculture are far-reaching.
For example, HSUS supported California’s Proposition 2, which mandates that as of Jan. 1, 2015, it shall be a misdemeanor for any person to confine a pregnant pig, calf raised for veal or egg-laying hen in a manner not allowing the animal to turn around freely, stand up, lie down and fully extend its limbs.
The hotly contested battle over the proposition led to an hour-long "Oprah" show, enabling folks on both sides to raise $14 million. The measure passed by 63%, overriding even opposition from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently went a step further by signing legislation that requires all eggs consumed in California by 2015 to be raised cage-free, including eggs imported into the state. More than 95% of the eggs produced in California come from hens that are caged. An even bigger concern is that California is a major egg deficit state, importing approximately 40% of its eggs from other states, according to United Egg Producers.
University of California, Davis, professor Joy A. Mench, director of the Center for Animal Welfare, has completed a study that shows farm costs of production could rise 20% with noncage systems, due to higher feed costs, higher laying hen mortality, higher direct housing costs and higher labor costs. Mench estimates that the California egg industry would likely relocate to other states during the five-year adjustment period.
"Egg farmers began housing hens in cages in the 1930s in order to reduce hen health problems, improve egg cleanliness and increase the economic efficiency of egg production," Mench says. While conventional cage systems restrict hens’ movement and natural behaviors, Mench says her research shows free-roaming chickens are more likely to fall victim to cannibalism, increased exposure to manure and broken bones.
- September 2010