It’s easy to understand why a business would shut its doors to professional protestors who show up with video cameras and a political agenda. But who would have expected an egg-producing farm to be more open and transparent than a press conference put on by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)?
Last week, the HSUS brought its anti-livestock propaganda show to Iowa. At a media event in Des Moines, it released footage that its agents had taped at several large egg-laying farms. They made headlines as far away as California.
Yet the last thing the HSUS wanted was candid discussion about agricultural practices. When a vice president from one of the targeted companies showed up to watch the video and defend his industry, he was prevented from attending. In the words of the Des Moines Register, he was “blocked out.”
In other words, animal-rights activists enjoyed better access to Iowa’s egg farms than Iowa’s egg farmers were able to obtain at an HSUS-sponsored forum that was described as a public event.
Apparently the HSUS crowd prefers its breakfast omelets served with extra helpings of irony.
There was a time when the HSUS performed the honorable work of trying to find loving homes for puppies and kittens. Nowadays, however, it prefers to deceive job-creating employers, smuggle video cameras onto farms, and release provocative images without having to debate its tactics or ideas.
Sometimes publicity-seeking journalists manage to reveal hidden corruption and uncomfortable truths. The HSUS, however, does no such thing. For starters, it’s not a media organization that aims for objectivity. Instead, it has now become an ideological group that pursues a bizarre and extremist vision of animal rights--and it won’t let basic fairness or democratic deliberation get in the way of its goal.
The HSUS says that it supports the ethical treatment of animals. It should also pay attention to the ethical treatment of farmers.
Here’s what happened: The HSUS sent its people to several egg-laying farms in Iowa (the nation's #1 producer) and had them acquire jobs under false pretenses. Over time, these phony workers secretly videotaped examples of what they described as the inhumane treatment of chickens. Perhaps some of it was staged. We just don’t know. It's all based on footage that the HSUS released last week.
“There is no other way to get the story out,” complained HSUS president Wayne Pacelle.
Yet that’s not true. Pacelle might have asked for a tour. “We are open to anyone who wants to visit our facilities,” said one of the egg-farm executives. His company has hired a third-party auditor to review the farm’s business practices.
At its closed-door, private press conference, the HSUS failed to explain any of this. In fact, egg-farm employees receive training in the care and handling of chickens. If they spot a problem, they are supposed to report it to a supervisor, who will terminate abusers if necessary. Workers even sign paperwork to this effect.
The HSUS operatives refused to honor the terms of these agreements--by design, of course. In doing so, they circumvented one of the essential mechanisms for ensuring the proper treatment of animals. They let their desire for publicity get in the way of animal welfare.
Once the full story emerges--away from the manipulative HSUS event--we see that the sky isn’t falling, Chicken Little style. This is not the case of an egg farm that is doing everything the wrong way. This is an egg farm that strives for excellence as it performs the important service of providing an affordable source of food for Americans as well as jobs for those who seek honest work.
By contrast, the work of the HSUS is fundamentally dishonest. Its activists aren’t really concerned about the welfare of animals. Instead, they just want attention for participating in a broad-based assault on the livestock industry. The San Francisco board of supervisors recently hopped aboard this radical bandwagon when it officially encouraged citizens and restaurants to observe "Meatless Mondays".
If people don’t want to eat meat on Mondays or eggs on Tuesdays, that’s their choice. It’s a free country, even in San Francisco. Personally, however, I’d like to be free from the tricks and lies of the HSUS seven days a week.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org