Who has the mandate to speak for farm animals?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2011:
Controversy continues in this November/December 2011 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE,
as in almost every edition since July/August 2010, over agreements reached during the past 18 months among animal charities and entities representing agribusiness. In dispute are both the substance of the agreements themselves, which concern the lives, suffering, and deaths of more animals than are involved in all other animal advocacy issues combined, and the even greater question of who is ethically entitled to speak for the interests of livestock.
The latter question brings here-and-now urgency to legal, political, tactical, and philosophical debates which have previously been waged mostly in the abstract, among animal rights theorists and strategists. Now the discussion has jumped from conference halls to barnyards. Having to wear rubber boots while examining key points is sometimes now reality, not just a metaphor. This represents the culmination of decades of effort just to gain access to the decision-makers in agribusiness on the one hand. On the other, there is now increased risk of making disastrous slips while trying to guide the practices of industries whose major branches are all many times larger, in terms of economic and political influence, than the entire animal advocacy sector.
The recent deals between animal charities and agribusiness kindled activist furor first when representatives of the Ohioans for Humane Farms coalition and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation on June 30, 2010 accepted a truce
brokered by former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland which resulted in Ohioans for Humane Farms withholding rather than filing a petition to place an initiative on the 2010 Ohio state ballot.
Sponsored chiefly by the Humane Society of the U.S., supported by petition signatures from more than half a million Ohio voters, the initiative would have required the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to ban lifelong confinement
of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens. The initiative would also have required that downed pigs and cattle must be euthanized by methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and would have banned
transporting downed cows and calves to slaughter for human consumption.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and allied representatives of agribusiness agreed that the use of veal crates would be phased out by 2017, as specified by the initiative petition; that building new sow gestation stalls would be banned after December 31, 2010, and that all Ohio pig farms would stop using them by 2025; that no permits would be issued to build new battery cage facilities for laying hens; that the transport of downed cattle to slaughter would stop immediately; and that farm animals would no longer be culled by methods that do not meet the American Veterinary Medical Association standards for humane euthanasia.Most of this required the cooperation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a politically appointed body created in 2009 at the behest of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation expressly to forestall the risk of being compelled by voters to make animal welfare reforms. Ironically, the legislation that formed the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board was ratified by voters who appeared to believe that it was a step toward improving farmed animal welfare.
Also as part of the June 2010 Ohio compromise, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation et al agreed to support the passage of a bill passed by the Ohio House of Representatives in December 2009 that would make cockfighting a felony; to support a pending state bill to increase regulation of puppy breeders; and to support an administrative order that Strickland issued soon afterward against keeping or selling exotic and/or dangerous animals as pets.
Ohioans for Humane Farms retained the right to submit the initiative petition and put the original proposed farmed animal welfare reform bill to a vote if the provisions of the Ohio compromise were not kept. Despite initially balking at implementing the veal crate phase-out, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board has complied so far with the major terms of the deal–but the long phase-out time for sow gestation stalls and battery caging allows much
opportunity for future retreat.
Meanwhile, Ohio still has no felony penalty for cockfighting, no puppy mill legislation, and Governor John Kasich, who defeated Strickand in November 2010, allowed Strickland’s executive order pertaining to exotic and dangerous wildlife to lapse in April 2011. The 56 exotic and dangerous animals who were released into the countryside near Zanesville on October 19, 2011–49 of them shot by sheriff’s deputies (see page one)–would not have been
legally present if the Strickland order had remained in force.
Since winning passage of a 2008 California initiative similar to the initiative proposed in Ohio, the Humane Society of the U.S. had used the threat of introducing initiatives to win a variety of legislation to improve conditions for farmed animals in Colorado, Maine, and Michigan. Those deals were relatively non-controversial among animal
advocates. The Ohio compromise was different. Thousands of activists and other humane organizations had already committed time and resources to driving what they had hoped would be a stronger bargain.
Undercut by American Humane
Ohioans for Humane Farms and HSUS may have settled for the terms they got because the American Humane Association had on June 18, 2010 undercut the intent of the California initiative by cutting a deal with the egg producer J.S. West, of Modesto, California, which held that the initiative language prohibiting battery caging would allow the use of “enriched” cages like those that are in theory to be used in the European Union by January 1, 2012. There is considerable question as to whether the European Union will actually enforce the pending battery cage ban, in view of widespread producer non-compliance. Similar foot-dragging by producers may delay or thwart any implementation of actual changes in California. Meanwhile, the AHA reading of the California initiative put organizations favoring an interpretation that the language requires cage-free egg production in the awkward position of having to oppose the oldest U.S. national humane society–albeit also the one most compromised by conflicts of interest in deals with agribusiness and other animal use industries. Indeed, repeated AHA acquiescence to animal use industry demands impelled the formation of the Animal Welfare Institute in 1952 and the Humane Society of the U.S. in 1954, among others with much more distinguished records on behalf of farmed animals than the AHA.
“Not larger cages, but no cages!” has rallied animal advocates since the dawn of the animal rights movement. Animal advocates demonstrated in California, Ohio, and later in Washington and Oregon that they will turn out in force to promote initiatives that they believe will end caging laying hens. But generating comparable enthusiasm in support of just making cages somewhat larger, with perches and small nest boxes for each hen, might be unlikely. HSUS has shown no inclination to want to test the prospect. Campaigns to place initiatives against battery caging on the Washington and Oregon state ballots had considerable momentum and public favor in May 2011, but agribusiness–with the endorsements of the AHA and the Oregon Humane Society–pushed bills through the Washington and Oregon legislatures which leave laying hens in conventional battery cages until 2026, after which “enriched” caging must be used.
Out-maneuvered, HSUS in July 2011 withdrew the Washington and Oregon initiative petitions as part of a deal with United Egg Producers to pursue passage of federal legislation governing the laying hen industry. By 2029 the proposed law would require white laying hens to have 124 square inches of space apiece, eight square inches more than is required by the AHA-backed Washington and Oregon legislation. Brown laying hens, who are larger, would get 144 square inches apiece. After 2011, according to the agreement wth HSUS, UEP-certified egg producers will not be allowed to install new caging which cannot be modified to meet the space standards. Meanwhile, HSUS agreed that it would no longer do undercover investigations of factory egg farms, a largely symbolic stipulation, since other animal charities–notably Mercy for Animals–have done far more of this than HSUS.
The AHA further romanced agribusiness in September 2010 by endorsing what it termed “a new method of controlled-atmosphere stunning for poultry called Low Atmospheric Pressure System,” which is in essence decompression, a killing method not approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Though the LAPS system may be more efficient for the poultry slaughtering industry than the present method of stunning birds by shackling them upside down and dragging their heads through an electrified tank of water before decapitation, LAPS is emphatically not the controlled-atmosphere method promoted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and
widely used in Europe, which involves stunning poultry with carbon dioxide or argon gas.
Of note is that the AHA promoted decompression for killing dogs and cats at animal shelters for at least 30 years, beginning in 1950, and quietly dropped endorsement of it only after it was already opposed as unacceptably inhumane by almost every other national animal advocacy organization. Houston and Austin in 1985 became the last U.S. cities to abolish decompression.
Farm product labeling
Along with wheeling and dealing with entities representing farmed animal producers, seeking to establish welfare standards from the top down, animal charities continue to pursue an older from-the-bottom-up approach, aimed at
getting individual producers to exemplify better welfare, in hopes that individual success stories will inspire emulation. Animal Rights International founder Henry Spira initiated attempts to use consumer pressure to negotiate improvements in farmed animal care about 30 years ago. Unsuccessful in negotiating directly with
major poultry producers, Spira turned to approaching fast food chains, in hopes that their purchasing power could enforce producer compliance with basic standards. The McDonald’s restaurant chain agreed to introduce animal
welfare standards for producers in 1994. Several other major fast food chains agreed in principle to enforce similar standards, but Spira died in 1998, before full compliance was to take effect.
The Royal SPCA of Britain had meanwhile introduced Free Farmed, a product labeling scheme which allows consumers to vote for improved animal welfare by purchasing products certified to have been humanely produced. Recognizing that this approach can keep agribusiness under pressure to meet higher standards, then-AHA
Washington D.C. office director Adele Douglass in 2000 started the “Humane Certified” program. Resisting suggestions from AHA higher-ups that she should relax standards to attract more industry participation and make the program more lucrative, Douglass left the AHA two years later to start Humane Farm Animal Care. Though HFAC has stricter standards than the AHA, the HFAC “Certified Humane” label has almost from inception been used by more producers.
The Animal Welfare Institute introduced the even stricter “Animal Welfare Approved” labeling program in 2003.
Agribusiness organizations responded by advancing nearly two dozen labeling schemes of their own. The most prominent is probably that of United Egg Producers. Compassion Over Killing, founded by Miyun Park and Paul Shapiro, between 2003 and 2008 won a string of Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission rulings that the original UEP label claims were misleading to consumers.
Shapiro, now factory farm campaign manager for HSUS, was first to announce the July 2011 deal between HSUS and UEP. Park now heads Global Animal Partnership.
Global Animal Partnership is an operating name used by the Animal Compassion Foundation, begun by Whole Foods Markets founder John Mackey in 2004 to administer Whole Foods Markets’ own husbandry standards for producers of ducks, sheep, pigs, and cattle raised for beef. GAP and the 300-store Whole Foods Markets chain in November 2010 introduced a five-step system of identifying how pigs, cattle, and chickens killed for meat were raised. A turkey standard was added in July 2011, but there is no standard yet for laying hens.
The GAP standards, which include no rules for slaughter or transport to slaughter, were endorsed by HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, World Society for the Protection of Animals director general Mike Baker, Compassion in World
Farming director of public affairs Joyce D’Silva, and PETA consultant Steven Gross. All hold seats on the GAP board of directors. But as Humane Farm Animal Care founder Adele Douglass and Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss pointed out in January/February 2011 guest columns for ANIMAL PEOPLE, GAP includes no
mechanism to encourage producers to improve after winning certification at steps one and two–which, the agribusiness magazine Feedstuffs agreed, differ little from industry norms. GAP data released in February 2011 showed that 81% of the chicken producers and 85% of the pig producers in the program were admitted at steps
one and two. Including beef cattle producers, 72% of all GAP-certified producers were at the lowest steps-and these appeared to be the producers who raise the most animals.
Gaps in the GAP standards meanwhile allow such anomalous situations as certifying at high steps grass-fed beef from cattle who were born in Hawaii, but transported to the mainland to be “finished” and slaughtered. Almost a year after ANIMAL PEOPLE was told that new, improved GAP standards would soon be introduced to close some
of the gaps, the new standards are yet to be announced.
Central to the labeling approach to farmed animal welfare is the hope that marketplace competition will oblige producers to strive to meet the highest standards. Inherent in the labeling approach, however, is the risk
that producers will succeed in co-opting the process by establishing labels that only certify the status quo.
Because the tiered GAP standards include no mechanism to ensure that producers must advance beyond steps one and two, either within a specified length of time or ever, GAP in effect incorporates both the promise of advancing
higher standards and the reality that most producers prefer to do what they perceive is most profitable–which means keeping their present facilities and modus operandi for as long as possible. Change might be accepted as part of
the usual agribusiness reinvestment cycle, but that may be decades from now.
Central to negotiating farmed animal welfare, in lieu of legislation, is the concept of collective bargaining. As practiced in human labor relations, collective bargaining requires the existence of employers who agree that their
workplace practices will be governed by contract, over and above whatever they are required to do by law, and labor unions representing employees, who agree to abide by the contractual terms won by their unions–even when violating contractual terms may be personally advantageous.
Employers have historically resisted having to make concessions to labor unions chiefly by trying to keep strong unions from forming. The most basic approach is to make competition for jobs so intense–for example, by
importing workers willing to work for less pay–that employees forgo the potential advantages of unionization just to keep their jobs. This tends to produce what labor historians describe as a “race to the bottom,” in which wages and working conditions steadily deteriorate because there is no mechanism to compel improvement. When pressure to unionize develops anyhow, employers may respond by establishing a weak “house union,” or by accepting a corrupt union whose leadership can be bought. The existence of the weak or corrupt union serves to prevent other potential
collective bargaining agents from gaining enough membership to effectively represent the workforce.
Employers typically contend that they must adequately provide for the welfare of their workers in order to keep production and profits up, an argument echoed by the frequent claim of agribusiness that animals must be kept healthy in order to produce edible commodities.
The analogy of collective bargaining on behalf of labor with collective bargaining on behalf of farmed animals fails at a point of law: unlike human employers of other human beings, agribusiness owns the animals outright. Because
animals are property, with no ability to organize or seek legal intervention on their own behalf, only their owners have an actual legal claim to represent their welfare.
Animal advocacy organizations, while trying to negotiate collective agreements on behalf of farmed animals, are in a position less comparable to that of labor unions than to the dilemma of reformers who tried to negotiate improvements in the conditions of human slavery before gaining the political leverage to abolish slavery. On the one hand, many reformers felt that the conditions of slavery were so onerous that any mitigation was worth pursuing. On the other, most reformers were at heart abolitionists, who recognized the risk of making concessions which might appear to condone slavery and perhaps delay abolition.
But that analogy also fails, because abolition of animal agriculture is nowhere in sight. Animal advocates, including ANIMAL PEOPLE, promote vegetarianism and veganism, and have reason to believe that future generations
will eat far less meat, if only because the finite carrying capacity of the earth to produce more meat is close to exhaustion. Reality, nonetheless, is that lobbying and negotiating on behalf of farmed animals is at present limited to pursuit of reform. The open questions are what constitutes meaningful reform, what reforms can be won here and now, what reforms best position animal advocates to seek more later, and who is most legitimately entitled to be the collective bargaining agent on behalf of farmed animals?
The latter may be the most important question of all, since the answers to the other questions depend to a considerable extent upon the strength and integrity of the farmed animal welfare bargaining agents.
The differences of policy among the Humane Society of the U.S., the American Humane Association, Global Animal Partnership, the Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Farm Animal Care, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming
Association, and many other charities addressing farm animal issues bring into question the issues of legitimacy and quality of representation.
Each of these organizations may be viewed as a collective bargaining agent trying to attract the support of as large a share of animal advocacy as it can muster, to reinforce a claim to be influentially representative as voice of
Among them, the AHA and GAP appear to have taken the roles of “house unions.” The Animal Welfare Institute and Humane Farm Animal Care, organizing within high-end market niches, occupy positions comparable to those of unions representing skilled tradespeople. The Humane Society of the U.S., in alliance with Farm Sanctuary and others, including GAP, might be compared to the AFL-CIO, trying to span the spectrum of trades, industries, and worker interests.
The value of a critic
The Humane Farming Association, while not opposing the goals of HSUS et al, has the role often assumed by Henry Spira during his decades as a labor organizer, before he formed Animal Rights International. Time and again
Spira found himself leading rump caucuses of union members who saw the devil in the details of contracts negotiated by representatives who may have conceded too much.
Like Spira, who was caustic in his criticism of unions within which he was himself often an elected officer, Humane Farming Association founder Brad Miller is at times scathing in his denunciations of HSUS concessions. But Miller has a long history of accurately identifying instances of agribusiness negotiating in bad faith, deflecting pressure
from animal advocates while changing little or nothing. Also of note is that Miller is moderate compared to the allegations of more militant critics of HSUS, including the vegan organization Tribe of Heart, whose www.HumaneMyth web site has been confused by some animal advocates with the www.HumaneWatch site
maintained by the pro-agribusiness Center for Consumer Freedom.
ANIMAL PEOPLE recognizes a valuable role for both HSUS and HFA in advancing negotiations with agribusiness, which could be enhanced if HSUS took the HFA criticisms of agreements into consideration before making them. Instead of being part of the bargaining team, able to prevent questionable deals from being struck, HFA has thus far had no advance view of proposed agreements, and therefore has had no option upon perceiving potentially fatal flaws except to take criticisms public after the fact, lest animal advocates be lulled into premature hope that
vital issues are settled.
Of course many of the recent agreements to which HSUS has been a party might not have been agreed in any form if HFA had been among the bargaining agents. This raises the question long vexing labor organizers as to whether obtaining any collective agreement is better than having none. Conventional wisdom within the labor movement is that winning almost any collective agreement will suffice at the outset of unionization, to establish the principle of
collective representation–but implicit in accepting a weak agreement is the understanding that it will be re-negotiated within a few years, and that the union will seek to build a much stronger contract on the foundation of the first. This was the “stepwise, incremental” approach to change that Henry Spira urged animal advocates to
adopt at every opportunity, including a posthumously published guest column written for ANIMAL PEOPLE three days before he died.
In that light, the question for animal advocates and HSUS itself to ask is whether each recent agreement with agribusiness puts HSUS and allies in a more advantageous future negotiating position–or any negotiating position at all.
Following the June 2011 agreement with UEP, which appears to have at least indefinitely suspended HSUS efforts to pursue cage-free egg production, HSUS appears to have been maneuvering toward negotiating some sort of
collective agreement with the pig industry. Targeting the world’s largest pig producer, HSUS on November 2, 2011 filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Smithfield Foods has illegally disseminated “unlawfully false or misleading representations about the animal welfare and environmental
practices of its wholly owned subsidiary Murphy-Brown, LLC.”
The lawsuit itemizes “false and misleading statements about animal care,” covering almost every aspect of raising pigs for slaughter, plus “unlawful environmental claims, misleading assertions of organic agriculture, material omissions relating to manure lagoons, [and] misleading representations relating to antibiotic use.”
The HSUS lawsuit notes that “In January 2007, Smithfield did, in fact, pledge to phase out its use of gestation crates in company-owned facilities by 2017, but in 2009 the company backtrackedŠwhile Smithfield claimed financial
losses were responsible for withdrawing the initial phase-out deadline, the company has yet to re-establish the deadline after announcing all-time record revenues this year.”
“We’ve added another weapon to our arsenal by bringing on Joe Maxwell, a former Lieutenant Governor of Missouri, as a consultant,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “His family is involved in
raising hogs, and he strenuously opposes gestation crates and industrial-style hog production. By enlisting family farmers to fight factory farmers,” Pacelle said, “we are building on a front of action that’s been part of our strategy from the very start.
“Our policies on animal agriculture have not changed at all,” Pacelle continued. “We maintain our board-approved position on eating with conscience, our internal and external food policies, and our participation in the Meatless
Monday campaign. In fact, we just rolled out a new video and awareness campaign on that.
“I’m the first vegan president of HSUS,” Pacelle noted, “and I’ve been leading that lifestyle for 27 years. In all of my interviews, I speak proudly about that choice. So HSUS is an organization that comfortably includes vegans.
But we also are a place that comfortably invites meat-eaters within the tent. Our metric isn’t purity, but movement in the right direction.”
Regardless of how well-meaning it is to hire a pig farmer to work for HSUS, there is an inherent conflict of interest between producing meat and animal welfare. ANIMAL PEOPLE encourages animal charities to work for
incremental change and improve animal welfare in meat production, but they need to carefully construct firewalls between animal advocacy and advancing animal industry interests.
For example, to avoid an apparent conflict of interest, HSUS could have funded a subsidiary whose mission would be to network with animal farmers. Such a subsidiary might operate with a measure of independence, without
appearing to represent either HSUS or the spectrum of animal advocates.
The focal question is whose interests the negotiators represent. Small, traditional animal farmers, like factory farmers, are in business to make a profit from selling animals to slaughter. Small, traditional farmers may have
some concerns in common with animal advocates, but their ultimate interest is not the well-being of animals.