THE Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) launched an advertising campaign in mid-2012 that took aim at the pork industry, specifically sow housing.
This ad campaign and the attendant public relations effort first focused on food industry and consumer channels, targeting the customers of the pork industry, not pork producers themselves.
But now, having achieved a foothold in food industry and consumer media, the HSUS campaign has zeroed in on agriculture media, including Feedstuffs.
Maybe especially Feedstuffs, however, because we are the leading agribusiness news source, and our readers are among the most influential in the pork industry and other animal industries.
To be the "media source of choice" for HSUS advertising to both pork producers and their suppliers is something that concerns us deeply. Feedstuffs' archives contain many reports of HSUS excesses, along with stories on "animal liberation" vandalism as well as analyses of state ballot initiatives that can change food animal production in dramatic ways.
However, this situation requires us, much like targeted pork producers, to get past the initial emotional response and to hold firm to our guiding principles of doing business.
In general, publications reserve the right to turn away advertising based on objectionable "content." What that means is that if there is an image or message that is illegal, unethical or extremely offensive, a publication can refuse the ad.
Refusal based on the "source" of an advertisement, however, is something entirely different. A publication may disagree with an organization's or company's sales pitch, the science behind the message or even its overall mission or business strategy. However, that disagreement — or even that feeling of repugnance — is simply not reason enough to refuse the advertisement.
In the case of HSUS, the ad in Feedstuffs this week is done in a respectful way. Of course, it is not necessarily a fact-based message, and it obviously is driving an agenda with both economic and political consequences for the majority of pork producers, possibly for all commercial-scale animal producers. Even so, its approach is no different from other advertising, all of which is done with the purpose of promoting something.
In this particular and rather unusual case, another factor behind our consideration of how to handle the HSUS advertising request was whether our refusal would compromise the hard-earned respect for everything we do and everything we stand for at Feedstuffs. Indeed, could that be the underlying goal of this HSUS advertising? Wouldn't HSUS like to discredit or at least call into question our integrity as an agribusiness news source?
If HSUS, or any activist group, was able to discredit a key source of balanced and objective news and information, then very likely, there would be ramifications for the pork industry and perhaps all of animal agriculture. In the case of Feedstuffs, at a minimum, it would degrade our credibility. It would fly in the face of our responsibility to you — our readers — to stick to the facts and the science in everything we do.
On the topic of sow housing, over the course of the past few years, we, at Feedstuffs, have talked to many, if not all, of the experts in this field of study and followed very closely the science as it relates to sow welfare, the economics of new housing options and related consumer perceptions. We have done so on the basis of sound science and established fact. For this reason, our articles get much play in circles beyond our traditional readership reach and are used by the food industry when making purchasing and policy decisions.
We, like many in animal agriculture, recognize the importance of doing what's right for the sow, pork producers and consumers alike and understand the need for responsible and well-timed actions rather than emotion-driven reactions.
To simply imply, as HSUS does, that group or pen housing is superior from a welfare standpoint is, in fact, irresponsible. Group housing is an option. It is a viable system. However, the science to date, plain and simple, shows that no single sow housing system is superior to another.
Decisions about gestation housing also have production cost consequences that get passed through to consumers and amount to an unnecessary tax on those who can least afford to pay more for food. The pork industry recognizes this as a major concern and is working to find what is best for consumers as well as sows and farm workers.
We, at Feedstuffs, support those efforts at multiple levels. We support the conversation about what is best and makes the most sense overall.
As media professionals, we are obligated to look at all sides and present all viewpoints. We will continue to do just that. Above all else, we will always look to the science and facts behind the issues and use these resources as the basis for our work in Feedstuffs. Thank you for your consideration and continued support.