*Andy Vance is an agricultural journalist, public speaker, commentator and entrepreneur who most recently led the broadcast team at Agri Broadcast Network and is an active member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Vance grew up on a farm in Hillsboro, Ohio, and raises registered Shorthorn cattle and breeding stock. Vance's web site, "The Angle," is andyvance.com. He can be contacted at [email protected]
LAST week, HumaneWatch.org, a division of the Center for Consumer Freedom, asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation into the fund-raising tactics of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) because more than 120 complaints regarding those practices have been filed with FTC since December 2011.
HSUS president and chief executive officer Wayne Pacelle and company were not happy with this request, to put it mildly.
According to HumaneWatch, most of the complaints center on HSUS advertising that misleads people into believing that HSUS is an umbrella group for local pet shelters and channels contributions to them. In actuality, critics claim, HSUS records show that barely 1% of donations are sent to those shelters.
In other words, FTC should investigate a large-scale case of the classic bait and switch.
It is easy to see why people in our professional community dislike HSUS. The organization is extremely well-funded, fairly well-respected (compared to the radical arm of the animal rights apparatus like Mercy for Animals or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and, in recent years, very successful at advancing its agenda.
Moreover, the notion that many consumers believe HSUS is some type of national organization representing local animal shelters is extremely frustrating to those in the know about the group's true agenda and activities.
The HSUS mission -- "celebrating animals, confronting cruelty" -- is one thing most of us in agriculture have in common with the well-heeled activist group. I, for one, am whole-heartedly in favor of celebrating animals at every turn and aggressively stamping out animal cruelty wherever it exists.
Our major source of contention with the group, it seems, is the definition of what, exactly, constitutes cruelty. To me, housing laying hens in reasonably sized cages with plenty of food, water and ventilation so those hens can profitably produce eggs that will, in turn, feed my family is perfectly acceptable.
HSUS, however, successfully convinced California voters in 2008 that the way many farms accomplished that basic task was cruel to the hens.
Much has changed in the interceding four years, not the least of which is HSUS's agreement with the United Egg Producers last year acknowledging that enriched colony housing is an acceptable method of facilitating egg production.
The question rankling supporters of the HumaneWatch movement is: Why should HSUS be allowed to raise funds under the guise of using those funds to aid animal shelters while actually spending those funds to wage multimillion-dollar political campaigns like Prop 2 in California?
It is not an unreasonable question. Pacelle responded to the request for an FTC investigation by saying that HumaneWatch was "off the mark -- off by miles." Perhaps it is, but only FTC can truly determine if HSUS is using inappropriate fund-raising tactics to purposefully mislead donors into supporting a radical animal rights agenda.
To me, this much is clear: HSUS spends a great deal of its resources on activities in the legislative and political arenas. After waging numerous state ballot initiatives in states like California, Florida, Arizona and Ohio over the past 15 years, the group is perhaps the most successful lobbying and political organization in the country. Its track record is impressive, to say the least.
Now, after succeeding in advancing its agenda in several states, HSUS has convinced at least one major agricultural organization to join it in advancing at least part of its agenda at the federal level. That, in and of itself, is a far cry from raising money to save pitiful puppies and doe-eyed kittens.
For most people who are opposed to the HSUS agenda, the biggest bone of contention is the shadiness of the HSUS enterprise.
Farmers are no-nonsense, straight-shooting folks. If you are a lobbying organization bent on spending millions of donor dollars to advance a radical animal rights agenda, so be it. Just don't convince my neighbors to fund you by pretending to be something you're not.