This article was #25 in PDmag's Top 25 most-well read articles in 2010.
Because this article was so popular, we asked David Martosko a follow-up question:
Q. Is animal agriculture gaining ground in the fight against HSUS?
The sad truth is that animal agriculture is losing ground with each passing year. HSUS seems to understand what livestock farmers don’t: that the public tends to believe “white hat” activists over anyone with a profit motive. But it doesn’t have to be that way. HSUS is possibly America’s single most deceptive charity, and its history is rife with scandal. The more consumers understand this, the less believable people like Wayne Pacelle and Paul Shapiro will be.
It’s naïve to think all farmers need to do is tell the truth about farming. They also have to start telling the truth — loudly — about the animal-rights kooks who want to put them out of business. This is especially critical when those kooks masquerade as well-spoken, mainstream stakeholders.
We’ve got all the tools you need to fix things at www.HumaneWatch.org. But it’s up to you to lift a finger and spread the message.
—David Martosko, Editor, HumaneWatch.org
What is the goal of your organization?
Humane Watch is a project of the Center for Consumer Freedom. The center has as its goal educating the public about the politics of their food.
How did you personally get involved?
I actually came to the center at the beginning of 2001 when a headhunter at an employment agency who knew my executive director called me and said, "You've got to meet this guy. The two of you are two peas in a pod. You think alike, and you would really enjoy working with this guy."
That was almost 9 1/2 years ago. The idea that there are people spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to try to buy influence at the retail level on ordinary people is really interesting to me.
Who provides financial support for your activities?
Most of our donors are just ordinary people, but we do get a lot of support from companies all up and down the food chain. I mean everyone from farm to fork – people in ag, people in food transportation, people in restaurants, people in retail and packaged food. We really have an interesting coalition of people who understand that they may not have much in common, but they do have some common concerns.
How do you go about accomplishing your mission?
We'll typically run an advertisement once or twice and that's it, but we will do it in a very high profile time and place. Then we will try to generate some buzz about the ad by telling the media to look out for it and then we earn a lot of media exposure that way by getting people to write stories about our ads.
Just as an example, we ran a 30-second TV spot about PETA a couple of years ago. We ran it exactly once, but we ran it in the last commercial block on Fox News right before the State of the Union, so we got a lot of attention because of that. It's the equivalent of running an ad in the Super Bowl and then you never run it again. You are really banking on the exposure and the buzz as opposed to the repetition. It's good for us because we don't have the money for repetition. Those are basically our tactics. It is really rock solid research communicated with the public in a very aggressive, creative way. The advertisements have got to be edgy and different.
Remember we are the people who took out a billboard in Times Square that said "PETA kills animals," so that should tell you everything you need to know about our willingness to be unconventional.
What one opponent should dairy producers feel most threatened by?
A group like HSUS. They just aren't accountable to anybody. And they've got a hundred million dollars a year to spend against you, and they don't produce anything. They don't make a product or milk a cow, they don't take anything to market. It is 100% an advertising and communications budget. I don't know anyone else who has a hundred million dollars aligned against you every year who spends it communicating with the public and lobbying legislatures. That is just a gargantuan enemy.
They really do want to put you out of business. They don't just want to tweak your animal welfare policies around the edges, and they don't just want to tax you. They really want your businesses buried underground, so I don't know of a more aggressive enemy that you face.
I don't know of a more ideologically intractable enemy that you face. I tell people if you really want to understand the kind of war you are in with HSUS, find two friends who are Jewish and Palestinian and ask them what it is like to be in an endless battle with no way out where neither side recognizes the other's right to exist and the other side is accusing the first side of being genocidal. This is the kind of thing you are in, whether you like it or not, and HSUS is your mortal enemy.
What does victory against HSUS look like?
I think your industry should define victory in terms of weakening your adversary, making them unable to wage war against you. You are not going to get them to willingly stop, and if you give them a small victory here and there, that is not going to slow them down. It is just going to make them smell blood.
If you want to win, you should really be focused on limiting their ability to wage war against you. That means challenging their unearned moral authority in the public sphere. It means reminding the public they aren't a real humane society and that almost none of their money goes to animal shelters. Don't be afraid to challenge their legitimacy as a stakeholder in all these debates because they are vegans. They wouldn't drink the most humanely produced milk if you put a gun to their head. That means they aren't stakeholders; they are outsiders. I think you have to challenge the conventional wisdom that these people deserve a seat at the table.
If the public realizes one day, as I think they will, that these guys are every bit as much an outsider as Rush Limbaugh is to the Democratic party, then they will simply lose their moral authority to wage war against you and the stuff they throw at the wall won't stick anymore.
How long could it take to achieve that?
It is hard to say with an enemy the size of HSUS. I can tell you with PETA it took us about four years of campaigning to lower their public approval ratings by 20 or 25 points. But that alone was huge because it means that when they put out a press release, it is a punch line and not serious. I know it will take more money and more campaigning and more energy than it did with PETA because HSUS is smarter and they don't parade around with cans of fake blood and naked interns. They are a much more sophisticated opponent.
I can tell you that if it is left the way it is and nothing changes, five years from now HSUS is going to be discussed in the same breath as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. At that point, the opponent becomes absolutely unmanageable. And I think you guys are looking at ways to phase out your entire business as opposed to trying to save it. If nothing changes and HSUS continues to grow in wealth and credibility, I think that five years from now you are looking at the realization that you will never succeed. It is go-time here. Somebody's got to do something unconventional to reach the public and let them know what HSUS is and what it isn't.
In your opinion, why are you the right guy for the face of this campaign?
First, I've been researching this movement for the last five years. It's kind of like my own impromptu PhD project. Frankly, I studied at the feet of PETA for a long time and learned how they do what they do, and I'm perfectly willing to turn those tactics back on the animal rights movement.
Second, I don't care about sticks and stones. My feelings aren't hurt if Wayne Pacelle calls me a nasty name. It doesn't bother me at all. And again it's not about me being the face of anything. We've got an incredibly smart team, a brilliant team of young researchers and really good writers. I may be the face of this thing, but I'm not the only driving engine of it.
What did you tell producers at the Western United Dairyman (WUD) convention in March?
I told them an awful lot of the problem they are facing stems from sort of an urban/rural divide where you've got people all up and down California who have never set foot on a farm, and probably never will, and HSUS is leveraging that against them.
If you want to take away that particular weapon from their arsenal, you have to be more open with the public. You have to start, if you're not already doing it, to get city-dwellers on the farm somehow.
I was talking with some people after I gave my presentation, and they said "Gosh, how do we do that? We are way out there in the Central Valley and the city people are in the city." I said, "Why don't you bring the animals to them? See if you can get permitted to bring two dairy cows into a farmer's market, into every farmer's market in California, see if it's feasible to do. Actually bring the animals to them." People looked at me like I had just written a new book in the Bible or something. They had never heard that idea before.
You've got to be creative. You've got to completely think outside the box and say, "Let's do something that's never been done before." Because not only will you reach a new audience, but it will seem so unconventional to the media that you will get a lot of help promoting it, because they will say "Whoa, this has never been done before." One of the things I have learned after almost 10 years of doing what I do is that there is always a better way. There is always a new way. Nothing is ever done. You can always think of a new idea.
You're not dead in the water. There are ways to reconnect with people who consume your product. You just have to be willing to think outside the box a little.
At the WUD convention, you called HSUS leaders "Humaniacs." Explain why you think that term fits.
Well, by "humaniac" I'm not talking about the ordinary animal lover or the typical Americans who think of themselves as humane. By humaniacs I just mean the people who make it their career to leverage the word "humane" into political changes, into moving millions and millions of dollars from point A to point B. People for whom the word "humane" is a blunt instrument. It's not a nice word.
I think these are the people you've got to be concerned with and you've got to know who they are. Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro, Josh Balk, Michael Greger – these are the guys at the Humane Society of the U.S. who really are lifers in that movement. They will be vegans until they die, and they won't be satisfied unless somebody whose drinking milk or eating meat feels guilty about it. It's their life calling. It's what animates them. It's more important to them that anything else in their life.
It's really a religion with its own articles of faith and its own sacraments and its own priests and acolytes. By humaniacs I mean people who worship at the altar of Peter Singer and other animal rights' authors. It is their way of organizing the universe, and you'll never convince them they're wrong. You'll never persuade them that their methods are too "out there" because they believe that cows are people, that cows are babies and that they should have every right that a person should have, including the right to not be milked or slaughtered. I think that makes them so outside the stream of normal humanity that the term humaniacs is perfect. Plus, it looks great in a headline.
What has recently happened or will soon happen in your campaign that excites you?
We've really caught lightening in a bottle with Facebook. We released the website earlier this year, and it's got more than 30,000 fans on Facebook just by itself. That was really exciting. I didn't think we would be quite there that fast, so it has become a great organizing space for people.
Then what has happened as a result of that, which really blows my mind, is that people are just organizing little impromptu events to challenge the corporate supporters of HSUS. I'll just post a list on the website of companies that say they are proud to support HSUS, and I find that mind boggling that they are proud of this, and say here they are. I'm not telling them to sharpen their pitchforks or light their torches, But quite by themselves, these people are organizing on the Facebook pages and saying, "Here's the phone number, here's the website, here's the e-mail address, let's all tell them how we feel." And in the space of just a few weeks there have actually been five companies who have terminated their relationship with HSUS because of this grassroots uprising. It's like nothing I've ever seen before.
Where is HSUS' weakest link?
I think the thing that keeps them up at night is the fear that eventually the house of cards will tumble and one day the public will all realize that the money they are sending to HSUS doesn't go to pet shelters. That's where they are most vulnerable, I think.
We polled this idea, and 59 percent of Americans believe that HSUS donates most of its money to local pet shelters, and it's totally not true. The number is close to half of one percent of their money, certainly not most of their money by any stretch, and I think that is where they are most vulnerable.
If somebody gave me 10 million dollars and told me to go do something that will really impact HSUS, I would start buying ads and billboards and every communications vehicle we could afford just to tell people that the Humane Society of the U.S. is not their local humane society. You have to give locally, you have to make sure that money gets where you want it to go, because HSUS can't be trusted to do it.
I only wish we had a bigger budget to communicate that.
How can others support or get involved in what you are doing?
The Facebook group is a great place to start, if you are young. The website is good if you're not so young. It's updated just a couple of times a day, little articles, easy-to-digest.
The most important thing is not to just read this stuff and let it sit in your mind. The important thing is to read it, print it out, share it with friends, bring it to the coffee shop, bring it to the feed store, talk to people about this. If you've got family members or good friends in the city it is even more important to tell them.
All I can do and all the Center for Consumer Freedom can do is put the information out there. It's really up to you guys to carry it all across America. PD
- Email Walt Cooley