HSUS VP’s Operation Had Inhumane Violations

JoeMaxwell_PuppetIt’s not really news that someone in HSUS’s leadership would trash today’s farmers. HSUS VP Paul Shapiro thinks eating meat causes animal cruelty. HSUS food policy director Matt Prescott has compared farms to concentration camps. But the latest bilge of attacks on farmers is coming from a hog farmer himself: Joe Maxwell.

Maxwell is a former politician, a lawyer, and a vice president for rural outreach at HSUS. But judging from his recent rhetoric, a more appropriate job title would be “useful idiot”—and perhaps “hypocrite.”

He was recently hired and there’s little doubt as to his role. Whenever HSUS is criticized for being anti-agriculture—and it is anti-agriculture—the group can trot out ol’ Joe as supposed proof that it isn’t. (“I’m not anti-farmer…some of my best friends are farmers!”) The fact is, Maxwell is just a handy prop for Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro, Matt Prescott, and the other hardcore vegan zealots running HSUS’s farm campaign. They don’t believe that what he’s doing is ethical—more ethical than larger operations, perhaps, but they still won’t be buying any carnitas burritos from Chipotle. All Maxwell has to do is create noise and sling HSUS-approved propaganda that targets other farmers.

So what’s his background? He was Missouri Lieutenant Governor, and before that he was in the state legislature, where he ironically sponsored a bill to crack down on telemarketers misrepresenting material aspects about the products they’re selling.  That’s basically how HSUS raises money from the public—by duping donors into thinking they’re supporting pet care and shelters when the money is being funneled into propaganda campaigns and overhead. (Now that his paycheck is wrapped up in HSUS deception, he may not care as much.)

But there’s a more troubling side that calls into question the credibility of his HSUS anointment as a spokesman for so-called humane farming.

In 2004, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Maxwell was not running for office again after 14 years in politics, focusing instead on the family farm his brother ran, which was a member of Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative. Just two years earlier, Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative was suspended by the USDA for a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) violation, and the agency issued a letter of warning in 2004. HACCP is a management system that seeks to ensure that food is kept safe from contamination from pathogens like campylobacter and salmonella.

The Ozark Mountain Pork Coop introduced the “Heritage Acres” label in the early 2000s, and a December 2008 piece in the Springfield Business Journal identified Maxwell as CEO of Heritage Acres Foods LLC and Ozark Mountain Pork as a precursor of Heritage Acres. Then, in June 2009, the USDA cited Heritage Acres for inhumane treatment or slaughter and suspended the plant. The USDA found a second violation for inhumane treatment or slaughter in August, again suspending the plant.

The following month the USDA sent a Notice of Intended Enforcement to Heritage Acres, listing as the basis for action HACCP, Sanitation Performance Standards, and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures. The USDA deferred the Notice and ended up issuing at least two Letters of Warning in December.

The Animal Welfare Institute included Heritage Acres Foods on a list of “Slaughter Plants with Repeated Suspensions for Humane Violations.” And it seems these operations couldn’t resist a little “pork” from the government: Ozark Mountain Pork Coop received $553,500 in 2002 and 2003 from the USDA, while records show that Heritage Acres received $74,000 in 2006 for market research.

The Springfield Business Journal also reported that Heritage Acres inked a partnership agreement with the Taiwan-based Tai Shin Foods USA to revive a hog processing plant in 2008, while Maxwell was CEO. Just months earlier, Tai Shin Foods had been suspended by the USDA for an inhumane slaughter/treatment violation.

And that’s not all.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court records show that Maxwell’s Heritage Acres was in quite a pickle recently. A number of creditors of Heritage Acres filed an involuntary petition for bankruptcy against the company in December 2010, seeking $552,309.88 in debts. Subsequent court records showed Heritage Acres with $1.4 million in liabilities and just $73,368 in assets. Further, records indicate that Maxwell was CEO of Heritage Acres until December 2009, and most of the liabilities were incurred in 2009. This timeline would also appear to indicate that the inhumane slaughter/treatment violations at Heritage Acres occurred under Maxwell’s watch.

HSUS sure has chosen a great token spokes-farmer.

Maybe running a farm the way HSUS says it prefers isn’t all that “sustainable” financially. And maybe that’s why Maxwell is willing to shill for an anti-agriculture group if he can pull a VP-level salary.

That’s just speculation. What isn’t speculation is the less-than-stellar record of Maxwell/Heritage Acres.

What do you call someone who takes money from an anti-farmer group and goes around bashing other farmers—especially when his own pigpen seems a little too dirty? We think the word you’re looking for is “hypocrite.”

Maxwell is going around the ag community, spouting unconvincing claims that the Humane Society of the United States isn’t against animal agriculture. Before other farmers buy into what he’s shoveling, they should ask him to come clean about his own record.