HSUS Offends Iowa Journalists, Lays Giant Egg

As we predicted yesterday, Wayne Pacelle showed up in Des Moines today with a brief video (less than seven minutes, although we thought it would be five), spliced together from several unidentified times and places, and tried to make the case that it represented the typical state of affairs everywhere in America egg-laying hens are raised. There was no context, and no proof—just righteous indignation.

Appearing on behalf of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle insisted that a nationwide move to cage-free eggs was the right solution. But no one in the room challenged him to explain why HSUS can't even bring itself to endorse a cage-free egg (or any food derived from animals). And we understand that there was also no mention of an essay appearing in this morning's Des Moines Register, explaining why cage-free eggs "are not all they're cracked up to be." (Blame the newspaper editor for the pun.)

On that subject, we notice that one of the Iowa egg producers targeted by HSUS does have a robust cage-free egg business. We wonder why HSUS didn't send a spy into that particular operation? Our guess is that HSUS understands full well that more hens actually die in cage-free settings than in cages, and that cage-free operations tend to spread more disease. There's no sense shooting video that doesn't make the selective point you're trying to drive home.

The Associated Press seems to believe HSUS is merely agitating "to get hens out of cages." But as we've said before, the group's long-term strategy is not about preferring one kind of egg over another. It's about using short-term skirmishes to earn enough moral authority to win the long-term war. And "victory" in this war is defined as the day when all of America goes vegan. Nothing else will satisfy Wayne Pacelle.

The big reason no one put this in its proper perspective was that this wasn't a real press conference. HSUS actually refused to admit several credentialed members of the media, based solely on whether or not their publications were expected to be friendly to HSUS. That picture above, taken by an Iowa Farm Bureau photographer (also denied entry), shows all the rejected reporters in the hallway. We're not joking.

And what about the video itself? (Go ahead and watch it. I'll wait.) We simply don't know if it's authentic. If HSUS wants to be taken seriously, it should do two things, and do them today:

  1. provide a media pool with all the video that its undercover operatives supposedly shot; and
  2. make the videographers available (to every media outlet) for interviews.

The few minutes of footage we've seen reportedly came from 25 full days of shooting, and the owners of the egg farms weren't even allowed to see the video before the press conference today.

HSUS might also want to explain why its undercover secret agent failed (as HSUS employees have in the past) to alert the people in charge of these egg farms that something was amiss. If you believe animals are being abused, and you'd rather film it than actually do something about it, the least you should do is report it immediately.

One reporter who did manage to get through the HSUS gauntlet this morning was the Register's Phil Brasher. And he "tweeted" from inside. Brasher noted that this HSUS video was shot on a cell-phone camera ("Will farms ban them?"), and that an Iowa egg farm executive insisted that he has nothing to hide ("they're 'open to anyone' for visit"). But Brasher's most telling observation was Pacelle's comment that "I don't think anybody can see this footage and feel good" about conventional egg production.

Well … that's kinda the point, isn't it, Wayne? When you intentionally produce a low-budget horror movie, and when you control the images that everyone sees, you're not expecting anyone to merrily sing along with the theme song. Just like no one would be all that scared of the knife in all those slasher films if they knew it was only a blunt prop, Americans wouldn't be all that concerned about egg production if they saw it as it really is—instead of Wayne Pacelle's cherry-picked caricatures.

Animal agriculture doesn't always appear pretty in the eye of a city boy. But then again, neither does crop agriculture. Did you ever wonder how many animals are killed or maimed by plows and combines among those amber waves of grain? One researcher claims switching to a food system dominated by beef and dairy would save the lives of 300 million more animals annually than converting everyone to veganism.

No one is served by HSUS's sensationalistic videos. They just drive a deeper wedge between perception and reality.