The Cornhusker Two-Step

Thanks to one HumaneWatcher's eagle eye, we learned recently that HSUS president Wayne Pacelle was a call-in guest during a February 7 Nebraska Television news broadcast. So we tracked down a copy of the video.

Listen to Pacelle slow down his delivery when the news anchor fires a few tough questions at him—questions he probably wasn't expecting from a mild-mannered corn-country reporter. Is HSUS really just anti-meat? And is it against all hunting? 

Note: This video is no longer available online. Most of the relevant quotes are after the jump.

Pacelle: "Our work on farm animals is certainly very reformist-oriented."

Where to begin? This might be at least somewhat believable if Pacelle were willing to eat the animal protein that results from HSUS's proposed "reforms." But setting that aside, here's a little quote from a speech that HSUS's Josh Balk gave last summer in Washington, DC, at HSUS's "Taking Action for Animals" conference. (Balk, a vegan just like Wayne Pacelle, is outreach director for HSUS's "factory farming" campaigns. Here he is:

It is needed for farm animals that we get people to eat more vegetarian meals. We can abolish all of these factory farm practices, and I hope we do. lt's going to decrease the level of suffering dramatically. At the same time, we just have to reduce the number of animals who are raised for food. And the way we can do so by encouraging people to eat more vegetarian meals.

Note the use of "who" instead of "that." Sounds like PETA rhetoric. In any event, this is not a plan to reform animal agriculture. It's a plan to replace it with something else. Either Pacelle endorses this view, or Josh Balk is a rogue employee. (Balk still has his job nine months after making those remarks, so we'll assume the former.)

[Interviewer]: "Now, you've never actually said, or encouraged people to reduce their meat eating in order to save animals?"

Pacelle: "We focus our efforts on what we call 'refinement,' and that means improving conditions for animals on the farm, [and] also improving conditions in transport and slaughter. We have said, you know, in this era where we're concerned about global warming and concerned about some of the environmental effects, that people can reduce their consumption of meat, but that represents basically a very tiny part of our overall discussion of the issue."

Pants. On. Fire.

HSUS uses that word, "refinement," pretty often. But it's just one leg of a three-legged HSUS campaign stool. The other two are "reduction" and "replacement."

Here's how HSUS usually presents it. This is the back of a reply envelope from an HSUS direct-mail fundraising letter:

Number 1 of the "5 ways to help farm animals" guide—and remember, this is HSUS's list—is "reducing our consumption of animal products." Number 3 is "replacing animal products with readily available vegetarian alternatives."

Yes, "refinement" is in there at number 2, and it's clear that the Proposition 2 campaign in Ohio was presented in a way that fits neatly in that box. But it doesn't matter whether or not a chicken has a cage if HSUS is also pursuing goals #1 and #3, now, does it?

Read number 1 again: it suggests that reducing "only 50%" of our animal consumption would be a very modest accomplishment. And it suggests that every farm animal endures "a lifetime of suffering." Again, this sounds like PETA talking. But it's HSUS.

On a side note, the whole application of this "3R's" formulation (Reduce, Refine, Replace) in the world of food requires a bit of sleight-of-hand to pull off. That's because the "3R's" were developed by biomedical research scientists. The idea was to use only the bare minimum number of lab animals required for their work.

One pharmaceutical company explains its "3Rs" goals like this:

– replacing research using animals with other methods where possible
– reducing the number of animals used in research
– refining techniques to minimise pain and distress and improve the welfare of animals.

Our understanding is that more biomedical researchers would like very much to minimize the use of animals in their laboratories. Animals are expensive to maintain; endless committee meetings and regulatory hurdles can be required before approval is granted for their use; and, well … frankly, some of them smell. So the "3Rs" have their place in labs, precisely because they're aligned with scientists' values.

But on farms? Come on. Very few people want  to reduce their meat consumption. Even fewer have a burning desire to "replace" it with tofu. (For those who do, we respect that choice. But it's your choice to make.) "Refinement" is all well and good if it lines up with what farmers believe is best for their animals. But since they spend every day with the animals, and very few HSUS employees spend any quality time on farms at all, we're inclined to side with farmers on these he-said/she-said debates.

[Interviewer]: "What about hunting, and trying to eliminate that altogether. There have even been quotes from the Associated Press saying that, you saying 'if we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would.' Is that not true either? What's your reaction to that?"

Pacelle: "No, it's not true. And we have to look at the source for these. These are Internet-based comments dating back to 1991 when I wasn't even employed with the Humane Society. Plus it was said, you know, in a much broader context, and the words were turned around and upside down."

IFrom what we remember of 1991, there was no Internet yet. We only had on-campus e-mail back then, and we never heard the term "website" until at least 1993.

But okay, let's take his word for it and look at the source again. Here's what Pacelle told the Associated Press:

But if we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would. Just like we would shut down all dog fighting, all cock fighting or all bull fighting.

There's your context. Not only did he want to ban all hunting, but he considered it on a par with dog fighting—which we suppose makes it a rather murky subject now that HSUS is fronting for Michael Vick.

But seriously, if Pacelle has changed his views in the last 19 years, he should say so, and say it loudly. He has the biggest animal-issues bully pulpit in the nation. Why so quiet? All he can seem to do is deny he ever said what he said.