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November 16, 2009

The HSUS Responds to CCF

Center for Consumer Freedom's Critique Falls Flat

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), while organized as a 501(c) (3) charity, is a flack agency and industry front group for tobacco, alcohol, and agribusiness interests. The group's stock-in-trade involves taking aim at organizations that promote food safety, public health, or animal welfare. It started with a $600,000 grant from tobacco giant Philip Morris. CCF has even attacked the National Cancer Institute, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their anti-drunk driving and public health campaigns.

CCF has been condemned by the editorial boards of USA Today and the Washington Post for misleading the public. ABC News has also exposed the organization as a front group.

In the pay and in the pocket of corporate special interests that profit from animal cruelty, CCF has consistently sought to undermine The HSUS's work to combat factory farming, puppy mills, the Canadian seal slaughter, commercial whaling, and other large-scale cruelties. The group attacks The HSUS because we are effective and diligent, and because we pose the greatest threat to businesses that choose to continue to abuse animals as a core part of their operations.

Rick Berman, executive director of CCF, admitted as much. He wrote after The HSUS successfully pushed for the passage of Proposition 2, a landmark ballot initiative to halt the confinement of animals on factory farms:

"With the passage of California's Proposition 2, more people have come to realize the evolving threat of the power, influence, and growing wealth of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Ballot initiatives and legislation similar to Prop. 2 will soon be introduced in more states. HSUS's massive budget, unwarranted positive public reputation, and deep-pocketed Hollywood friends will only become a greater threat to industry in a post-Proposition 2 business environment. It is crucial that a key broad cross-section of agriculture leaders start managing this nationwide threat now, before it is too late or too expensive to match HSUS dollar for dollar."  

CCF is now circulating a document called "7 Things You Didn't Know About HSUS," which is chock full of falsehoods and distortions. In fact, CCF has already admitted its own errors regarding The HSUS, and published a retraction on its own website two years ago regarding statements it knew to be false and reckless. Below are responses to each of the seven "facts" about The HSUS.

1. Animal Shelters

For more than a half-century, The HSUS has stood as the nation's most important advocate for local humane societies. The HSUS provides training programs, hosts the nation's largest trade and educational show for shelter professionals, and provides national shelter standards. The HSUS also provides millions of dollars of support for spay and neuter programs. The HSUS is the leading disaster response agency for animals, and has given millions of dollars to rebuild animal shelters destroyed in natural disasters. Responding to floods, fires, hoarding cases, animal fighting and puppy mills, we helped more than 12,000 animals in 2008.

In addition to these services, The HSUS operates its own network of sanctuaries, making it one of the largest providers of animal care and sheltering in the United States. Through its affiliate Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, The HSUS provides no-cost veterinary care to dogs and cats in low-income communities around the world. In 2008, we provided more than 26,000 treatments valued at $1.2 million in free services. More than one quarter of all U.S. veterinary students participate in our rural areas program.

2. Michael Vick Dogs

The HSUS led the effort to compel the successful prosecution of Michael Vick, and the case would not have progressed but for our efforts to raise the importance of prosecuting animal fighting cases at the federal level. With all of the national attention on the Vick case, the bulk of the donations we received was poured into upgrading laws against animal fighting; training law enforcement to crack down on dogfighting operations; setting up a tip line and reward program for reporting animal fighting information; and much more. 

We did not need to spend enormous sums caring for the Vick dogs because the federal court ordered Vick to pay nearly $1 million for the care of the dogs, although we did pay a considerable sum for housing some of the confiscated dogs before the guilty pleas were decided.

Since the Vick case, we have upgraded the federal law against animal fighting (making it a federal felony to engage in animal fighting and to ban possession of fighting animals), upgraded laws in more than 15 states (including establishing felony-level penalties in the final states that had misdemeanor penalties), cracked down on dozens of dogfighting operations, paid out more than 25 rewards on animal-fighting tips, run public service announcements on animal fighting throughout the nation, and elevated the debate on this issue to a fever pitch.
3. John Goodwin

No animal protection organization has been more resolute and outspoken about condemning violence and vandalism done in the name of animal protection than The HSUS. CCF says that The HSUS harbors an advocate of violence by having John Goodwin on staff, yet John leads our animal fighting campaigns and works hand in hand with law enforcement in cracking down on illegal activities. In his youth, John engaged in some radical animal activism, and more than 15 years ago, he renounced this activity. He is a stellar example to young people that legal channels offer the best means of effecting social reforms, and is a harsh critic of the claim that progress can be secured through illegal conduct. Our work is about the business of change, and we welcome people into the fold who change for the better.

4. Katrina Funds

The HSUS was recognized nationwide for its enormous deployment in response to the crisis created by Hurricane Katrina. Since Sept. 1, 2005, The HSUS has committed or spent more than $34 million on general disaster relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast states, on the enhancement of its disaster response capacities, and on the transformation of public policy concerning animals in disaster. The most recent accounting is available to the public on our website.

The line of argument that we did not spend Katrina funds properly was promoted by Louisiana cockfighters, CCF, and other political opponents of ours, and never had a basis in fact. These groups exhibited little knowledge of our actual spending practices—they just did not like the level of public support and media attention we received during the Katrina crisis. The HSUS and state authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi work very closely on disaster planning and response and we continue to fund a range of projects to help shelters, vet schools, and other institutions in the Gulf Coast region. The HSUS is the lead disaster response agency for animals in the nation.

5. Chino Investigation

In 2008, The HSUS conducted perhaps the most important slaughterhouse investigation in the nation's history, exposing the abuse of "downers"—cows too sick or injured to walk—at a slaughter plant supplying the National School Lunch Program. The cows were tormented to force them to stand and to force them into the kill box, where they were slaughtered and the meat sold to schools in 47 states.

The HSUS investigation at Westland slaughter plant led to the largest meat recall in American history, eight Congressional hearings on food safety and humane handling practices, a new federal policy on not slaughtering downer cows for human consumption, and a new state law on handling downer cows. 

As soon as the field portion of the investigation concluded and our team assessed and organized the enormous volume of video and other research materials, we met with staff from the San Bernardino District Attorney's office in mid-December 2007. At that time, we provided them the evidence of criminal conduct and encouraged them to prosecute the perpetrators.

The D.A.'s office asked for extra time to assess this information before we released it. Staff at that office indicated to us that they planned to take action but they were unable to provide a specific time line. Because of our history of working cooperatively with local law enforcement on animal cruelty cases, and the sincerity of the personnel in the D.A.'s office, we acceded to their request. But at the end of January, we decided that we had an obligation to make the information public and could wait no longer, even if the D.A.'s office was preparing to take enforcement action and file charges against the perpetrators. Although the D.A.'s office had indicated that they planned to share the information with USDA, the president of The HSUS personally called a senior official at USDA, before we released the information to the press, to make sure the agency knew that the situation was about to be brought to public attention.

Frankly, we did not turn to the USDA first because the agency has too often ignored complaints about serious animal welfare abuses, even when they are associated with known public health risks. Moreover, USDA was directly implicated in the problems we uncovered at this plant. The agency has day-to-day oversight responsibility, and was complicit in the failures there. Not only was USDA on site throughout every shift when these abuses occurred, the agency was a primary purchaser of meat from the plant and had awarded the company the honor of being named USDA "Supplier of the Year" for the 2004-2005 academic year. Westland was the #2 beef supplier to the National School Lunch Program and to other USDA commodity distribution programs.

We're glad that USDA treated the matter with the seriousness that it deserved, once we brought the issue to light. And we've cooperated fully with the agency as it considered this case and the broader implications for industry oversight. We continue to work with USDA on enhancing its enforcement efforts at slaughter plants.

6. L.A. Times Fundraising Story

The HSUS has excellent program-to-fundraising ratios that not only compare very favorably with other animal protection charities, but with any charities in the entire non-profit sector. The HSUS has been rated three or four stars each year for the past decade by Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator. In 2007, The HSUS spent 84 percent of its dollars on program-related activities.
The telemarketing work cited by the L.A. Times represents just a small share—less than 5 percent—of our larger fundraising and member recruitment and direct marketing public education costs. That narrow program focuses on telemarketing efforts that ask supporters to convert to monthly givers, which over time is highly efficient and eliminates paper and environmental waste. That said, this program represents a relatively small part of our larger fundraising efforts, which include direct mail, major gifts, online giving, planned giving, bequests, foundation support, house parties, and the like. To take one small slice of our fundraising, as this news story does, and to draw a conclusion about our overall fundraising efforts is a very significant distortion and in no way provides an accurate gauge of the organization's effectiveness and efficiency.

While program-to-fundraising ratios are important, these ratios are alone not an accurate indicator of the effectiveness of an organization. In looking at the impact on the lives of animals in the United States and abroad, The HSUS is arguably the most effective animal protection organization in the world.
Our recruitment and retention programs for members are conducted not just for fundraising purposes, but for the purposes of strengthening our programs and our institutional impact. Our recruitment efforts are responsible for our attracting more than 11 million active supporters. With a constituency of this size, we are able to exert enormous power and drive an aggressive and far-reaching animal protection agenda in Congress, in the corporate sector, in public opinion, and elsewhere. What's more, these members spread the message about animal protection with their families and in their larger communities and they take action to persuade lawmakers and corporations to make a humane difference for animals.

7. Canadian Seafood Boycott

A significant number of Canadian fishermen in eastern Canada earn a small percent of their annual income by slaughtering seals, and the bulk of their income from fishing. In 2005, The HSUS launched a boycott of Canadian seafood, after we were told by the Canadian government that only these Canadian fishermen could end the seal hunt. As the boycott has grown in effectiveness and attracted more and more supporters, CCF and restaurant industry critics of our efforts have suggested the boycott is phony and ineffective. There is nothing phony about the boycott, which grows daily, and its effects are becoming more and more obvious.

More than 600,000 individuals have signed the pledge to boycott Canadian seafood and more are signing everyday. In addition, more than 850 restaurants and grocery companies (operating over 5,000 restaurants and grocery stores) have associated themselves with The HSUS's ProtectSeals campaign. While their form and degree of participation varies, we can state unequivocally that all participating companies are, at the least, boycotting or refusing to sell Canadian snow crabs from Newfoundland.

Indeed, some businesses are boycotting or refusing to sell any seafood from Canada; some are boycotting specific items such as Canadian snow crabs; others are boycotting seafood from eastern or Atlantic Canada; and, still others are boycotting seafood or snow crab only from Newfoundland. Many participating companies were buying Canadian items they have since discontinued purchasing. Others were not buying seafood items from Canada at the point they joined the boycott. Pledges from such companies are of value as they impact future purchasing. Until Canada ends its hunt, all participating businesses have pledged to not buy certain items from Canada until the commercial seal is brought to an end. The boycott is impacting current sales, future sales, and potential sales.

The most direct measure of the boycott's effect is its astounding economic impact. In the three and half years that the boycott has been in place, the value of Canadian snow crab exports to the United States has decreased by more than $750 million. Prior to the boycott, snow crabs were the number one seafood export from Newfoundland and other sealing provinces and have, thus, been a special focus of the boycott. Looking more broadly, the value of exports to the U.S. from Newfoundland's fishing and seafood industries have fallen by 44 percent.

Seal hunt advocates have attempted to dismiss the impact of the boycott and point to exchange rates and high fuel prices for the huge drop in seafood exports to the U.S. from Canada's top sealing province. These arguments don't withstand examination. The impact of exchange rates and fuel costs are felt across industries. The distress felt by Newfoundland's fishing industry has not been felt by other industries despite facing the same exchange rates and fuel costs. Instead, the value of exports to the U.S. from other industries in Newfoundland is up by 22 percent, excluding the oil and gas extraction industries. (If one includes exports from the gas and oil extraction industries, exports are up by 253 percent.)

In the end, of course, the proof of the effectiveness of the boycott is in the numbers of restaurants and citizens who have agreed to not buy or sell some or all Canadian seafood, and in the economic loss that is being suffered apparently largely as a result of the boycott.

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