October 19, 2012
Justice for All: Animal Protection Litigation Team Is a Powerful Force for Animals
HSUS attorneys use the legal system to push for a more humane world
by Julie Falconer
The tipoff came in January 2008, 10 months before California voters would determine the fate of the most important farm animal reform in U.S. history.
Proposition 2—the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act—would eliminate the intensive confinement of 20 million egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves in the nation’s most populous state. The HSUS and its allies had already spent months gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. They were feverishly raising funds for the year of heavy campaigning ahead.
Acting on a tip from a colleague, The HSUS’s Ralph Henry picked up the latest issue of Egg Industry magazine and flipped to the headline “AEB Supports California Egg Battle.” The article reported that the American Egg Board—a government-run commodity promotion program—had earmarked $3 million to fight the state ballot measure. And although federal law prohibits commodity boards from interfering with legislative battles, the USDA had approved the expenditure.
“We called the USDA and said, ‘What gives? They’re not allowed to do this,’ ” says Henry, deputy director of The HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation section. “And the USDA denied it.”
A flurry of emails, letters, and phone calls ensued. Ed Schafer, USDA secretary at the time, wrote in one email: “We’ve had our lawyers—way too many of them—all over this issue too and have come to the conclusion that the Egg Board’s expenditures are proper. … Do you think if you sue it will give ammo to those opposing your initiative measure to say that you are being unfair by not allowing those who think differently to express their opinions too?”
The HSUS refused to back down. “We all know how important TV buys and other advertising are in any legislative campaign,” Henry says. And this was an obvious attempt by the egg board to illegally funnel $3 million to the opposition.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests, Henry and his colleagues pieced together the paper trail. It included what Henry calls their “smoking gun document”: an email exchange between the American Egg Board’s president and a program officer in the USDA’s agricultural marketing service. “The USDA person basically said, ‘Is this the $3 million to oppose Prop 2?’ and the response was, ‘Yes, this is to oppose Prop 2.’ ”
By September, when HSUS attorneys squared off against government lawyers in U.S. district court, this series of emails would be known as Exhibit 12.