Lobbyist and PR man Rick Berman has made a career of setting up phony front groups and flacking for the most disreputable of corporate causes. He has worked with consistent ineffectiveness against efforts to combat smoking, drunk driving, consumption of mercury-laced fish by pregnant moms and trans fats by people of any age, and so many other societally destructive enterprises. When Berman designed a misleading ad campaign for the Indoor Tanning Association promoting the supposed "health benefits" of indoor tanning, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the trade group to yank the illegal ads in 2010 and Berman recently lost yet another battle when the federal government decided to regulate tanning beds, as a way of preventing skin cancer.
But he always seems to show the greatest enthusiasm when shilling for companies and individuals involved in the business of animal cruelty – also with little to show for it, except the fees collected by him and his for-profit PR operation, Berman and Company. He’s been barking out the talking points of the pork industry ever since The HSUS and Humane Society International launched a global campaign to end gestation crates. Earlier this year, he traveled to Canada to try to arrest efforts to end the use of crates, but the National Farm Animal Care Council didn’t seem to care or notice, and it recently committed to end the lifelong confinement of pigs in crates. He wrote a whiny piece about how the country made a mistake by agreeing to end this form of extreme confinement. No whiny pieces have as yet been published in India or the European Union, where the crates are also banned, or in Australia, where the pork industry is well on its way to eliminating the cruel cages—but we’re watching and waiting.
Berman fights efforts to crack down on malicious cruelty to animals (Measure 5 in North Dakota), puppy mills (Prop B in Missouri), confinement of farm animals (Prop 2 in California and Prop 204 in Arizona, as well as bills in Congress and state legislatures), clubbing of seals in Canada, and so much more. And he spends the millions of dollars he receives from corporations in the business of hurting animals in an effort to weaken The HSUS’ brand, principally by implying that we shouldn’t spend any money on trying to help reduce suffering for animals in agriculture, science, wildlife management, fashion, the wildlife trade, or any sector other than the sheltering of companion animals.
Here’s the truth about The HSUS and its affiliates. Collectively, we’re the number one provider of animal care and services in the United States and we do so with a dizzying array of domestic and international programs – from the work of our Animal Rescue Team to our rural veterinary programs to Pets for Life to our Animal Care Centers to our international street dog sterilization programs.
But it’s our advocacy programs that Berman’s patrons really don’t like, whether it’s our policy and enforcement work, our corporate reform efforts, or our work to shift attitudes and opinion among thought leaders and the public at large.
I’ve been reading Todd Purdum’s book, An Idea Whose Time Has Come, about the struggle for civil rights and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Congress. It is startling to read what civil rights activists endured – not only hate and lies and the denial of voting rights and other basic liberties, but also beatings, high-pressure fire hoses, arson, and even murder. These are different times with different struggles, but every push for progress in society faces its own obstacles.
The obstacles we face are less violent, but still plenty vicious. They come in the form of hate, lies, bullying and legislative obstruction, including continuing attempts to criminalize undercover investigations (ag-gag laws) and maneuvers to establish constitutional protections for factory farming practices and to protect foreign-owned agricultural companies in the United States.
Future historians who write about the triumph of animal protection ideals and policies probably won't even grant a footnote to the small-minded obstructionists, the Rick Bermans, the Forrest Lucases, and the Ted Nugents of the world, just as the vast majority of those who stood in the way of civil rights have long been forgotten to history, and for good reason. Yet it’s a still a wonder how anyone, in any era, could be so small-minded, so reactionary, and, because of their pecuniary or personal interests in seeing cruelty continue, so deadened to the suffering and pain of animals.