With the debate over the stimulus package dominating the news, it seems there’s no end to the discussion about the economic malaise in this country. A depression is never good for charities, since many people may choose to save rather than to give. And that’s why I am reminding HSUS supporters to dig deep so we don’t have to cut programs that produce results for animal protection. We’ve got momentum, and we should not squander it, since the animals need our advocacy so desperately. I also want to let our supporters know that we at The HSUS are tightening our belts in a hundred ways, and just this week, executives at the organization all took pay cuts to stretch donor dollars further.
But, as I’ve said before, the downturn cuts both ways. It puts businesses that produce and trade in animals and animal products in a bind, too. Lauren Etter of The Wall Street Journal has two separate stories today on two industries sagging in a depressed economy.
© Nigel Barker/March 25, 2008
Harp seal pups seen before the 2008 slaughter.
Etter reports that the $15 billion fur industry—and its “far-flung network of producers, merchants and craftsmen”—is experiencing a significant but still unmeasurable downturn, and that’s no surprise because people reduce their purchases of frivolous goods when incomes are down. Fur coats are the ultimate symbol of conspicuous consumption and vanity, since they are entirely unnecessary in our age, with cloth or other alternative-fiber garments providing all the style and warmth that any consumer could require.
The HSUS is, of course, battling this industry, with the lead focus of our campaign the effort to stop the killing of 300,000 baby harp seals this spring in Atlantic Canada—an enormous slaughter at the southern point of the largest marine mammal migration in the world. Neither Canada nor the United States consume any seal pelts, and it’s entirely an export market, mainly to China, Europe, and Russia. That’s why we are appealing to the nations in the European Union to close their markets to Canada’s seal pelts and to stop giving a financial incentive to sealers to slaughter these creatures.
And for the moment, at least, due to a combined effect of the stalled economy and a pending ban on seal product trade in the EU, the global market for seal pelts seems to be evaporating. The annual grey seal kill in Nova Scotia—where thousands of seals are killed on Hay Island, a protected wilderness sanctuary—was set to begin last week. But unable to find buyers for the pelts, Canada's sealing community just announced that this year's grey seal kill will be canceled. And reports indicate that many sealers are also concerned about what impact the shrinking markets will have on this year's commercial harp seal kill.
More than 20 years ago, after I had started an animal protection group at Yale, the fur trade was international, but not to today’s extent. Much of the trade has moved to Russia and China, and that’s why The HSUS and our international affiliate, Humane Society International, have to work on a global scale to combat the killing of animals for their pelts.
Also in the Journal, Etter reports on a downturn in the consumption of chicken, and how contract poultry producers, mired in debt for their purchases of modern factory-scale production houses, are facing a dire circumstance. Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the nation’s largest chicken producers, has cut out 300 of its 5,000 contract producers, and most of the producers are saddled with substantial mortgages on their factory farm infrastructure.
As our members know, The HSUS has been concerned about the harsh turn agriculture has taken in recent decades, with the animals treated like meat-, milk-, and egg-producing machines. We’ll be watching the state of the poultry industry, since it’s one of our primary goals to see that chickens and turkeys, who comprise more than 95 percent of all animals produced and killed for food, are accorded the basic protections they deserve under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Pilgrim’s Pride and other major poultry slaughter companies have resisted that simple reform.