When Rick Berman of the front group Center for Consumer Freedom isn’t shilling for liquor interests, junk food peddlers, or the tanning bed industry, he’s cuddling up to a wide variety of sectors causing harm to animals. He’s got a big following among cockfighters, seal clubbers, puppy millers, factory farmers, and others. Their websites and social media accounts go aflutter and atwitter when he trots out his false framing of The HSUS and our work. He’s their hero.
Recently, Berman took a trip to Manitoba, Canada, to try to drum up support among industrial pig farmers to fight The HSUS on the gestation crate issue. He rolled out his standard myths, hoping for another contract from yet another animal use group to run silly ads or videos, or to write more blogs about The HSUS.
How successful was he? About two weeks after Berman left the prairie province, the Canada Retail Council and the eight largest supermarket chains in Canada – Walmart Canada, Costco Canada, Metro, Loblaw, Safeway Canada, Federated Co-operatives, Sobeys and Co-op Atlantic – announced that they will phase out their procurement of pork from operations that confine sows in crates for the duration of their pregnancies.
A writer with the Western Producer, an agriculture trade journal, said after the announcement, “the gestation stall debate is done.”
It’s a familiar pattern of failure for Berman. He’s spent millions fighting our campaigns, including our ballot measures in Arizona (crates for pigs and calves), California (crates and cages for various farm animals), and Missouri (puppy mills). We won them all.
In addition to his tobacco industry connections, Berman’s biggest claim to fame, before he launched his brand attack against The HSUS years ago, was his connection to the food industry. What does the record show? In the United States, during the last 14 months, The HSUS has opened up discussions with more than 50 major food retail companies – the biggest names in the business – from McDonald’s to Denny’s, Kroger and Cracker Barrel – that resulted in announcements that these companies were rejecting gestation crates. In the area Berman had his best contacts, we’ve had our best results.
However, I would say he’s done pretty well for himself in the process. In one year, for just one of his spider web of “non-profit” front groups, Berman’s for-profit PR firm took in 92 percent of all revenue.
We presented that information, and lots more to the IRS some months ago, and a former director of the IRS’s charitable organizations division called it an abuse of the tax code. Charity Navigator, which gave The HSUS its highest score, recently took the unprecedented step of issuing donor advisories for all of Berman’s “charities,” which appear to not have sheltered one person, fed one animal, nor provided any social service whatever.
The HSUS has its adversaries – that’s the price of taking on the biggest problems for animals. But when the major mouthpiece for your opponents is a guy so widely discredited by the media, so transparently unethical, and so publicly identified as a mercenary defender of corporate cruelty, that’s a pretty good framing opportunity for us. What amazes me is that any trade association or industry lining up against The HSUS would ever pay a guy like this, because if their goal is to halt our progress, they’re sure not getting their money’s worth.