Something big and lasting and transformational is happening in our food system. We are, company by company, species by species, and animal by animal, seeing a shift away from the intensive confinement of animals on factory farms. It is still a work in progress, but the trajectory of the movement against cages and crates as customary practices in animal agriculture is unmistakable and irreversible. Forward-thinking corporate producers, CEOs of food retail companies, family farmers, and agriculture industry observers see what’s happening and they are making adjustments and revising their business plans to take animal welfare into consideration.
Walmart is embracing the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare, McDonald’s just became the latest company to announce a 100 percent cage-free egg switch, and Burger King is touting Meatless Monday. Major egg producers like Rose Acre and Rembrandt are switching to a crate-free future, and Smithfield and Cargill are getting rid of gestation crates.
Yet, as with any arena of rapid social reform, there are the obstructionists and the opportunists – the folks who continue to fight change even past the point of being able to influence outcomes. I’ve told you before about public-relations bottom-feeder Rick Berman and his failed brand attacks against The HSUS — financed by operators and allies of factory farms, puppy mills, and other dens of animal exploitation.
Berman is a professional opponent of social progress – and an unbecoming one at that, using gutter tactics and resorting to outright falsehoods in the conduct of his campaigns. Throughout his career, he’s been in the employ not just of apologists for animal cruelty, but has also shilled for indoor smoking, drunk driving, tanning beds, and for industries that do harm in the process of generating profits. The good news is, he’s been consistently ineffectual. That’s perhaps why he repeatedly relies on tactics, such as billboards and mailers, that make it more difficult for his funders to measure and to hold him accountable. It’s so much smoke and mirrors.
But from our vantage point, it’s plain that he’s lost battles against indoor smoking bans, tanning bed regulations, labeling of mercury in fish, menu calorie counts, and stiffer drunk-driving laws. His only success has been making sure he comes out the winner financially, with his front groups often paying his PR firm hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While he’s had associations with many different sectors of industry in our economy, Berman has long claimed to be most closely connected to the food industry. But given our announcements with nearly 100 food companies that have changed their purchasing practices to go more humane, he’s been routed in the area where he’s claimed the strongest allegiances, and it’s difficult to imagine who’s supporting him there. To further his embarrassment, now some in the sector seem to be taking things a step further. Most recently, Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade publication for the restaurant industry, has dropped Berman as a contributing editor—a post he held onto for years, using the platform to create villains where there were none and fundraising for his own coffers. The latest issue is the first in a very long time that omits his name.
Berman has definitely taken millions from Big Ag trade associations, producers, and others who profit from exploiting animals in order to fight reforms that The HSUS is pushing. But what does he have to show for it? Take what recently happened in Canada. Berman traveled there and urged pork producers to ante up fresh cash so he could turn back the clock and promote gestation crates to confine breeding pigs. Like a snake-oil salesman, he implored farmers to dig into their pockets. In agricultural publications, he even urged farmers to ignore the animal welfare requirements of their largest customers—companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, Safeway, and Kroger.
Yet just weeks after his public exhortations against The HSUS and animal protection values, the Retail Council of Canada and eight of the nation largest supermarket chains announced plans to eliminate the perpetual confinement of pigs in gestation crates. Then, shortly after, Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Coalition released draft regulations to phase out long-term crate confinement nationwide.
Berman continues to send out mailers to HSUS supporters, trying to masquerade as a watchdog when he’s really just a bat boy for the players within the animal-use sector that still cling to the idea that they can escape any serious commitment to animal welfare. This has already been our biggest year ever in terms of programmatic success, and I am quite confident it’s going to be our biggest year ever in terms of public support.
The changes we are seeing in society when it comes to the treatment of animals are occurring in every sector, and the pace of change is brisk. There will still be setbacks and blocking maneuvers. But ideas this powerful, this good for animals, and this meaningful for the whole of society cannot be held back or sidetracked. The world is becoming more humane, and people are waking up to their responsibilities to animals. But in all great causes, it takes a fighting spirit and steadfast resolve, and that’s exactly what we intend to deliver.