A conversation with … David Martosko, director of research, Center for Consumer Freedom
OCJ: What is the Center for Consumer Freedom and what interaction does CCF have with the Humane Society of the United States?
David: The Center is a nonprofit food-issues “action tank.” We weigh in on matters of public concern related to food and beverage production and marketing, and on all the various political issues that surround what we eat and drink. For too long, anti-agriculture and anti-industry activists have presumed to wear the white hats — mostly because nobody spoke up to challenge them. When they’re wrong (which is pretty often), we go on the offensive.
Our relationship with the Humane Society of the United States would best be described as “watchdog.” There’s no one else focusing with any serious energy on what this group is doing, who’s running it, and what its goals are.
Much of what HSUS does is, we would argue, wrong-headed in the same way that PETA’s endgame is wrong-headed. So we watch them closely and report our findings daily at www.HumaneWatch.org. About 200,000 people have become HumaneWatch fans on Facebook since it launched in February. We’re not on Wayne Pacelle’s Christmas card list.
OCJ: What is your role with CCF and how did you get to that position?
David: I’m officially CCF’s “director of research,” but no one on our staff cares too much about titles. I help manage a group of truly gifted and talented researchers, writers and online campaign experts. I think we have the smartest communications staff in Washington. Nearly 10 years ago, a very perceptive headhunter matched me up with the association management firm that runs CCF’s day-to-day operations. I’ve been learning on the job ever since. Ten years is a lifetime in Washington, but I believe strongly in CCF’s twin North Stars of consumer choice and individual responsibility. Americans should resent activist elites leading them around by the nose.
OCJ: HSUS-backed legislation recently passed in Missouri. What was this legislation?
David: HSUS’s “Proposition B” will, unless it’s amended by the state legislature, make it illegal for dog breeders to own more than 50 un-spayed or un-neutered dogs. There were other provisions in the narrowly approved measure, but they were just window-dressing to get the main thrust approved. At least one of HSUS’s leaders has publicly stated that the group’s goal is to gradually ratchet down these 50-dog statewide limits until breeders go out of business completely.
OCJ: What was agriculture’s position in Missouri and how will the ag industry be impacted by the result?
David: The livestock agriculture sector didn’t engage much, at least not with serious dollars. It’s hard to blame them, since nearly everyone (myself included) thought the chances of prevailing were slim at best. But the statewide industry was certainly against Proposition B.
Their concern — and I think it’s a valid one — focused on one line in Proposition B which defined a “pet” as “any domesticated animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner thereof.” So suddenly you have a precedent on the books for HSUS to argue that cattle, horses, pigs and chickens, and all sorts of wild game and sport fish, can be legally regulated as “pets” just because they are “near” someone’s household. (And who gets to decide what “near” means?) From here it’s a small lateral step for animal rights activists to erect legal roadblocks to cattle ranching, pork production and even hunting.
OCJ: What lessons can U.S. agriculture learn from what happened in Missouri?
David: The most important lesson, I think, is that the Humane Society of the United States isn’t invincible. Proposition B passed by only a few percentage points. Most of its support was generated (1) in urban areas, and (2) very, very early in the campaign season. If industry stakeholders had launched a sort of “inoculation” campaign five or six months before the election, and pooled their resources to make city-dwellers less receptive to the snake oil HSUS would try to sell them later, the result would certainly have been different.
OCJ: What will the next HSUS target be? Are there other initiatives or efforts underway in other states?
David: Not yet — the 2012 “season” has yet to really begin. But there are a lot of antennae up in Nebraska, Oregon, Ohio and even back in Missouri again. Time will tell.
OCJ: What seems to be the best method of dealing with the tactics of HSUS?
David: On a day-to-day basis, there’s not much that agriculture can do, or should do, to push back. A farmer’s job is to feed people. Their trade associations are tasked with making consumers comfortable with eating what’s plentiful. The trench warfare is best left to the professionals, groups like CCF that have more communications muscle and less aversion to risk. Most farmers understand that the bunny-huggers are trying to subject animal agriculture to a death by 1,000 cuts. But do you really want to go toe to toe with a group calling itself a “humane society”?
In addition, two things need to happen: (1) animal protein producers need to do a better job of screening job applicants to weed out animal-rights infiltrators, and (2) the worst of the worst in livestock farming should be driven out of the industry by their peers. The best way to avoid letting a single “bad apple” spoil a whole harvest is to turn that one apple into compost.
OCJ: What can U.S. agriculture do to counteract or defeat HSUS-backed initiatives?
David: HSUS is accustomed to making its own first impression with voters — especially left-leaning elites in cities. But if someone else makes that first impression for them, their collective halo tarnishes pretty easily. The strategic goal should be to make sure HSUS’s spokespeople aren’t credible messengers on animal agriculture matters down the stretch. And why should they be? HSUS’s senior staff doesn’t include any veterinarians, farmers or ranchers. And most of them are vegans. They’re the biggest group of outsiders you could ever assemble.
OCJ: What should people know about HSUS and their tactics? Do they fight fair?
David: “Fighting fair” isn’t in HSUS’s vocabulary, because the animal rights movement is really a quasi-religion. From their point of view, it’s less important to behave honorably than it is to win. Because in the minds of HSUS’s leaders, every chicken, lab rat and prairie dog is a person — with the same exact moral worth as my daughters or your siblings. I think they’re nuts, but that’s how they see the world. They think the rest of us are nuts for eating steaks, fishing on Saturdays and donating to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer research fund.
Now ask yourself: If your child, your parent, your spouse or your best friend were being held against his or her will, or used for biomedical research, or hunted in the wild, is there anything you wouldn’t do to save them? That’s the mindset we’re seeing at work within HSUS, PETA and other similar groups.
What’s really scary is that a small minority of unstable animal rights “true believers” (just like in every radical movement) take matters into their own hands and get quite violent. We’ve seen animal-rights arsonists, murderers, even a group of crazies in England who held the remains of their target’s deceased grandmother as a hostage.
HSUS may not go that far, but at least one of the group’s senior staffers is a former national spokesman for the terrorist Animal Liberation Front. I don’t think the concept of fighting fair even enters the mind of someone like that.
OCJ: As an Ohio native, what are your thoughts on how our state has handled HSUS?
David: I grew up in Cuyahoga County and went to St. Ignatius High School in downtown Cleveland. But I spent quite a few summers at the Ohio State Fair watching livestock animals, meeting the FFA and 4-H kids, and learning what I could from the livestock events. From where I stand, it’s been a mixed bag.
The livestock groups’ “Buckeye Compromise” (with Governor Strickland and HSUS) earned mixed reviews, including from HumaneWatch. (We eventually tempered our initial enthusiasm when the fine print was published.) But in the end, it may turn out to have been a nifty stalling tactic. By choosing an outspoken HSUS critic to lead the state Department of Agriculture, Governor-Elect Kasich has already indicated that he has no patience for Wayne Pacelle.
By the time HSUS regroups and dusts off its 500,000 signatures from 2010 (which I think is inevitable), more and more Ohioans will have a better education about who the players are. The new governor will have a bully pulpit of sorts. And at least some of HSUS’s signatures will no longer represent registered Ohio voters.
Anything in the livestock sector that’s bad for the Humane Society of the United States is ultimately good for Ohio farmers, and great for Ohio’s farm animals. (Vegans, remember, have absolutely no use for cows, pigs or chickens.) So I’m hoping that this little cooling off period will change the momentum enough to send HSUS’s carpetbaggers back to Washington, D.C.