Stung by the recent success of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) in garnering public attention, People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is apparently ratcheting up its rhetoric and protest activities to regain its notoriety. This week, the Quiznos subway sandwich chain announced its new animal-welfare policy created in conjunction with PETA. The cage-free, crate-free, and more humane slaughtering guidelines are one thing, but the real agenda shined through when Quiznos announced it was removing eggs altogether from three of its four cookies.
Certainly the industry has a whole host of issues confronting it, many of which will have a far bigger impact on the industry in the short term. I'm probably as guilty as any cattleman out there of being ready and willing to get out and work to build demand, open markets, manage grass better, improve genetics, or meet consumer needs more effectively. But try to inspire me on how the industry is losing the public relations war against groups committed to the demise of animal agriculture, and I tend to nod and agree but do little in terms of taking action to ensure our message is heard.
One can literally fill an entire book with the inaccuracies, distortions and misstatements of facts made by the likes of Wayne Pacelle, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Al Gore or Ingrid Newkirk, but they’ve found a way to generate income streams that total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And they are also finding audiences, not only on Capitol Hill but in the homes of the American public via the media.
In fact, RFK Jr. made headlines in front of the House Judiciary committee last week, where he confirmed his earlier statements that hog producers and the livestock industry are greater threats to the U.S. and democracy than Osama bin Laden.
Certainly, Kennedy was confronted by lawmakers, and his shrill claims don't hold up in a situation where he can be cross-examined. However, it would be a mistake to assume that just because most consider him radical that Kennedy's message isn’t being heard. We need to remember that while Kennedy may never have been a serious contender, his name was floated as a possible Obama cabinet appointee.
We can't be fooled by the fact that these people are willing to distort the facts; they are formidable opponents. In concept, we espouse the same principles – preservation of the environment, good animal welfare, sound science-based nutrition and food safety. But in partnering with these groups, we must remember that our end games are different. The bottom line is these groups simply want us all out of business and are leveraging these talking points to their advantage.
To protect ourselves, our industry must adopt a zero-tolerance policy, and be forceful in selling the public on that reality. These groups understand the marketing mantra that perception is reality. Having the facts on our side is a good thing but it won’t be the truth alone that wins this battle.