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Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, recently took a break from his long-running battles with livestock producers to set up a new branch of the Humane Society in India, an occasion that included the presence of the Dalai Lama.
But having Pacelle on the other side of the world — about as far away from Capitol Hill as possible — still gives the U.S. farm lobby reason for heartburn. Beyond India, Pacelle has his eyes on establishing similar organizations in other countries that are major agricultural producers and markets for U.S. exports, including Brazil and Russia.
That puts the beef, pork and poultry industries squarely in the cross hairs of consumers around the world concerned about the treatment of animals bred and raised for food.
“They are going to these other countries to also add that international pressure on producers in the U.S.,” said Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a livestock industry group.
“It’s the same tactic, just a difference audience that they’re trying to approach,” she said.
Under Pacelle’s leadership, the Humane Society has used a powerful combination of ballot initiatives, social media, undercover videotaping and corporate arm-twisting to force some of the biggest players in the meat industry to end farming practices the producers maintain are sound and ethical.
The pork industry was essentially forced to phase out the use of tight-fitting stalls to confine sows after McDonald’s and Safeway announced plans to phase out purchases of pork produced in those stalls.
Meanwhile, the egg industry is asking Congress to do what would be unthinkable for many industries: impose the very regulations sought by its critics.
The United Egg Producers, stung by the Humane Society’s ability to pass state laws regulating livestock housing — including a 2008 ballot measure in California — reached a deal with the society to set national standards for cages that will force farms to end the use of the small “battery cages” that have long been the industry standard. Animal rights supporters say larger “enriched” cages, which would be mandatory under the proposed national standards, give hens space to perch, nest and move around.
Pacelle has been able to convince the egg industry that things could get worse if it doesn’t get behind the new regulations.