The Absurdity of Competing “Humane” Labels: HSUS v. Perdue

Dear Colleagues:

Sometimes one does not know where to begin.

This is one such time.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has apparently filed a class action suit against Perdue Farms:

The Humane Society of the United States announced the filing of a class action lawsuit against the nation’s third-largest poultry producer, Perdue Farms, over the company’s alleged false advertising of factory farmed chicken products as “humane.”

The suit—filed by an HSUS member on behalf of consumers duped by Perdue Farms—alleges that Perdue is illegally marketing its “Harvestland” and “Perdue” chicken products with “Humanely Raised” labels in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The complaint seeks a jury trial and compensatory damages for the class members, as well as injunctive relief against further use of the “Humanely Raised” claim by Perdue.

“Companies like Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for improved animal welfare for their own profit,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of Animal Protection Litigation for The HSUS. “Rather than implementing humane reforms, Perdue has simply slapped ‘humanely raised’ stickers on its factory farmed products, hoping consumers won’t know the difference.”

The standards upon which Perdue has based its “Humanely Raised” claim are the so-called “Animal Welfare Guidelines” of the National Chicken Council—the trade group for the chicken industry. The suit alleges that those guidelines allow for treatment that no reasonable consumer would consider “humane.”

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., among the world’s foremost farm animal handling and slaughter experts, put it bluntly in an industry trade journal: “The National Chicken Council Animal Welfare audit has a scoring system that is so lax that it allows plants or farms with really bad practices to pass.” In her book Animals in Translation, Grandin explained, “Today’s poultry chicken has been bred to grow so rapidly that its legs can collapse under the weight of its ballooning body. It’s awful.”

I have no doubt that the Perdue chickens are not “humanely” treated. I have no doubt at all.

But then, I also have no doubt that the Whole Foods Animal Compassionate meat, dairy, and egg products that HSUS, PETA, and others support are not from animals that most of us would regard as “humanely” treated. In fact, I have explicitly asked People for the Ethical Treatment a dozen times on Twitter whether PETA considers Animal Compassionate products to be “humanely” produced and PETA has refused to answer.

And I also have no doubt that the meat, dairy, egg, and other products sold with the Certified Humane Raised and Handled Label, which is promoted by Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), and its “partner” HSUS, are not from animals that most of us would regard as “humanely” treated.

And I also have no doubt that the meat, dairy, egg and other products sold with the Humane Choice Label, which is promoted by Humane Society International, a branch of HSUS, are not from animals that most of us would regard as “humanely” treated.

And I also have no doubt that the cage-free eggs that HSUS promoted in its campaign for Proposition 2 and HSUS characterizes as “socially responsible,” are not from animals that most of us would regard as “humanely” treated.

So let’s see if I have this right. HSUS is suing Perdue because HSUS thinks that Perdue is not treating its chickens in an “humane” way but HSUS is itself sponsoring “happy” exploitation labels to promote products made from animals who are tortured but less so, at least according to HSUS. According to HSUS, Perdue’s use of “humane” is deceptive because its practices accord with a set of guidelines that do not require “humane” treatment and, although the “happy” exploitation promoted by HSUS is not “humane” either, its use of “humane” is not deceptive because meat-industry consultant Temple Grandin says so.

This is similar to suing the government because its claim that water boarding is not “torture” is deceptive and you want them to put padding on the boards used for this purpose so that it’s “better” torture.

HSUS appears to be particularly concerned that Perdue does not use the controlled-atmosphere-killing (CAK) method that HSUS and PETA promote. I suspect that Perdue will adopt CAK sooner or later because it’s economically efficient for it to do so. Indeed, according to an HSUS Report:

CAK results in cost savings and increased revenues by decreasing carcass downgrades, contamination, and refrigeration costs; increasing meat yields, quality, and shelf life; and improving worker conditions. Without live shackling and electrical stunning, CAK results in fewer broken bones and less bruising and hemorrhaging. The reduction in carcass defects increases boning yield and deboned meat quality. CAK has been shown to reduce bruising by as much as 94 percent and bone fractures by as much as 80 percent. Conservatively assuming that CAK increases yield only 1 percent, a plant processing 1 million broilers per week with an average dressed carcass weight of 4.5 pounds and wholesale price of $0.80 per pound would increase annual revenue by $1.87 million after adopting CAK. (citations omitted)

The problem is that even if Perdue adopts CAK, that will not mean that Perdue chickens will be “humanely” treated any more than an HSUS-approved “happy” exploitation label means that those animals were “humanely” treated.

What it will do, however, is to assure the public that it’s perfectly fine to consume the “happy” exploitation products promoted by HSUS even though those products are made from animals who have been tortured.

And that’s what this lawsuit is all about—reassuring the public that those concerned about animal exploitation need not stop consuming animals. Rather, they can consume guilt-free and in a morally acceptable way as long as they consume animals with an HSUS “happy” label and not one from Perdue.

This is a battle between competing “happy” meat/dairy/egg labels.

And neither side is proposing anything other than its view of economic rationality. The National Chicken Council Animal Welfare standards reflect what a large part of the chicken industry regards as standards that will allow for chickens to be exploited in the most efficient way. The CAK process promoted by HSUS (and other animal organizations, including PETA) is, according to the analysis of the animal advocates, a more economically efficient practice. In other words, to use the analogy above, HSUS is arguing for padded water boards because that will result in better information from detainees as well as an incidental and very marginal increase in comfort and Perdue thinks the unpadded board is just fine.

I apologize but I regard this as beyond absurd.

Let us be clear: animals treated in the most “humane” way are subjected to treatment that would be described as torture by anyone were humans involved. There is nothing “humane” about the “happiest” of “happy” meat, dairy, or eggs.

This lawsuit is about substituting one deceptive label for another. Nothing more.

According to HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle:

Humane treatment of animals means something. And we’ll be there to keep a careful eye on the companies that misrepresent their conduct and take advantage of consumers who put their faith in the law and the integrity of the companies to do as they say.

This statement is breathtaking on multiple levels. I have known Wayne Pacelle for many years and I like him and I am sure that he thinks he is doing the right thing here. But I sincerely cannot understand it. Animal rights is not a matter of how best to convince consumers that animal exploitation is morally justifiable; it is about convincing people, through nonviolent education, that animal exploitation, however deceptively described as “humane,” is not morally justifiable.

I note that Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) tweeted the following:

“Perdue Farms Sued for `Humanely Raised’ Poultry Label” – Bloomberg: – Falsely marketing animal welfare is unacceptable.

So CIWF opposes “falsely marketing animal welfare.” Fair enough. But CIWF gives “Good Egg Awards” to companies like McDonald’s and praises them for using “cage-free” eggs. CIWF has an explicit partnership program with institutional exploiters called the Food Business Team, in which CIWF “engage[s] with Europe’s leading food companies, inspiring progress through prestigious awards and supporting products.” CIWF is, in effect, serving as a public relations firm to support animal use by corporations like McDonald’s and Unilever. And these corporations return the favor and praise CIWF. In statements posted on the CIWF website, McDonald’s acknowledges the “truly productive relationship” it has with CIWF and Unilever states: “The partnership has been challenging and constructive and ultimately helped to achieve the goals of both organisations and of course the objective of the brand-that of good (best) quality ingredients.”

So it seems that CIWF is opposed to “falsely marketing animal welfare” but only when it is not CIWF that is doing that marketing.

Again, I am sure that Mr. Lymbery, whom I do not know personally, thinks that this all makes sense. It does not make sense to me.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione