L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

« Previous Post | L.A. Unleashed Home | Next Post »

New Center for Consumer Freedom website targets Humane Society of the United States

Animal shelter

Anyone who's ever glanced at the website PETAKillsAnimals.com is familiar, whether they know it or not, with a group that calls itself the Center for Consumer Freedom.

The Center for Consumer Freedom -- headed up by a lobbyist for the food, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries named Richard Berman -- has long been at odds with groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States. (For the record, though, it has also worked to discredit non-animal-related advocacy groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving through its ActivistCash.com website. Another of its websites, ObesityMyths.com, attempts to debunk what it describes as "myths" about human health. Among those "myths": "Obesity will shorten life expectancy" and "Obesity has made diabetes epidemic.")

Now, though, the CCF has ratcheted up the rhetoric against the Humane Society by launching a new website devoted to discrediting the group: HumaneWatch.org. As part of HumaneWatch's kickoff, the Center purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times that argues that the Humane Society "gives less than one-half of 1% of its $100-million budget to hands-on pet shelters."

We've heard this criticism all too often, and it's an argument we find supremely disingenuous. One can certainly care about animals and not support the Humane Society -- many of our animal-loving readers have written passionate comments that explain their rationales for not supporting the group. But those readers explain that they fundamentally disagree with the Humane Society's aims and tactics -- and their arguments are reasonable and sound.

What's not reasonable or sound is vilifying the group for its failure to be something it never claimed to be: an animal shelter. Arguing that the Humane Society is failing by not donating enough to local shelters is like arguing that the president is failing to stand up for the poor because he hasn't volunteered at your local soup kitchen.

Our colleague, agribusiness reporter P.J. Huffstutter, explains the rationale for the CCF's latest attack in The Times' business blog, Money & Co.:

So, why target [the Humane Society]? Well, for one thing, [the Humane Society] has become increasingly involved in pushing through legislation that alters how animals are treated in the food-production system. The organization was a key voice in the successful campaign last year to get California voters to pass Proposition 2, which was aimed at preventing "cruel confinement" of farm animals (like smaller cages for egg-laying chickens or gestation crates for pregnant sows).

That, of course, grabbed the attention of CCF. ...

According to CCF, the public doesn't realize that most of their donations aren’t going to help lost cats and dogs, or help out underfunded animal shelters. Instead, the majority of the money allegedly is being used to "bankroll anti-meat campaigns and PETA-style propaganda," said David Martosko, CCF's director of research.

In his short biography on the HumaneWatch website, Martosko describes himself as someone who "[loves] animals. But not obsessively so. And I'm not a big fan of people who put the life of a lab rat above the life of a cancer patient."

He speaks of a distinction between animal welfare and animal rights: "Animal 'rights' philosophy says that even if you gave your dairy cows three meals a day, evening rubdowns, waterbeds to sleep on, iPods, and Nintendo Wii privileges, it would still wrong to milk them." (Full disclosure: We're vegan, and our issue with milk isn't that it's fundamentally "wrong" to milk cows -- how silly. Instead, we take issue with the inextricable link between the dairy industry and the veal industry. Since dairy cows must be kept pregnant in order to continue to produce milk, the industry produces an excess of calves. Female calves, of course, can go on to become dairy cows themselves. Since male calves will never give milk, a large percentage of them will spend their short lives confined to veal crates before  ending up as someone's veal dinner.)

If the CCF wants to discredit the Humane Society, it'll find plenty of animal advocates -- including a number of Unleashed readers -- who share its core belief that the Humane Society's tactics are misguided, wrongheaded or don't go far enough toward protecting animals. It could make a number of well-reasoned arguments, but instead its New York Times ad rests on a straw-man argument, refuting a "claim" that the Humane Society doesn't make.

The Humane Society is, according to its mission statement, "the nation's largest and most effective animal protection organization" -- an organization that works to help animals through legislative efforts and large-scale investigations into alleged instances of animal cruelty. Donating to your local animal shelter or rescue group is admirable; donating to a legislative advocacy group, one could argue, is also admirable. But these groups have fundamentally different ways of achieving their aims, and arguing that a legislative group is wrong for not operating an animal shelter is as misguided as arguing that an animal shelter is wrong for not lobbying on a national scale for animal-friendly reforms.

Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society's president and chief executive, took to his blog Tuesday about the CCF's New York Times ad. "The ad ... says many things. But one thing it doesn't say is the following: Why would a corporate front group take after a venerable organization like the Humane Society of the United States," Pacelle wrote. "Here's the answer: They are bothering us because, by threatening animal abuse, we are threatening their bottom line."

Martosko was quick to respond to Pacelle in his own blog post Tuesday: "Our HumaneWatch project is just getting started. What you've seen so far is just the first trickle out of a very, very backed-up faucet. So perhaps we can count on Whiny Wayne having tantrum after tantrum this year. Fine with us. We’ll just keep speaking up for the shelter animals."

Speaking up for the shelter animals? Somehow, coming from the group that rails against Mothers Against Drunk Driving's "fanatical conviction that no one should be allowed to drink anything before driving," we doubt that concern for shelter animals is really at the heart of its latest campaign.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A dog at the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services' North Central shelter. Is the Humane Society failing in its mission to help animals by not donating enough to shelters like North Central? The Center for Consumer Freedom says yes. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (18)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I'm not surprised that, being vegans, you're rushing to HSUS's defense. (The group's leaders are also firmly in the anti-meat camp.) But you should check with HSUS's members and donors before using a phrase like "straw man" to dismiss the central argument of our New York Times ad.

We've commissioned a poll of HSUS donors. Far too many believe HSUS is an umbrella group for pet shelters. That's probably due to the group's weepy TV infomercial ads that show 10 times as many dogs and cats as any other kind of animal. Roughly the same ratio is true of HSUS's Internet fundraising pitches. And of course, HSUS's disingenuous use of the name "Humane Society" is confusing to millions of Americans. Probably intentionally so.

Mr. Pacelle can say what he wants as defensively as he'd like, but an astonishing number of his own donors are coming out of the woodwork to tell me they were completely unaware a majority of their HSUS donations were not being shared with pet shelters. It strains credibility to suggest that HSUS hasn't intentionally fostered this public misperception for years and years.

This is really a great piece. As someone who works at the HSUS, I see day in and day out all the great work being done for animals. Whether it's helping shut down cruel puppy mills, or working for the humane treatment of farm animals, or caring for the thousands of animals at our Animal Care Centers, we are all about helping the animals. It makes you wonder who is really funding the so called Center for Consumer Freedom-who would be against helping stop animal cruelty!
We need to focus on what is causing the animals to end up in shelters, and work on raising awareness and education about responsible pet ownership, and increasing penalties for those that commit acts of animal cruelty. We need to work together to promote the humane treatment of all animals - both companion animals, as well as farm animals and wildlife.
We are clear about what we do, and anyone who questions that can look at our website to see what we're doing on a daily basis to help animals.

Clearly the HSUS is doing something right if this industry-funded group is throwing huge amounts of money into what is essentially a disinformation campaign. The HSUS is very effectively tackling the root causes of animal abuse, and those who make billions from this system have apparently taken notice in hiring these PR mercenaries.

Please note that the HSUS has been vetted by several charity watchdogs, and has come out as THE highest rated animal charity. I therefore interpret CCF's smear campaign as a very positive indicator of the HSUS's accomplishments.

CCF is a collection of shady propagandists who, despite their criticisms of the HSUS's supposed lack of transparency, refuse to disclose where their own funding comes from. CCF's founder Richard Berman has even been disowned by his son, musician David Berman, for his dubious entrepreneurial endeavors. I am disappointed in the LA Times for the original, lopsided coverage of this story, but encourage critical readers to investigate the facts and make their own decisions.

I expect my TAXES to support my local animal shelter (and the fire department and the library and the police department, etc.). I find it impossible to believe that any donor to HSUS doesn't understand the group's mission to fight animal cruelty wherever it exists - including slaughterhouses. The misnamed Center for Consumer Freedom has no credibility. On their website they defend companies that conduct lab experiments on live dogs and cats - the "lifesaving research" that brought us the medical breakthrough known as Splenda.

David Berman, the son of the Center for Consumer Freedom's founder, Richard Berman, recently said, "My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molester. An exploiter. A scoundrel...His clients include everyone from the makers of Agent Orange to the Tanning Salon Owners of America. He helped ensure the minimum wage did not move a penny from 1997-2007!"

David Martosko also has a disappointed relative. His uncle had this to say: "I too was surprised when David got into his current line of work with Berman and Co. (Center for Consumer Freedom). He hadn't done anything like that previously. My folks (his grandparents) died of smoking related illnesses so it was somewhat disappointing he would align himself with an organization backed by tobacco, among other things."

The "faucet" to which Mr. Martosko refers is actually a "sewer."

Follow the money. And I don't mean HSUS's.

Eric Mills, coordinator

HSUS must be hitting a lot of nerves to get this amount of negative attention. Good. Any agency that advocates humane treatment of animals gets my money AND my kudos. I don't care about the petty details. If they're stepping on the toes of factory farming businesses that make profit on the backs of misery and pain, good for them. People will treat animals inhumanely as long as we let them, and if my money goes to their administrative costs so that they can continue the TV commercials and publications and outcry against animal neglect and cruelty, especially for profit, I'll always back them.

I'm just an average working class citizen, I don't work for any agency, but I support them wholeheartedly year after year, especially those that push for new legislation. Until people realize that animals are not their commodities to abuse at will, we need laws.

The real issue with HSUS and ASPCA, for that matter, is that BOTH use national advertising to mislead people into giving. A person in Texas donates to ASPCA thinking that the money goes to help his community. It does not. That money stays in New York, where ASPCA is based. The same for HSUS; they advertise nationally and use images and language that mislead people into thinking they are donating money to help abused and abandoned animals DIRECTLY. In fact the money goes to legislation and lobbyists, not shelters.

Both organizations should be taken to task for their misleading advertising. Period.

I love interaction with animals. Sara I am so sorry there are groups like HSUS and people that consider this cruelty to animals and want to put a stop to the relationships. Animals end up in shelters because shelters haven't screened buyers well enough and they get returned adding to numbers. I have seen HSUS videos of raids taking dogs from clean indoor outdoor kennel runs to be crammed into stacked crates with people that obviously new little about dogs. The dogs would be better off in these kennels than in the shelters while waiting for permanent homes. This adds to shelter numbers. I have seen HSUS backed pet limit laws that have forced people to give up a loved well cared for homed pet adding to shelter intake numbers. Also because of pet limits, I have seen a homed dog put into a new home which only took a home away from a homeless dog in a shelter. We are against your cruelty and against the end of domestic animals.

Thank you! Finally some truth. The CCF is working on behalf of the food and beverage industry. I hope no one is fooled into thinking they are some sort of altruistic group. Unlike the Humane Society, whose funding comes from individuals who want reform of how we permit animals to be treated, the CCF is funded by people who don't want you to know the truth about what you eat. They've also fought against people knowing the truth about mercury levels in fish, as well as against MADD. Doesn't anyone sense a trend here? They fight the people who want to inform the public and lobby for legislation that limits the damage corporations can do to humans, animals, and the environment. Keeping you from knowing the truth? Doesn't sound like they want "freedom" to me...

I strains the credibility of belief david when your President(Richard Berman)makes incredulous claims such as “[There is a] lack of evidence that second-hand smoke causes cancer,” and you yourself have even stated "Government statistics and independent science confirms very clearly that the drunk driving problem in this country has been reduced to a small hard core of repeat offenders."

It is hypocritical for [CCF’s Web site] ActivistCash.com to ‘expose’ the funding of others, while keeping the details of its own finances hidden. If CCF believes in transperancy, then why does it hide it's client list? How does one who majored in music and received a graduate degree in Opera at John Hopkins qualify as a Research Director?

Good question, Cg. Despite his lack of a health or science degree, Martosko has no qualms about telling people that fast food won't make them fat, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup aren't dangerous, and mercury-laden tuna is perfectly safe for pregnant women! Some people will say anything for money. Apparently he's not on the soy farmers' payroll since he writes about the alleged dangers of soy foods, but oddly nothing about soy-fed beef. Follow the money!

Instead of worrying about the CCF's invented claim that people think the Humane Society of the United States is the same as their local Humane Society, you might want to consider that some people believe that their local Humane Society is a safer place for animals than city or county shelters, when in fact that's not true.

I work at a local private no-kill shelter and we pulled a dog from the Pasadena Humane Society, which at that time had six city animal control contracts. The dog we pulled was small and very friendly both to humans and other dogs. But the Pasadena Humane society had her slated to be killed after just sixteen days in their shelter. When I called them to ask if I could pick her up the next day or the following Monday I was told, "Better get here tomorrow."

When we got new volunteers at our rescue I would tell them that story to illustrate the plight of homeless animals in Los Angeles. And to a person, they all expressed shock that a "Humane Society" would be that quick to kill an adoptable dog. They had no idea that a "Humane Society" would be a kill shelter at all.

I vehemently disagree with HSUS' choice to aid in the image-rehabilitation of Michael Vick, and their attendant coverup of the full extent of his crimes. I also deplore their record of knee-jerk advocating for the wholesale slaughter of dogs seized from fighting operations without individual temperament evaluations, which has resulted in the killing of even puppies born after seizures. Those are my reasons for ending my membership in HSUS. But I would support them any day over the soulless, amoral, any-stance-for-a buck scams of Berman and Martosko.

And, Mr. Martosko, I'm not a vegan. I tried, but being a true vegan is quite difficult. It takes a lot of commitment and dedication. I admire anyone who can stick to it and I see right through any paid lobbyist who tries to suggest there's anything sinister in people who do their best not to hurt any living thing. Try though you might, you can't change the meaning of kindness and respect for living creatures.

It is deporable what happens to animals at slaughter houses. I think it is great what the Humane Society does for these animals. Chickens are put in scolding liquid at the slaughter houses. Egg layings are kept in battery cages and can't more.

Martosko, I’m not surprised that, being a well-paid lobbyist, you’d rush to the defense of any organization whose pockets were deep enough to retain your services, no matter how unscrupulous or dishonest a position it might force one to take to advance a client's interests. After a little research I find your arguments unconvincing to say the least. In a field not known for its scruples, lobbying that is, this one seems to scrape bottom with a resounding “thud.”

But before attacking a phrase like “straw man” in an article let’s consider how many people you expected to dupe by slyly, and disingenuously, implying that the Humane Society is obligated to care for shelter animals and further, suggesting that they have not been living up to that obligation. After looking into the matter it turns out that; neither the mission statement nor the charter of this charity, direct the HSUS to directly care for any shelter animals. In short, the HSUS is no more obligated to support shelters than it is to fund space exploration.

It seems to me that a deliberate campaign of disinformation is the very definition of a straw man argument. Deflect all you like but I wonder how many of the good folks that are reading this know that your argument was bought and paid for by special interests who want nothing more than to discredit the HSUS simply for disagreeing with them? In today’s world, it would seem that when an organization like the HSUS isn't on board with the "big plan" back at corporate to squeeze a few more pennies out of production, you can still further your political aims by paying groups like the CCF to publicly discredit them. Unbelievable.

Don’t think that your thinly veiled dismissal (contempt?) of vegetarians went unnoticed either. I’m sure that sort of thing might square with a set of values that elevates money above all else, but for me, that dog just won’t hunt. I may not be vegetarian (though it is starting to look more attractive all the time) but the argument supporting the health and welfare of humans and other living things is far more convincing to me than the one that espouses nothing more than “somebody paid me to say all of this.”

The H$U$ does NOTHING to help the animals in shelters. They ride on their name, on the backs of TRUE Humane Societies - and take unearned money for their lobbying from unsuspecting animal lovers world-wide. They are a SCAM!!!
There's no redemption for H$U$ - they have an agenda - same as PETA - no animal contact for humans!!! Total domination - control your food, they control you!

Why doesn't the Humane Society go after PETA's slaughterhouse in Virginia?

While it is easy to claim CCF is just helping "evil/greedy food industry" it is also just as simple to see that they are not going to stop moving the goalposts the animal ag industry has to reach until they drive them out of business.

If you breed dogs, you will be called a puppy mill. Am I a "corporate farm" or "factory farm" just because I incorporate my business instead of running as a sole proprietorship or because I have a factory instead of working out of a garage or barn?

It would be easy to work towards a common goal if there was a position the HSUS was satisfied with, but for them I fear that would only be viewed as a starting point to push further once they attain it.

I don't work in animal ag, but I do work in ag. My kids eat the same food your kids do, so don't paint it like people in ag don't care about healthy food. If you like organic, you need to support animal ag because for organic to be sustainable, you need natural fertilizer from animal agriculture.

Thank you so much for this article (though I am reading it so late). It makes me so sad to see the attacks on HSUS & PETA by CCF and others in the industries so affected by their great work. You all touched on the many key fallacies in the criticisms and why these organizations are making true, positive changes by focusing on big issues on big scales. I am always impressed by the breadth and power that HSUS & PETA can bring to so many different issues within the animal-rights movement.

Also, thank you for parsing the vegan problem with dairy; that is always something non-vegans find hard to understand. But it does not come down only to veal. Dairy cows are indeed kept in an (unnatural!) state of lactation, but that can be done with hormones as well. In addition, due to human manipulation, the cows come to depend on being milked--lest their udders explode! This is similar to honeybees. I do not use honey because of the many harmful practices involved--such as killing queens, smoking out hives, and using chemicals. Overall, the issue I and other vegans have with animal products is that they turn animals into commodities that ultimately have value because they benefit us, not because they have inherent rights of life and happiness. We relate to them as resources, not equals.

Note that just one short year after Martosko's debut, all traces of his presence have been scrubbed from the HumaneWatch website, including the biography mentioned in this article.

That's because CCF -- which rails against sobriety checkpoints and vilifies MADD -- has hastily yanked their Director of Research out of the public limelight following a series of alcohol-related arrests and increasingly bizarre behavior.

In February, a Facebook stalker who had gained access to the personal profiles of hundreds of activist leaders, authors, filmmakers, bloggers, and legislators was revealed to be operating from the vicinity of Martosko's office and home address.

Two days later, that same account was found to be impersonating a veterinarian on a popular pet blog in order to shill for CCF/HumaneWatch.

When this information was revealed, Martosko immediately disappeared from the public view. All of his speaking engagements were canceled without explanation, and his name was even removed from internal HumaneWatch documents.

CCF relies on innuendo and distorted facts to smear the reputation of the legitimate charities it targets. It demonizes all vegans as "radical animal rights terrorists". It defends any and animal cruelty for profit. It supports its claims by offering "research" performed by a failed opera singer with no scientific or research credentials, and referring to its network of other smear campaign websites as corroborating sources.

And it does so in exchange for millions in tax-exempt payments from industries that profit from animal abuse, 92% of which were funneled into the hands of Richard Berman according to the most recent tax return available.

CCF has zero credibility.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Pet Adoption Resources

Recent Posts