At last month’s annual meeting of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), zookeepers and other professionals were treated to a guest speaker who farmers and ranchers know all too well: Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
Pacelle’s agenda was to slither his way into the good graces of the AZA, which is the main accreditation body for zoos and aquariums in the U.S. With deceptively chosen words, he praised the idea of a certification program that is always trying to “improve” zoos.
Pacelle’s goal for zoos and aquariums was clear: Eliminate and marginalize competing accreditation programs and allow HSUS to influence the AZA accreditation process. This puts HSUS in the position to alter the standards and make it harder and more expensive for zoos to maintain animal exhibits.
Sound familiar? It is the same approach he and HSUS have for agriculture—called the Global Animal Partnership.
Founded over a decade ago, Global Animal Partnership (GAP) existed as essentially a certification arm for meat sold at Whole Foods. Pacelle joined the board of GAP, and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, a vegan, joined the board of HSUS. It was a cozy relationship, though GAP didn’t do much.
That has changed. HSUS sees GAP as a way to change production practices on farms and ranches. It is trying to get a monopoly on farm certification.
This year, HSUS and other vegan groups—namely The Humane League and Mercy for Animals—have launched a pressure campaign against retailers and restaurants demanding that they pledge to only serve GAP-certified chicken by 2024.
The chicken campaign is one of many. Pork, beef, and other animal protein sectors are next on the list. We may even see a return to eggs with the demand that “cage free” be replaced with “pasture raised.”
GAP is intended to be like a roach motel—you can check in, but you can’t check out. The ultimate goal is to allow animal rights activists to control production practices. Once a company commits to GAP as a principal, Pacelle and company can change the standards to make them more expensive to meet.
It’s a movie we’ve seen before. And once a company commits to GAP, it will be hard to back out without incurring threats from HSUS.
The board of GAP has only seven people, including Pacelle and three others representing animal rights groups: the heads of the ASPCA, Compassion in World Farming, and Farm Forward. Together these four activists control GAP, and therefore GAP policy.
And, as you might expect, activists are using coercion to herd companies into GAP.
Almost every day, The Humane League and Mercy for Animals put out calls-to-action, asking for their followers to harass companies that don’t agree to join GAP.
They target executives and board members of companies with calls and emails. They also target people who are casually associated with these executives and officers (Facebook is a great source for connections).
Left unchecked, we will eventually see more companies making GAP pledges. It is the easy way out when confronted by rabid vegans who harass your company and associates with claims of “animal cruelty.” To executives under siege, making a pledge to do something by 2024 while getting the harassment to stop is enticing.
What can producers do? It’s largely about staying ahead of the game. Many consumers are friendly to the idea of certification of animal products. If your customers want to go that route, direct them to a program that is not controlled by HSUS and its allies.
In short: Avoid the GAP trap. It’ll save you heartburn in the future.
Editor’s Note: Richard Berman is the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. Visit HumaneWatch.org to learn more. The comments presented in this commentary are expressly those of the author.