The animal rights movement wrongs animals

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company
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You’ve heard this anecdote: A boy shoots his parents dead. At his sentencing hearing, he begs the judge for mercy: “I’m an orphan, Your Honor.”

In Washington, there’s no shortage of people who talk out of both sides of their mouths, or who have the solutions to problems of their own creation. Lately, the guilty party has been the animal rights lobby, which has been oddly obsessed with — and sadly successful in — undermining animal welfare.

About five years ago, the domestic processing of horsemeat for human consumption ended after animal rights activists were able to shut down the industry. Killing horses, even those abandoned and starving, was not to be tolerated. What’s happened since then is nothing for an animal lover to cheer.

Horses are now increasingly shipped to Mexico, where they have to endure a longer trip in crammed trailers and tenuous humane-slaughter standards. Meanwhile, horse abandonment and starvation is up, in part due to the economy, and in part because one outlet for these animals was banned.

Horse rescues, meanwhile, have no vacancies. One recent study estimates that 100,000 unwanted American horses turn up every year, but the capacity of all the U.S. equine rescues and sanctuaries is only about 13,000 animals.

From an animal welfare point of view, it’s a net loss because horses are worse off. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report recommended that Congress reconsider the ban on funding for domestic horse processing.

But what do the animal rights activists behind this decrease in animal welfare have to say?

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a proponent of the domestic ban, now complains that horses are “being exported live to Canada and Mexico … suffering in this trade and meeting an ignominious demise” and cries that “transporting horses long distances … [is] fundamentally inhumane.”

In other words, HSUS is whining about a problem it perpetuated — and, of course, the donate button never seems far from these emotional appeals.

HSUS’s latest legislative push would ban the export of horses to be used for human food. That would just compound the problem of horse abandonment and starvation that’s already occurring.

But it would give HSUS even more opportunities to raise money. (It raises over $125 million a year, but despite its name gives only 1 percent of this to pet shelters.) Oddly, the one thing missing in these emotional appeals is a promise to actually build care centers for the hoard of unwanted horses.

That wouldn’t be good for business, so to speak.

Unfortunately, animal rights activists have recently extended this shameless ploy to egg and pork farms.

Egg-laying hens are generally housed in cages, which ruffles some people’s feathers. But the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes that hens in cages tend to have lower mortality rates. Moreover, cage-free and free-range environments expose birds to more disease vectors, predation risks, and cannibalistic behaviors.

Yet HSUS is pushing for people to buy cage-free eggs, even though by several measures the birds will be worse off. The same is true in its battle against individual maternity pens on pork farms, which are used to house pregnant sows.

The AVMA finds that maternity pens provide for sows’ needs. Housing pregnant pigs individually reduces the severity and incidence of injuries to the animals from their aggressive peers. Researchers have found that pigs in HSUS-backed group-housing systems have higher levels of stress hormones, due to their exposure to biting from dominant sows and food fights.

But the real goal of animal rights activists isn’t animal welfare. It’s to gain “first downs” toward a meat-free “touchdown.”

In the European Union, where sow-housing regulations take effect in January, production is expected to drop 10 percent. After hen-housing regulations took hold this year in Europe, egg prices shot up 67 percent as production decreased 15 percent.

Groups like HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) salivate at this, because it provides a blueprint to decreased demand for animal food products.

And after they succeed in banning some farming practices, they already have a few new talking points to go after the practices they now support. For those who know that an arsonist can’t also be a heroic first responder, we need to keep an eye out for animal rights activists setting any more fires.

Rick 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.