Deconstructing the Myth
This press release illustrates the increasingly complex inter-relationship between the animal-using industry and some animal advocacy organizations. When an animal-using corporation receives the endorsement of a major animal advocacy organization, as well as gains the privilege of declaring that its products are "Certified Humane," it cannot help but be good for business. Many people are happy to pay considerably more for animal products that are "animal-friendly." And when an animal advocacy organization gets the enthusiastic support of an animal-using corporation for an upcoming legislative initiative, it gains mainstream credibility as well as the ability to claim a "victory" that will lead to increased donations and new members. Each party in this collaborative relationship has something to gain, yet only one of them is in a position of public trust. Is that trust being upheld, or does this press release reveal a troubling conflict of interest?
At the bottom of the press release, the animal-using corporation lists some of ways its treatment of animals is "humane." The language stretches the bounds of credibility, implying that chickens worth a few dollars will receive "immediate attention" from a "poultry specialist" should they be injured, and that "hens who die" will be "cremated" on site. Will readers of this press release realize that every single chicken used by this company will be brutally killed when her production of eggs declines? This typically occurs after just one or two years of production, when the natural life span of chickens is ten years or more.
The press release says that "hens are not debeaked." Yet a reading of the "certified humane" standard indicates that "beak trimming" is allowed. Why do the animal advocates behind the "Certified Humane" standard consider it necessary and acceptable to mutilate the beaks of chickens? Because when chickens are crowded together in sheds for egg production, they end up attacking and even cannibalizing each other. Mutilating their beaks means the aggression induced by crowding causes less damage. Is this "humane," or is it simply making exploitation more economically viable?
Within a few hours of this press release being posted on a national animal advocacy e-list, a "corrected" version was posted on PR web sites in place of the original. The original press release mentioned the Humane Society of the United States six times, including a quote from an HSUS staff member. The "corrected" press release mentions the HSUS just once, and omits the quote.
August, 2008 UPDATE:
On Saturday, August 2nd, one of the editors of this web site received an email from the Senior Director of the Factory Farming Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States requesting that the original Eggology press release be removed from this web site, and claiming that "HSUS never endorsed Eggology or any other egg company," that the original press release was "false," and that "as soon as we were notified about it, we contacted the company and requested that they retract the info, which they did."
While Eggology did indeed issue a modified press release not using the word "endorsement" on March 31, 2008, further investigation of this situation has revealed some interesting developments. This scanned image, downloaded from the Eggology web site, documents the May 2008 statement in AgriMarketing magazine that Eggology has maintained a "close association" with HSUS since the company's founding in the mid 1990's.
On June 25, 2008, nearly three months after the supposed retraction, the original version of the press release with the HSUS endorsement language was apparently re-issued by Amy Dunn, who at that time listed a contact number at Crier Communications, a Beverly Hills-based public relations firm that lists Eggology as one of its clients.
Four days later, on June 29, 2008, Ms. Dunn made this statement on an online forum: "Eggology, an all-natural egg white company recently became the first egg white company to be endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States."
And, interestingly, a copy of the press release downloaded from the Eggology web site on August 2, 2008, repeated the content of the original, including the mention of the HSUS endorsement and listing contact information for two more staff members at Crier Communications, one of whom is Peter Berk, a founding partner with 20 years of public relations experience.
While the nature of the relationship between Eggology and HSUS is still unclear, it seems that Eggology and HSUS, for unknown reasons, have dramatically different understandings of either what that relationship is, or of what aspects of it may be publicly revealed. If Eggology retracted the information regarding its relationship to HSUS, why has a reputable PR firm continued to propagate this information long after HSUS claims to have told Eggology it was false? What led Brad Halpern, CEO of Eggology, to seemingly become so confused about HSUS's endorsement or lack of endorsement of his products? If Mr. Halpern, his staff and the experienced PR firm he hired could be so confused for so long, what hope does the public have of understanding the nature of the relationship between this company that makes its profits by exploiting animals, and this large animal advocacy organization that has a stated goal of preventing animal cruelty and exploitation?
These are just some of the kinds of difficulties that arise when advocacy organizations become entangled in conflicts of interest. The time has come for animal organizations that collaborate with animal-using corporations to adopt and publish clear conflict of interest policies addressing such issues as the promotion of animal products, accepting donations and sponsorship money from animal-using corporations, endorsements and quid pro quo arrangements regarding publicity and legislative initiatives. This would spare their supporters and the general public, not to mention their colleagues and their own staff members, from the wasted effort, misinformation, confusion and disillusionment that will otherwise continue to result.
Hence, the editors of Humane Myth respectfully decline HSUS's request that we take down the original Eggology press release. Whether true or false or something in between, the content of this press release has been actively propagated for several months by Eggology and those working on its behalf.
Additional web sightings of the "endorsement" language:
Links to source web pages and documents referenced in this story (still available online as of August 2, 2008):
Original press release on Eggology web site
AgriMarketing news clipping
June 25 Press Release on PRLog
Summary of Amy Dunn posting (#11)
Full text of Amy Dunn posting
Amy Dunn posting on The Article Insiders
For more background, read this 2005 first-hand account of a gathering of egg producers invited to HSUS's national headquarters.
To learn about the hidden truth of the egg industry, see the slide show Cage Free Eggs: Behind the Myth."
For further background on the politics of advocacy/industry collaboration, see Project for the New American Carnivore: From Niman to Lyman in 10 Short Years
Invasion of the Movement Snatchers: A Social Justice Movement Falls Prey to the Doctrine of Necessary Evil
Hogwash!: Or, How Animal Advocates Enable Corporate Spin
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
--Martin Luther King