Wayne A. Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, is a vegetarian, unsurprisingly, but he and his agency don't expect everyone else to give up eating meat. Many of the society's 11 million members nationwide are meat-eaters.
One can consume hamburgers and fried chicken and still oppose the cruelest practices of agribusiness, Pacelle said in a telephone interview.
"We support humane and sustainable agriculture," Pacelle said. "We want the animals to have a decent life in the run-up to slaughter. We want people to think about their food choices. If that means shunning factory-farm products, that's important too."
Headquartered in Washington, the HSUS is the nation's largest animal-protection organization. Among its many campaigns is one to ban the 2-foot by 7-foot gestation crates that breeding sows are kept in by some pork producers. "The sows can't even turn around," Pacelle said. He said that some major producers, including Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, have announced they're doing away with gestation crates. There's been no such announcement from Tyson Foods, whose home office is in Springdale. The HSUS recently found gestation crates and other abusive practices at a Wyoming pig farm owned by a Tyson supplier, Pacelle said. The HSUS is asking people to urge Tyson to require better treatment for animals in its supply chain.
The HSUS has helped draft legislation to protect egg-laying hens. The legislation is in the form of amendments to the farm bill that is now before Congress. HSUS and other animal-protection groups reached an agreement with the United Egg Producers, a cooperative that represents the owners of 88 percent of the nation's egg-laying hens, on a proposal to require larger cages for the hens. Most are now kept in cages that allow only 67 square inches of space, and some are allowed only 48 square inches — roughly half the size of a sheet of standard 8 and a half by 11 paper. They can't spread their wings.
"We can have a good economy without leaving a trail of animal victims in the process," Pacelle said. "We used to be the biggest whaling nation in the world. Now we oppose whaling as a nation. We have whale-watching boats instead. It's a big industry."
Pacelle will be in Little Rock Thursday, June 14, for a book-signing and question-and-answer session at the Little Rock Animal Village (4500 Kramer St.), from 5:30 to 7 p.m. His new book is "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them."
A thesis of the book is that "we have an intuitive inclination to be drawn to animals. It's been a feature of human existence for all time. Today, two-thirds of American homes have pets. All 50 states have laws against animal cruelty." In 48 of those states, including Arkansas, animal cruelty is a felony.
And yet, "We live in an incredible moment of contradiction," Pacelle said. "People say it's not OK to be cruel, but there's still a great amount of cruelty" — in the production of animals on factory-farms, in the use of animals for scientific testing, in the sale of fur coats, in organized dog fighting and cock fighting, in the "captive hunts" of confined animals.
"We need to figure out a way forward," Pacelle said. "Farming used to be called animal husbandry. Husbandry involves stewardship and care. Now, some animals have become meat- and egg-producing machines."
Until asked, Pacelle did not mention zoos, which some people would like to abolish. "We are not at a no-zoo position," he said. He said the HSUS worked with many of the 200 accredited zoos in America, while criticizing unaccredited zoos.
Pacelle has been to Arkansas several times. He spoke a couple of years ago at the Clinton School, and he came in 2002 when Arkansans were considering a proposed constitutional amendment to make animal cruelty a felony. The amendment, opposed by the Arkansas Farm Bureau and other agribusiness groups, was defeated, but in 2009, the state legislature enacted a law making cruelty to dogs, cats and horses a felony. The law also made cockfighting a felony.
"It's a very good law," Pacelle said. He said that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel "did a super job" in bringing opposing factions together.
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