During last night’s Oscar broadcast, a corporate front group ran an attack ad claiming that only a small percentage of the Humane Society of the United States’ donations fund animal shelters. Watch it:
This ad was surprising because it seemed to come out of nowhere. Who, exactly, has such a beef with the Humane Society that they would buy ad during a broadcast where a 30 second segment costs an average of $1.7 million? As it turns out, the food industry.
It is indeed true that much of the Humane Society’s money goes to programs other than animal shelters for stray cats and dogs — much of the Society’s resources go to fighting animal cruelty in the courts and in legislatures. In court, the Humane Society defends laws prohibiting horse slaughter, it fights to protect dolphins from aggressive tuna fishing techniques, and it supports regulations governing the treatment of “downed” cattle. In Congress and state legislatures, the Humane Society backs many anti-cruelty bills, including the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, which would prevent egg-laying hens from being packed into tiny cages that leaves them with virtually no room to move around.The anti-Humane Society ad was paid for by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a corporate front group run by right-wing PR flack Rick Berman that is closely tied to the food industry. Berman’s Center accuses the Humane Society of engaging in “a slow but steady push to take away consumer choices by forcing meat, eggs, and dairy foods out of more Americans’ reach,” and he has a long history of similarly hyperbolic claims paid for by corporations looking to misrepresent the safety of their food products.
- Sweet Scam: Berman is behind a campaign called “Sweet Scam” which attempts to debunk “myths” such as “sugary sweeteners are bad for your teeth” or “significantly reducing sugar intake leads to healthy weight loss.”
- Trans-Fats: Another Berman campaign, whose website has since been pulled down, claimed that trans-fats have “may possess health benefits, including fighting some cancers, enhancing immunity, and counteracting artery clogging fats—the primary cause of cardiovascular disease.”
- The Steak Diet: Another Berman website touts how one can shed unwanted pounds by eating beef.
- Soft Drinks For Athletes: Berman also claims that high-sugar soft drinks “actually improved physical performance among elite athletes.”
- Fast Food Marathon: Berman also touts a marathon runner who proclaims “I love running and I love [fast-food]–might as well combine the two.”
- Global Warming Denial: And, of course, no right-wing anti-science campaign would be complete without some kind of attempt to deny global warming. Berman’s effort is an attack on former President-elect Al Gore’s statement that a high meat diet fosters global warming because meat requires forests to be cleared and more energy consumption to produce than other foods.
So the anti-Humane Society ad appears to be the latest in a long line of Berman’s attempts to pad the food industry’s bottom line at the expense of ordinary Americans’ health. Nevertheless, this particular attack is disturbing even by Berman’s standards. It’s one thing to advance arguments — even false arguments — intended to rebut the policy arguments of your opponents. It is another thing altogether, however, to attack a charity by targeting their donors. Berman’s latest effort is nothing less than an intimidation campaign designed to send a clear message to charities that if they work against a wealthy corporation’s interests, they will find themselves on the receiving end of a hit job led by deep pocketed industries capable of throwing away more than a million dollars on a single ad.