Is the Humane Society Again Scaring People Away from Good Diets?

By Dennis T. Avery, Center for Global Food Issues

Editor’s Note – Several renderers who attended the National Renderers Association Congressional Fly-In in Washington, DC, in mid-June 2007 met with a congressional staffer who referenced and believed the following HSUS testimony.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has, for years, been trying to frighten people away from consuming meat, milk, and eggs. But its recent testimony before a congressional committee reached a new low when the HSUS president, Wayne Pacelle, made the unsupported claim that pigs could be harboring the infamous and deadly British “mad cow” disease.

Swine veterinarians quickly pointed out that mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), has never occurred naturally in swine. At the height of the British epidemic, both swine and cattle were exposed to the tissues from thousands of infected cattle and the swine were not affected.

The disease is caused by tiny bits of DNA called prions, which science had not even known existed until the BSE infections were discovered. Tens of thousands of British cattle were infected, and contaminated meat fatally infected about 150 Britons in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The epidemic was ended by a ban on feeding meat and bone meal back to animals of the same species, and that ban is now in effect in countries around the world.

Pacelle was evidently just testing a new way to frighten people into giving up meat and milk. That, of course, is the avowed mission of the HSUS, though it should forewarn consumers about the organization’s biases.

There is no current threat of a BSE epidemic in the world from cattle or any other livestock, which hardly excuses the HSUS for trying to create needless public panic in support of a highly questionable goal. Livestock products provide key nutrients, especially for children, including vitamins, minerals, and key amino acids that the human body has difficulty absorbing from non-livestock food sources. As an example, lots of vegetable sources carry vitamin A, but little of it becomes bio-available to the human body when we eat them. The key sources of vitamin A are meat, milk, and eggs.

In a similar vein, milk is the primary dietary source of calcium to prevent osteoporosis in later life, a point often hard to make to teenage girls.

“The Humane Society of the U.S. isn’t the kind-and-gentle organization running animal shelters,” said Philip Lobo of the Animal Health Alliance. “These are the people [who] tell your daughters to risk bone disease rather than drink milk – and claiming the meat is bad for our health when it’s actually the source of many key nutrients.”

Pacelle told the congressional panel, “Scientific studies have pointed to the possibility of pigs, whose diet can include ground-up cattle remains, may harbor a porcine form of mad cow disease.” Pacelle later provided a list of supposedly scientific references to an industry magazine and said he stands by the testimony.

Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said that he remained unimpressed after reviewing Purcelle’s material. “There was very little science. The testimony was basically sensationalism and fearmongering,” said Burkgren. “What leads researchers to pursue answers on diseases is the exact opposite of what motivates the HSUS.”

Keep that in mind the next time you read a story put out by the Humane Society of the United States.

Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, and is the director for the Center for Global Food Issues. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State.

August 2007 RENDER | back