Thanks to Wayne Pacelle, a growing number of hens and pigs are enjoying better lives before their eggs and bacon end up in someone’s belly.
As president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the U.S. since 2004, Pacelle has pursued initiatives that give these animals on some farms more room than the cramped cages and crates that are the norm.
He oversees the nation’s largest animal-welfare organization, with an annual budget of about $160 million, and 11 million constituents including some 1.5 million donors and members of several affiliated U.S. animal-welfare organizations.
The number of cases of animal abuse -- from Tennessee walking horses to puppy mills and medical labs -- is beyond reckoning.
A vegan since 1985, Pacelle spoke at Bloomberg’s world headquarters in New York over a lunch of grilled tofu, vegetables and a couscous salad.
Cole: You have a lot of issues on your plate.
Pacelle: We’ve got all these sectors of factory farming, chimpanzees, animal testing in Europe and China, dogfighting, cockfighting, puppy mills. It’s really an incredible triage situation for us.
Cole: Tell us about one of the battles you’re fighting now.
Pacelle: We’re working in many states to prohibit private ownership of wild animals as pets. There are six states that we’re working in now that have no rules on ownership of chimps, lions, bears. It never turns out well for the animals.
Cole: Suffering animals at factory farms also are a big problem. What do you see when you visit one?
Pacelle: There are 200 egg producers in this country who produce 82 billion eggs. I went to one farm in Iowa with 10 million hens all jammed into small cages, 8 or 10 levels high. They’ve been genetically manipulated for hyper-reproductive purposes, and they’re living on a wire mesh.
Cole: Children today seem to grasp the idea of animal welfare quickly. Some ask their parents if the eggs they buy are cruelty-free.
Pacelle: Right. Think back to your childhood. Almost every kid is kind of fascinated by other creatures, and they don’t see animals in hierarchical ways. They see these other animals, they know they’re different, but differences are exciting. Kids aren’t burdened with notions that we’re so superior to animals that they don’t matter. So it makes them ripe for this kind of message.
Cole: What do you think about these reports of state legislators trying to ban investigative videos by animal-welfare groups?
Pacelle: That’s aimed at us. We did probably the most famous undercover investigations in the animal-welfare field, at Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in California. This was the No. 2 supplier to the national school-lunch program. That led to the shutdown of the plant and to the largest meat recall in the country. When we’ve been successful with a tactic or a strategy, there has been an attempt to take the legs out from under us.
Cole: How did Carl Icahn hook up with the Humane Society?
Pacelle: His daughter got him involved. Carl called me and said he’d gotten concerned about animal issues. He was influential in our talks with McDonald’s Corp.
Cole: What did he do?
Pacelle: We spoke to the chief executive officer of McDonald’s, and we said you have to make a declaration on this issue of crates for pigs. To its credit, McDonald’s said it would phase out the crates over a 10-year period.
Cole: A recent Time magazine article reported that animals express sorrow and grief and mourn their dead. Will this revelation change the way our society views animals?
Pacelle: It’s just common sense that animals have feelings. Elephants clearly grieve. They pick up the bones of the members of their family groups, Chimpanzees form a procession line toward a dead chimpanzee.
We’re seeing military service dogs come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. If we accept that animals feel pain and that they suffer, how can we put them in factory farms and how could we subject them to laboratory experiments?
(Patrick Cole is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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