Less than a week after HSUS’ Factory Farm Campaign Director Paul Shapiro told me personally that the mutli-million dollar animal rights juggernaut would NOT use footage from the Mercy for Animals “undercover video” at Conklin Dairy in its campaign for a ballot measure on animal housing this fall, the organization has clearly reneged on that assurance. In my wide-ranging interview with Shapiro last Wednesday in the wake of the Mercy for Animals PR circus in Plain City, I asked Shapiro about comments made by Ohio Director of Agriculture Robert Boggs that the HSUS driven and funded ballot issue would not have prevented the types of cruelty depicted in the Mercy for Animals video.
“I agree with Director Boggs that this is a separate matter,” Shapiro told me. “This is a matter where you’ve got current law that needs to be enforced and strengthened, quite frankly, but this ballot measure is about creating new laws.”
Shapiro elaborated further on his belief that the Conklin case and the HSUS ballot effort were unrelated: “The [Conklin] issue is one of enforcing laws that are currently on the books…The issue with the Conklin Dairy Farm abuse case is one of enforcing current law. Apparently, laws were probably broken, and that will have to be addressed by the authorities in Union County.”
That position, however, is apparently being abandoned as quickly as it was adopted. In an email circulated to HSUS’ supporters today, the organization’s campaign manager in Ohio Karen Minton said “This common sense ballot measure will prevent animal cruelty, improve health and food safety, and support family farms throughout the state of Ohio. Ohio has some of the most anemic animal protection laws on the books, and the fact that extreme, malicious violence warrants only misdemeanor penalties is a reflection of the political obstructionism of the agribusiness lobby in Ohio.”
Playing on the shared emotion felt by all of us who saw the Conklin video, Minton suggested that the HSUS’ ballot effort would address the types of abuse inflicted by suspect Bill Joe Gregg in the Mercy for Animals video: “Despite these egregious acts of cruelty, Gregg only faces misdemeanor charges. Ohio’s anti-cruelty law does not allow for felony-level charges for farm animal abuse, no matter how malicious the act.”
In the HSUS’ ballot language, which focuses primarily on prohibiting modern housing methods for veal, pork, and egg producers, the organization proposes to outlaw strangulation of livestock. While many would consider such a practice to be covered by current anti-cruelty laws, HSUS contends it is not. Shapiro and HSUS say that Ohio’s animal cruelty laws are not strong enough, and that punishment for the types of abuses depicted in the Mercy for Animals tape should be felonies, not misdemeanors as prescribed currently by Ohio Revised Code.
I asked Shapiro then if Ohio’s animal cruelty laws aren’t strong enough, and if those types of abuses should be felony offenses, why then HSUS’ own ballot effort would only consider strangulation of livestock a misdemeanor.
His answer? Political expediency.
“First and foremost, of course, beating animals is not addressed by the ballot measure because it’s already addressed there [in current law],” Shapiro said. “Second, the ballot measure is written in a way to be extraordinarily modest. It’s written in a way that is so common-sensical that it’s difficult to be against it…I think that’s one of the strengths of this ballot measure is its modesty.”
HSUS has simultaneously contradicted itself on this issue in two ways: first, by almost immediately reversing itself on Paul Shapiro’s assurance to me that HSUS would not be campaigning on the Conklin case. “That would seem unlikely to me,” he said when I asked him if HSUS would be using the Mercy for Animals footage in campaign ads this fall. And secondly, on the issue of Ohio’s animal cruelty laws, by on one hand condemning them for being too lax in considering abuses like the Bill Joe Gregg incident as misdemeanors while proposing changes to Ohio’s Constitution that would make strangulation of livestock a mere misdemeanor.