By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
By all accounts (even those of the opponents) the Humane Society's political strategy was brilliant. Rather than march straight into Illinois — the biggest pork-producing state that allows ballot measures — the group had gone for what Mace Thornton, spokesman for the D.C.-based American Farm Bureau, calls the "low-hanging fruit."
While the farm bureau certainly was paying attention, Thornton adds, the Humane Society wasn't really considered a force to be reckoned with until after Arizona. "The pressure and the importance of the issue has been ratcheted up in each state since," he says.
Case in point: California.
In February 2008 a slaughterhouse in Southern California shut its doors following a six-week undercover "investigation" by a Humane Society worker. The staffer had witnessed workers dragging "downer" cattle — animals too ill or injured to stand — and forcing them onto the kill line with electrical prods, chains and forklifts, surreptitiously recording the activity on video.
The "revolting" footage, says Pacelle, "made me want to vomit."
The Humane Society presented the video to state prosecutors, who issued criminal animal-cruelty charges against some of the plant employees. Because downer cattle are considered potential transmitters of E. coli and mad cow disease, the revelation also led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.
It would have been a public-relations coup for any animal-rights group, not to mention one gearing up for its biggest anti-factory-farming showdown yet.
California is the United States' fifth-largest egg producer, and this time the Humane Society aimed to outlaw not only pig and veal crates, but also "battery cages" — tightly packed pens used in industrial egg production. The initiative was certified for the November '08 ballot, a day when voters would flock to the polls to pick the next U.S. president.
Russell Simmons, Alicia Silverstone, Hilary Duff, Robert Redford and other A-listers lent their celebrity to the cause. Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi hosted a Bel-Air gala that netted more than $1 million to finance the campaign.
Californians for Safe Food, the opposition, collected its campaign funds primarily from the egg industry.
Two weeks before the election, Oprah Winfrey featured both sides on her eponymous daytime television show. Prime-time advertisements bombarded viewers. As in the previous race, the "Yes! On Prop 2" campaign showed footage of pigs gnawing at metal crates, veal calves struggling to stand while tethered to their pens and chickens fighting for space to flap their wings. Californians for Safe Food countered with warnings that food prices would rise, eggs would be trucked in from Mexico and food safety would be compromised.
By election day the two sides had spent about $10 million apiece.
The Humane Society swayed 63.5 percent of the voters.
As Arizona had learned, you can't begin to fit 50 years of animal science on a bumper sticker or a 30-second spot, says the Arizona Farm Bureau's Jim Klinker. "All the other side had to say was, 'The pig can't turn around. The pig can't turn around.' Their side is so easy to sell to an urbanized public. [People] just don't think that's fair for the pig."
Fewer than eight blocks of D.C.'s infamous K Street separate the Humane Society and HumaneWatch.org, each home to a 21st-century town crier broadcasting his message far beyond the Beltway via the blogosphere.
The substance of the messages is literally poles apart — HumaneWatch.org bills itself as the watchdog of the Humane Society — but to the analytical eye, the parallels between each blogger's desire to earn credibility with his audience are strikingly similar.
One points out his Yale University degree, the other his Dartmouth College bona fides. One sports an image of himself cradling his cat. (Though technically he and his ex now share the cat in a "joint custody arrangement.") The other is depicted getting kissed by a dog. (It's unclear whose dog; when asked he becomes visibly irritated and refuses to comment.)
Pacelle (the former) and HumaneWatch's David Martosko (the latter) may author their own blogs, but behind each cyber-outpost is a well-oiled political apparatus. And in their writings and talking points, the men keep tabs on one another like hawks.
Pacelle and Martosko have never met. But they did share the same air three years ago during a congressional hearing on animal welfare. In testimony that day, Martosko offered to treat Pacelle to a meal of the most humanely raised veal "on the planet" — under one condition: Pacelle would have to eat it in front of "a few dozen cameras."
Martosko knew Pacelle wouldn't bite. He's a vegan.
Has been since 1985, when he founded Yale's first animal-rights group after seeing hog farms with a college buddy from Iowa and mulling over man's authority to exert power over animals in a way that contradicted the latter's nature.
"The sentiment was strong from the beginning, from the age of three or four," Pacelle explains during an interview in the Humane Society's headquarters. "But there was no epiphany. No moment where I shot a bird and saw the last gasp of the animal as I walked up to him or her."