Rick Berman has been called the food industry's "weapon of mass destruction." Lately, the owner of the public relations firm Berman and Co. and executive director of the non-profit Center for Consumer Freedom has been known for his work with HumaneWatch, a non-profit intended to "make sense of what's going on inside that sprawling organization," according to HumaneWatch.org.
The "sprawling organization" the website is referring to is the Humane Society of the United States, which has led the campaign against the use of gestation stalls on hog farms. At last year's World Pork Expo at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, many discussed whether or not the use of gestation stalls would eventually be phased out.
One year later at the 2013 World Pork Expo, Berman says public perception can change and has. The key is informing the public where HSUS funds go. Berman says while HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle would rather spend money to help save farm animals from being killed, donors believe their money is going toward helping abused cats and dogs. HSUS's overall goal is increasing the cost of animal agriculture, Berman says.
Changing public perception
Informing the public is crucial. Berman cites an Opinion Research Corporation survey of 1,000 U.S. citizens, showing 75% thought well of HSUS on their first impression. After learning that 1% of HSUS's budget goes to local shelters, this dropped to 15%. Berman hopes to make this statistic common knowledge among the public, and by doing so pork producers can go on the offense.
"People who are on defense are people who don't want to lose," he says. "People who are on offense are people who want to win."
The same works for the sow housing debate. For a while, food retailers were only hearing HSUS's side, Berman says. "When you go and poll and tell people that veterinarians and farmers agree that these pens are humane, you can flip public perception, and public perception drives legislation," he says. "They want to be consistent with public perception."
An Opinion Research Corporation survey of 1,000 U.S. citizens in January showed after hearing the opinions of veterinarians and farmers, 86% supported pens or fell under the "don't care" category, while 13% were still against them.
"When you give people the right information," Berman says. "You get a large percentage of the public opinion on our side."
More information on HumaneWatch is available at the organization's website at www.humanewatch.org.