Greenwashing, Welfarism, and Capitalism: The Humane Society and the Selling of the TPP

On February 4, 2016, the United States and eleven other countries around the Pacific Rim finally signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The twelve signatories now have two years to ratify the agreement. In the U.S., after passage of so-called “fast-track” authority in June, 2015, the TPP may not be amended or filibustered in Congress and will simply face an up-or-down vote. Exactly when that vote will come is unclear at the time of writing. Since most of this year’s crop of aspiring emperors/empresses have publicly opposed the TPP1, it may not be brought up for a vote until after the November elections in the lame-duck Congress, which would indeed be the final insult in this profoundly anti-democratic saga. Meanwhile, Barack Obama – in what the Associated Press has been presenting as a kind of valedictory world tour analogous to the final concert of the Rolling Stones – has been visiting European capitals and pressing for signatures on the similar Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The latest round of those negotiations in February ended with high-ranking officials for both the U.S. and the EU expressing hopes of conclusion by the end of 2016, even if that means modifying the agreement’s most contentious element, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

Wayne Pacelle at US Capitol

HSUS President Wayne Pacelle is on the case. But whose side is he really on?

On March 3, 2016, Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), posted an “exclusive interview” with President Obama on his HSUS blog. Also published in the May-June issue of the HSUS’s print magazine All Animals, this interview was a truly shocking puff-piece that amounted to nothing more nor less than pure propaganda for the President, affording him an opportunity to sell the TPP without being challenged at all by Pacelle. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, whose website literally rams the TPP into the visitor’s face, had already posted, in the run-up to the vote on fast-track, an official statement from the HSUS applauding the TPP’s Environment Chapter for addressing the organization’s concerns about wildlife protection. While that statement expresses some disappointment that “farm animal welfare” received short shrift in the TPP, it swiftly moves on to conclude on an optimistic note that perhaps the TTIP will be better in that regard. In a similar vein, the President’s official website, whitehouse.gov, celebrated the accolades it had received from the Humane Society and a few other putative “environmental advocates.” Significantly, in his interview, Pacelle did not complain that any of the government’s propaganda had misrepresented the HSUS’s position on the TPP.

The full Environment Chapter text, with an official summary in U.S. government spin, may be inspected here. (Yes – they have finally allowed we, the great unwashed people, to read it!) Here is just one representative sample, over which the nonhuman inhabitants of the region will, naturally, have no veto power:

Corporate Social Responsibility and Public-Private Partnerships

The Environment chapter includes commitments to encourage companies to voluntarily adopt corporate social responsibility policies, and to use mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships, to help to protect the environment and natural resources.

Indonesia is still debating joining the TPP, but it provides a textbook illustration of the kind of “social responsibility” that transnational corporations voluntarily adopt, and of how public-private partnerships “help to protect” the environment. In the mid-1960s, after the CIA helped General Suharto overthrow a president who was considered dangerously independent, and then provided his death squads with lists of names of left-leaning individuals who needed to be eliminated, the country was almost literally carved up by transnational corporations, with Suharto and his cronies receiving a piece of the action.2 After decades of repression, genocide, corruption, and environmental destruction, Indonesia is now a hell on earth for the vast majority of its human inhabitants, many of whom struggle to survive on the pittances earned from manufacturing clothing that will be sold for huge profits to affluent westerners. And for its wildlife, corporate-driven “development” has been devastating. Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. In the last 25 years, Sumatra has lost almost half its forests. In the last 20 years, orangutans have lost 80% of their habitat. The story is much the same for the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. The biggest driver of this catastrophe has been the clearing of the forests to create palm oil plantations, yielding a commodity used in a vast array of products, the demand for which can only be expected to increase as the global economy continues its inexorable march toward consumer nirvana.

One of the U.S. Trade Representative’s claims is unarguable: the TPP is, absolutely, made in America. It is intended to further increase the profits of American corporations by facilitating investment in foreign countries, enabling them to manufacture at low cost, and re-export to the U.S. without tariff barriers. It is part of an imperial design to marginalize China. And this is what it offers to the wildlife of the world:

orangutan habitat loss indonesia

So while the engines of the corporations’ bulldozers are overhauled in readiness for further service, let us ask some highly pertinent questions….

Why Is Wayne Pacelle Participating in Greenwashing?

TPP issues aside, providing Barack Obama with a platform from which to portray himself as a lifelong environmentalist was an extraordinary journalistic decision. Not surprisingly, many comments on Pacelle’s blog post echo some of the concerns we have expressed previously on this website. Ostensibly worried about wildlife, Pacelle says nothing about the President’s failure to veto the legislation that delisted the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies and Greater Yellowstone, or his subsequent failure to prevent the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS ) from turning over management of Wyoming’s wolves to the State. (Thankfully, the courts have been able to reverse some of the federal government’s policies.) Likewise, nothing is said about the impending delisting of the grizzly bear in Yellowstone, the delisting of the Louisiana black bear, or the downlisting of the manatee. Not a peep about the roundup and slaughter of wild mustangs or wild buffalo. No dissent when the President claimed success in protecting the sage grouse, while welfare ranchers continue to overgraze and ruin grouse habitats managed by the BLM. Pacelle does not demand that the USDA’s Wildlife Services agency be thoroughly reformed or disbanded, despite grotesque behavior that reveals the ugliest impulses in the American character. Having just released, with much fanfare, a new book entitled The Humane Economy, he makes no mention of the USDA’s policy of allowing the meat industry to regulate itself. He does not challenge the President’s promotion of fracking or the government’s manifest and manifold favors for Monsanto. Was Wayne Pacelle biting his tongue during this interview? Or was he asleep? Either way, he is allowing himself to be used.

As Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers pointed out in an article on Truthout, the Obama Administration “is intentionally trying to deceive the public” in the face of massive opposition to the TPP from environmentalists. Zeese and Flowers note that the organizations cited as supporters by the Administration have close ties to the corporate sector, and even then their comments have been cherry-picked. Most of the comments on the WhiteHouse.gov page linked above amount to conditional support only, contingent upon the government’s ability to actually enforce the provisions about which it boasts – an ability that is highly doubtful. As the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) explains (full pdf report here) there is absolutely no reason to believe that environmental enforcement under the TPP will proceed any differently than under previous free-trade agreements. But what we definitely can expect is that the ISDS mechanism will be used by corporations “to sue governments for enacting and upholding environmental and other laws.”

The history of U.S. trade agreement enforcement on the environment —or lack thereof—shows that any minimal gains from new commitments on the environment under the TPP pale in comparison to the negative human and environmental effects of the commercial and investment provisions. […]

The environmental shortcomings of the TPP are not only reflected in what is not in the agreement, but also, by what is in the agreement—specifically, vague and likely unenforceable environmental commitments. For example, with respect to the conservation of wild flora and fauna and the illegal trade of protected species, Parties are only obliged to “combat,” not “prohibit,” “the illegal take of, and illegal trade in, wild fauna and flora.” And, while commitments under the CITES Convention itself are explicitly recognized, Parties are only required to “endeavor to implement, as appropriate, CITES resolutions.” Furthermore, while there is a commitment to “combat” illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, this obligation lacks efficacy given that Parties must merely “endeavor not to undermine” the efforts of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). While the Article on Marine Capture Fisheries does offer one new substantive commitment in the form of reduced fisheries subsidies, the lack of binding enforcement measures significantly undermines efforts to promote long-term marine conservation. Also significant is the TPP’s failure to even mention climate change. The agreement includes provisions on transitioning to a low emission and resilient economy, but never actually addresses the underlying issue that is driving this transition. The omission of any reference to the most severe environmental threat currently facing the TPP Parties or to the relevant objectives of the UNFCCC is a significant cause for concern given the potential for trade to exacerbate climate change.

So, we ask again, why is Wayne Pacelle allowing President Obama to use the HSUS to sell a pack of lies to the American people? He certainly cannot claim that he is waiting to see the final text. (Wikileaks had leaked the Environment Chapter in January of 2014 anyway, long before the vote on fast-track.) He presumably has staff members capable of doing some research. He might even bump into some other environmentalists from time to time, and possibly even talk to them. The Sierra Club, for example, counters the Administration’s propaganda with a long list of quotes from its own president and other leading environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch, and others. The Sierra Club’s summary of objections to the TPP includes this short video. If Wayne Pacelle has seen it, why was he unmoved?

The claim of Huffington Post reporter Zach Carter that the Administration is exploiting “a real divide in the environmentalist community” between animal-welfare groups and those that “work in a wider policy arena” deserves close scrutiny in the face of these facts. If there is a divide between different groups, it is not a divide based on their concerns, because no group that is serious about animal welfare could possibly believe the Administration’s spin. One of the alternative, cynical explanations is that the HSUS was bought off. As one blogger put it, we’ll probably never know the terms of any agreement between these particular parties, because “we don’t get a seat in meetings where quid and quo match up.” But this is too simplistic, and deprives us of an opportunity to see what else is being covered by the greenwash.

Taking the Risk Out of Animal Rights

Writing on Armory of the Revolution, Roland Vincent denounces the TPP in clear-eyed terms, yet gives Wayne Pacelle – apparently a personal friend – a free pass, portraying the interview as “a coup for the animal movement” – a positive sign about the contemporary importance of animal activists. Just as Pacelle’s readers expressed their displeasure on his HSUS blog, Vincent’s readers were equally unimpressed. And this group of commenters asked a much more pointed question; namely, is Wayne Pacelle really advancing the interests of animals?

At first glance, it might seem absurd to suggest that Pacelle and the HSUS are not effective advocates for animals. Just look at their enemies. Beef Magazine attacked the Humane Society for not actually running animal shelters and for wanting to end traditional animal agriculture. The Center for Public Integrity has reported on the efforts of a notorious Washington, DC lobbyist, Rick Berman, to discredit the HSUS on similar grounds; Berman has close ties to the pork industry and has defended the use of gestation crates, which the HSUS opposes. Berman’s website, HumaneWatch.org, is relentless in its attacks on the charity and has become the go-to resource for its opponents, including hunters and dog breeders. But these are the voices of people and interests who are neither quick thinkers nor fleet of foot. Other sectors of the animal-exploitation industry have perceived and embraced a new marketing opportunity, and the great irony is that it was handed to them by the Humane Society and other advocates of animal welfare.

While the Humane Society’s regressive attackers denounce it as part of an extreme animal-rights agenda, a very different complaint comes from organizations that are unequivocally committed to the recognition of animals as sentient individuals, with all that entails for their rights and our responsibilities. The argument centers on the distinction between animal rights and animal welfare. Groups like the HSUS state that they seek to improve the living conditions of animals across the whole spectrum of human uses, the most important – in terms of the volume of suffering – being the meat and dairy industries. But one of the problems with this approach – known as welfarism – is the grave danger that human consumers will actually consume more animal products if the producers are able to reassure them that the animals were “well-treated” or even “happy.”

The website HumaneMyth.org makes this point very effectively in a short video, which we present below, highlighting the business interests of two men affiliated with the HSUS. John Mackey is a member of the HSUS board and the CEO of Whole Foods, which is now the second-largest grocery store in the country. A multi-billion dollar enterprise with major growth plans, a significant part of its profit comes from the sale of meat, which its customers believe has come from animals that were well-treated. Mackey and Wayne Pacelle also sit together on the board of the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), a body that promotes a sliding scale to measure animal welfare in farm operations. In a 2015 blog post, Pacelle praised Whole Foods for its participation in GAP and criticized PETA for suing Whole Foods over the honesty of its much-touted welfare standards. Some of Pacelle’s comments are worth quoting:

Many of these farmers were already practicing these higher standards and more are joining them every day, encouraged to do so by the Whole Foods program and the promise of a market to sell their higher-welfare products in…. [T]he reality is that most people are going to continue to eat meat, drink milk, and eat eggs for many years to come…. Whole Foods is making sure that there are higher welfare products in the marketplace, so people can advance that principle in the marketplace, and so farmers who adhere to higher animal welfare standards have an opportunity to connect with consumers through their food purchases. [Emphasis added.]

The financial implications of participation in the GAP standards make perfect sense to the investment website The Motley Fool. For Whole Foods, demonstrations of enhanced animal welfare offer opportunities for “differentiation and value strategies” in a retail market that is becoming more competitive. Noting that the 600 farms in the partnership “produce” 277 million chickens each year, The Motley Fool avers that Whole Foods’ focus on its supply chain will probably pay dividends in the future, when “the mainstream may have well moved on to a more acute awareness of animal welfare.”

These lessons have not been lost on Joe Maxwell, one of the farmers to whom Pacelle refers. In 2011, the HSUS appointed him Director for Rural Development and Outreach. His attitude toward animals comes through loud and clear in the HumaneMyth video on Whole Foods’ “Meatopia” event, which celebrates the butchering and consumption of animals.

Thus, Wayne Pacelle isn’t just greenwashing the TPP; he’s greenwashing rivers of blood from the exploitation of sentient creatures, and telling anyone who doubts him that they are hurting the cause. Pacelle has learned the all-American lesson that the only cause that really matters is capitalism. Those who attack Pacelle from the right (if we assume they are sincere, rather than front-groups designed to provide him with cover) have failed to appreciate the virus-like ability of capitalism to adapt itself to changing environmental conditions. FDR was proud of the fact that he was hated by many of the richest men of his day, and is reviled still by many contemporary plutocrats. But cooler heads have always understood that the patrician from Hyde Park saved capitalism from itself. (See also this essay published by the Hoover Institution, emphasizing how FDR forestalled the threat of a third party from the anti-capitalist left.) Much as FDR’s welfare state saved capitalism, Pacelle’s welfarism – especially in conjunction with the TPP’s slashing of tariffs and corporate nullification of local, democratic regulations – offers the exploiters of animals a lifeline of their own into a new era of vast profits and contented consumers.

Wayne Pacelle, then, is precisely the kind of animal activist that America – in its current form as the global enabler and protector of capitalism – needs. Roland Vincent, therefore, was quite right: Barack Obama – himself very carefully chosen by the owners of America – has indeed recognized the importance of the animal movement. And he understands exactly which way it needs to move.

***

  1. With echoes of Democratic campaigns past, Hillary Clinton was for it before she was against it. She now claims that the final text doesn’t meet her high standards. This vein is too rich to mine right now.
  2. The books of John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire provide a great deal of credible detail on this period.

1 Comments

  1. Carol Ames

    Earlier post was in response to Tyson.  Have included it as regards Perdue:  

    Folks, here is my post to Tyson’s Facebook page: The animal industrial complex is a psychopathic machine in the business of mass producing animal body parts for mass consumption. Corporate “compassion” for animals is an oxymoron for the following reasons: Corporate compassion (animal “welfarism”) is only as good as its effect on the company’s bottom line. As soon as consumer tastes change, activism quiets, or competition eliminates the already razor-thin corporate margin, animal torture and exploitation will once again continue unabated. In fact, it would have to under any of these circumstances — CEOs and other corporate officers have a fiduciary obligation to maximize shareholder value, if necessary, on the backs of animals. What these new tweaks to the capitalist production chain represent is corporate America’s realization that there are unrealized profits (or more likely, losses to be stemmed) in the bourgeois, upper-middle class, feel-good Humane Economy. But despite these companies’ supposed recognition that animal abuse can no longer be tolerated, we still must give them time to “phase out” their practices so that their bottom lines remain as untarnished as possible. Religion is very useful as a tool of the rulers. Recall what the Pope said, “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” In animal rights terms, the Pope’s language about “needless” suffering and dying is a welfarist smokescreen unless he follows it with a clear declaration that animals are not property for humans to enslave and kill for their flesh, eggs, milk, or any other purpose. As long as animals are considered the property of humans, this will not change, no matter how many encyclicals the Catholic Church releases talking about the value of animals in the eyes of the Lord. It is lip service, it is political, it is empty. In other words, corporate-styled animal “welfarism” (whether it’s framed as “humane treatment” or “responsible” treatment) is political BULLSHIT!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *