The president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States announced he is running for a seat on the board of directors of Tyson Foods. The nomination is an effort to pressure the food giant to phase out the use of gestation crates for pregnant pigs and for a better quality of life overall for farm animals.
From time to time HSUS and other animal advocacy groups use highly visible public forums such as this to get their message across, but will a bid to help run Tyson Foods really influence the policies of one of the largest meat producers?
Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the HSUS, said, “It’s certainly unusual for a lifelong animal advocate to run for the board of the second-biggest meat company in the world. Nonetheless, it is imperative that a voice on Tyson’s board speak for the company’s many customers, partners, and investors who are demanding the end of gestation crates and more humane treatment of animals.”
Gestation crates are typically metal enclosures, about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide. A breeding pig is housed in the small crate for most of her life.
Pacelle decided to run for the position to encourage Tyson Foods to join the other major food companies that have set firm dates to phase out gestation crates. The nonprofit group owns 300 shares of Tyson stock.
HSUS has had good luck changing the practices of Tyson Foods’ biggest competitors. Smithfield Foods will transition from the use of crates to group housing for pigs by 2017. Hormel Foods announced the same policy and Cargill will be 50 percent gestation crate-free in five years.
HSUS enlisted the help of activist investor Carl Icahn to guide Pacelle through the campaign process. Icahn said it will be extremely difficult to get Pacelle elected, but thinks the makeup of the current board and the shareholders help the timing for the bid.
Mr. Icahn said in a press release, “A fresh voice on the Tyson board would be good for the company, and I am hopeful that enough shareholders will be receptive to the campaign to put Wayne Pacelle on the board so that either he will be elected, or that Tyson will reach the right conclusion and put him on the board without the cost and inconvenience of a proxy fight.”
Tyson Foods responded by saying, “We’re not surprised Wayne Pacelle wants to sit on our board. We’re handling the nomination according to the law and our company’s by-laws. We’re committed to humane animal treatment and expect the same from the independent family farmers who supply us with chickens, hogs and cattle.”
Since HSUS and other organizations have started campaigning to end the use of gestation crates, more than 30 leading companies have announced plans to stop the practice. Giants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sysco, ARAMARK, Sodexo, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, ConAgra Foods, Oscar Mayer, and Hillshire Brands have all changed their policies.
Even popular animal scientist Temple Grandin, Ph.D. said, “Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life. We’ve got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go.”
Whether or not Pacelle wins a seat on the board, many people including customers, shareholders and board members will have heard about his candidacy and the reason behind it. Are campaigns like this more about grandstanding and publicity or do they really influence humane policy changes for the animals at the center of the issue?
Photo Credit: ThePugFather