The group's complaint alleges that the pork industry's descriptions of its "We Care" initiative and what it called the "deceptively titled" Pork Quality Assurance Plus program are "riddled with numerous false claims regarding the welfare of pigs, including the trade group's patently false claim that its PQAP program helps to "ensure that all animals in the pork industry continue to receive humane care and handling." The Humane Society maintains that the "abusive practices" of the two programs are inconsistent with the council's public messaging.
The We Care initiative is "a joint effort of the Pork Checkoff, through the National Pork Board, and the National Pork Producers Council, to help demonstrate that producers are accountable to established ethical principles and animal well-being practices," according to the National Pork Board's website. The Pork Quality Assurance Program is "a producer-education and -certification program to reduce the risk of violative animal health-product residues in pork," according to the same site.
The NPPC's site outlines what it calls the ethical principles of the We Care initiative, which include producing safe food, protecting and promoting animal well-being and ensuring practices to protect public health, among others.
The major beef the Humane Society has is the use of gestation crates, which are 2-foot-by -7-foot crates where pregnant sows are housed. "The pork industry spends millions misleading the public about its animal-welfare record, while allowing pigs to be crammed into tiny gestation crates where they can't even turn around for months on end," said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior VP for animal-protection litigation at Humane Society in a statement. "Rather than investing in real animal-welfare reforms, the Pork Council is betting the farm on a deceptive PR campaign designed to mislead consumers with false assurances." The group said that about 70% of U.S. breeding sows are confined in crates "so small the animals can barely move for their entire lives."
Peter Brandt, senior attorney at the Humane Society, told Ad Age that the Pork Council is engaging in deception by omission. "At the same time that they're making sweeping statements [about pigs being well cared for], they omit the highly significant fact that these pigs are kept in crates."
The Council calls the claims "absolutely false," and will "vigorously defend" against them. "The FTC complaint is the latest attack by animal-rights activists on America's hog farmers, an assault that seems obviously in response to the U.S. pork industry's strident opposition to congressional legislation that would allow federal bureaucrats to tell farmers how to raise and care for their animals," it said in a statement to Ad Age . "America's hog farmers are committed to providing humane and compassionate care for their pigs at every stage of life. U.S. hog farmers are the ones who ensure the well-being of their animals and who are dedicated to producing safe, affordable and healthful foods for consumers -- using standards and practices that have been designed with input from veterinarians and other animal-care experts -- not groups that spend well-over half of the donations they receive on soliciting more contributions and, apparently, the other portion on suing American farmers."
Gestation crates have become a hot issue lately, and companies such as Wendy's and McDonald's have said that they are working with suppliers to have them ditch the crates. The Humane Society said that pork companies Smithfield and Hormel announced they'll end the use of gestation crates at their company-owned facilities by 2017, and that Cargill is currently 50% gestation crate-free. (The Humane Society in November filed a complaint against Smithfield, but the company later said it would double down on its commitment to phase out the crates.)
In January the Humane Society filed complaints against Seaboard Foods, one of the country's largest pork producers and supplier to Walmart, alleging that the company is misleading consumers about its practices.
The Humane Society has also been the subject of complaints recently. In February HumaneWatch.org called on the FTC to launch an investigation of the Humane Society for deceptive fundraising practices. HumaneWatch.org, part of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group that has lobbied on behalf of the food, alcohol and tobacco industries, alleged that though much of the Humane Society's TV ads featured cats and dogs, only a fraction of the money donated to the Humane Society went to what it called hands-on pet shelters.