Slamming the door on openness

Slamming the door on openness
As a reporter, I only grow more curious when someone shuts a door in my face and tells me to go away. I start to wonder what they are hiding and start looking harder for the truth.

That’s the situation I found myself in recently when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) held a news conference in Des Moines. The animal rights group showed off a batch of dimly-lit undercover videos that they claim proves there is systematic abuse of hens at Iowa’s modern egg farms.

I’ve covered agriculture and food trends for years and thought I might be able to bring a little of that experience and expertise into the press conference. But it wasn’t possible. Because I work for an agriculture-affiliated organization, I was barred from the press conference. It didn’t matter that I was editor of the Spokesman, the most widely circulated newspaper in Iowa. My ties to agriculture made me unwelcome.

I wasn’t alone. People with a lot more expertise than me were also stuck out in the hallway. That included representatives from the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and others affiliated with agriculture.

Why were we kept out? HSUS leader Wayne Pacelle told the Des Moines Register that he shut out ag affiliated folks because he didn’t want “disruptions.”

But you have to wonder. It appears the tanned and polished Pacelle just doesn’t want to answer tough, and informed, questions. That doesn’t fit into Pacelle’s formula where he parachutes into town, calls a press conference at a downtown hotel and tries to make a splash in the media with undercover videos of alleged animal abuse.

The folks he accuses don’t get a chance to talk or ask questions. It doesn’t matter that they work 24-7 to care for animals and to produce safe, healthy and wholesome food. Or, that they, too, don’t tolerate the abuse of animals and want to get to the bottom of any alleged abuse.

The HSUS formula is designed to horrify and disgust consumers and to vilify livestock farmers, then it’s on to the next media event. The formula has helped HSUS raise millions in donations and build support among uniformed consumers for its campaigns to end modern animal agriculture.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.