THE BLOG

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the Truth

11/28/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Michael Markarian Chief Program & Policy Officer, The Humane Society of the United States

The battle of the airwaves is gaining pitch in California over Proposition 2 -- the groundbreaking measure to give farm animals a little relief from cruel confinement. But it's always good to know a little bit about the people who are telling you how to vote.

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A new TV ad from the YES! on Prop 2 campaign rolled out this week, featuring Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. Wayne is a familiar face, arguing the case for farm animals on Ellen, Oprah Winfrey and in the pages of any number of publications. He's devoted his life and his career to the cause of making ours a better world for animals. You don't have to guess why he's speaking out. If you want to know what he thinks, take a look at the new ads "Cruelty and Fraud" and "Shocking Video."

It's a different matter with the Agribusiness Big Shots on the other side. They've got a new TV ad out too. It's another contender in the gutter-politics contest for the most misleading scare tactic of the year. I mean really, haven't voters had to endure enough of this -- a ploy as tired as last year's Halloween pumpkin.

In the opposition commercial, we meet a woman dressed in hospital greens. She's Dr. Kara Hutton, a Bay Area pediatrician. Her supposed claim to fame, though, is that she grew up on a farm. She claims to be an expert. And she is shown in juxtaposition with an outrageous visual -- a gurney with a patient on it and an ambulance. That's right, she's arguing the worst falsehood of all -- that human health depends on treating animals cruelly.

Dr. Hutton, it's not so. You should know better.

Right now, egg-laying hens, veal calves, and breeding sows are confined on industrial factory farms in cages and crates so small they can hardly move. It's not for their own good. And it's surely not for the good of humans who consume these products. It's for agribusiness profit, pure and simple.

So, if the industry wanted a real medical expert on the subject, they wouldn't have picked Dr. Hutton. They would have gone right to the top and called Dr. Michael Greger, author of the seminal book, Bird Flu, and the nation's leading expert on food safety and factory farming.

Dr. Greger lectures and writes on the subject. In a way, he's like Wayne Pacelle -- he's devoted his life and his career to the subject.

Oh, but I guess the industry wouldn't want his views. That's because he works for The Humane Society of the United States. And here is what he says:

"Proposition 2's opponents want you to suspend belief and trust them when they say that cramming six or so laying hens into a single tiny cage reduces Salmonella risk. This is science fiction, not scientific fact.

The most authoritative word on food-borne infection risk and egg production systems comes from a European Union-wide survey. More than 30,000 samples from more than 5,000 egg operations across two dozen countries were taken to measure the public health impact of removing hens from cages. Without exception, for every subtype of Salmonella reported and every type of production system examined, there was significantly lower risk of Salmonella infection in cage-free egg production."

"Maybe Dr. Hutton was absent the day they talked about Salmonella risks at medical school. Or maybe she was back at the 'farm' that day. Looking at Facebook suggests that Dr. Hutton's maiden name is Demler. As in Demler Enterprises and Demler Egg Ranch -- a pair of top ten contributors to the "no" on 2 campaign. Combined, they've thrown $436,603 into this deceptive campaign, with one of their own family members playing a doctor on TV.

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The Demler family clearly hasn't reviewed the scientific literature indicating that caged birds have 20 times higher risk of Salmonella than cage-free birds. And they don't have the common sense to know that cramming animals tightly into cages makes them more susceptible to disease -- just as cramming yourself into an elevator or an airplane cabin with other people is the best way to catch a cold.

Californians have long experience in this kind of dirty politics. What the "no" forces are out to protect is factory farm profits, not your health. The opponents are backed by a handful of miserly corporations that won't even give animals room to move.

By contrast the YES! on Prop 2 campaign is financially backed by more than 20,000 individual people who care about the humane treatment of animals. Scores of credible and authoritative groups, like the Center for Food Safety and the California Veterinary Medical Association, have swung behind a "yes" vote. Our coalition has no profits to protect, not a penny. We're out to make life better for animals -- and that's good for human health too.

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