Illegal Activities Come to Light

Documents show American Egg Board interfering with California anti-cruelty initiative.


Hank Will

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Government documents recently obtained by the Humane Society of the United States reveal that the American Egg Board (AEB) is involved in an illegal scheme to divert $3 million of federal legislative check-off funds to lobby voters against an anti-cruelty ballot initiative that will provide basic protections to California farm animals. The same documents show that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is charged by law with overseeing the activities and expenditures of the AEB, has known about the AEB’s planned illegal activities for months.

“The jig is up for the American Egg Board and its illegal plans to use federal money to interfere with the 2008 California election,” says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS. “The Egg Board is permitted to market eggs to consumers, not to serve as a war chest for factory farm lobbyists fighting to deny animals enough living space merely to turn around and spread their wings.”

“Apparently, the AEB holds the same contempt for the democratic process as it does for the animals in its industry’s charge,” says Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary.

In November 2007, the AEB approved a resolution to reserve $3 million to oppose The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act – which has been certified for the November general election ballot – despite the fact that it is legally prohibited from undertaking any activity designed to influence voters, legislation or ballot initiative campaigns.

In March, Californians for Humane Farms, a coalition including the HSUS, Farm Sanctuary and other animal protection groups, family farmers, veterinarians and public health professionals, requested that the USDA prevent the AEB from using the funds for illegal political activity.

In response, the USDA and AEB said the money was for general consumer education in any state, and not intended to influence the California political process.

Internal USDA documents obtained by the HSUS, including emails between USDA staff members and AEB officers, reveal that the AEB clearly intends to use the $3 million specifically to defeat the California ballot initiative, and that the USDA is well aware of the AEB’s plan.

In letters released recently, Californians for Humane Farms renews its call for the AEB and USDA to rescind the board’s unlawful plans to use funds to influence the outcome of an election, and indicates that litigation will be initiated, if necessary, to prevent AEB from interfering with the California anti-cruelty initiative.

Last month, California Secretary of State Debra Brown certified The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act for placement on the November 4 ballot, after Californians for Humane Farms submitted the signatures of nearly 800,000 citizens in support of the initiative. The measure will prevent some of the worst factory farming abuses such as confining animals in small crates or cages – specifically, veal crates for calves, battery cages for egg-laying hens, and gestation crates for breeding pigs.

Californians for Humane Farms is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary and other animal protection groups, family farmers, veterinarians, and public health professionals, who have joined together in an effort to launch a statewide initiative for the November ballot.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, celebrating animals and confronting cruelty, and is backed by 10.5 million Americans. For more than a half-century, the HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Visit the Web site at .

Farm Sanctuary is the nation's leading farm animal protection organization. Since incorporating in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has worked to expose and stop cruel practices of the "food animal" industry through research and investigations, legal and institutional reforms, public awareness projects, youth education, and direct rescue and refuge efforts. Farm Sanctuary shelters in Watkins Glen, New York, and Orland, California, provide lifelong care for hundreds of rescued animals, who have become ambassadors for farm animals everywhere by educating visitors about the realities of factory farming. Visit the Web site at .