Many in food production take the hard knocks for becoming family corporations with million dollar assets. Some activists, such as the Environmental Working Group, have even gone so far to list farm subsidies so everyone can see the millions brought in by today's "rich farmers." There's no list of input costs, equipment prices, explanation of how those assets aren't liquid, or the distribution of dollars between the farm gate and food plate. Yet, we frequently read "the greedy corporate farmers making millions."
It's time to turn the plate and look at some of the folks fostering the talk of agriculture's greed. Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is an easy one to top that list and not because of their supposed work with cute kittens and fuzzy little puppies. As reported by Consumer Freedom, HSUS contributed only 4.2% of its budget to organizations that operate dog and animal shelters in 2006 (the last year reported). They raised $34 million in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, yet public disclosure of the spending of those funds only accounts for $7 million.
Much of the million dollar activist industry can be chalked up to Wayne Pacelle, who became HSUS President in April 2004 and is now paid well over $200,000. In those four years, Pacelle has more than doubled the HSUS assets to $200 million and reportedly quadrupled their fundraising. By the way, HSUS files a form 990 - meaning they are exempt from paying income tax to the IRS. Take a look at their 990 here. As a small business owner who forks over a third of my income and then some, I find that unacceptable. Imagine the uproar if food producers were given a 990! After all, raising food to feed the world should be considered a cause, shouldn't it?
Farm Sanctuary and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), good friends of HSUS, aren't any better. PETA's 990 shows they brought in over $30 million and Farm Sanctuary over $5 million. Drovers presented a good piece outline the increase of charitable contributions to animal rights groups 11% in the last year.
If you're thinking environmentalists aren't in this million dollar game, think again. Greenpeace shows a cool $40 million on their 990 and Friends of the Earth brought in around $3.5 million. Much of their work focuses on the greenhouse emissions of agriculture and anti-biotechnology campaigns. Go to http://causematters.wordpress.com/ and scan through the "Anti-Agriculture Groups" if you'd like to learn more.
The industry of anti-agriculture activism has generated more cash than most of us will see in a lifetime. In today's global economy, it seems like we have the perfect opportunity to educate people about the millions wasted by activists. The aftermath of over-regulations, ballot initiatives and legal battles have and will continue to drive food prices up. Is that really what people want? Take a minute to have that conversation this week and let me know what you learn.