Berman speaks — to pork council
Some of the issues Berman hits routinely involve pork. He has spoken at pork industry events and wrote an opinion piece for an industry publication. At “Iowa Swine Day” in 2013 he was voted the most effective speaker.
He specifically defends the use of “gestation crates” — tiny pens where pregnant pigs live before giving birth. The Humane Society caught the disturbing practice at farms owned by some of the nation’s biggest pork producers on hidden camera. It has lobbied hard to get companies to stop using them, and to urge restaurant chains not to buy pork from farms that do.
Berman urges pork producers to call them “maternity pens” instead.
One of Berman’s previous clients was Smithfield Foods, the U.S.’s largest pork producer, whose pens were featured in the film. The food giant hired Berman’s company to fend off efforts from its workers to unionize a plant in Tar Heel, N. C., according to a lawsuit, as reported in a Bloomberg News story. The suit was settled and workers voted to form a union, according to the story.
Unlike many public relations firms, Berman and Co. doesn’t identify scores of clients on its website. But the Center identified at least a few others:
The International Dairy Foods Association which paid his firm nearly $250,000, according to its 2012 tax return, for a commercial and print ad. Dairy farming has also been a target of the Humane Society, which says “repeated reimpregnation, short calving intervals, overproduction of milk, restrictive housing systems, poor nutrition, and physical disorders impair the welfare of the animals in industrial dairy operations.”
The Corn Refiners Association paid his company nearly $1.2 million for “communications” services in 2011, according to a tax document. The trade association is currently fighting criticism by health groups and the sugar industry of one of its most profitable products, high-fructose corn syrup.
The Institute for Humane Studies paid the Berman firm nearly $300,000, according to a 2011 tax return. The libertarian think tank is housed at George Mason University. Its mission is to “support the achievement of a freer society.” Its board of directors is chaired by billionaire industrialist and conservative political donor Charles G. Koch.
Pacelle said the Humane Society goes after “institutionalized cruelty,” like factory farming and pharmaceutical testing, which makes it a target.
“I could name 20 others that all hate the Humane Society,” he said.
The Center for Consumer Freedom’s board members have deep connections to the food industry:
Richard Verrecchia is a “26-year veteran of the restaurant industry,” according to his biography at Fintech, including stints with TGI Friday’s, Ground Round, Houlihan’s Restaurants, the Outback Steakhouse and others. Fintech processes payments for the alcoholic beverage industry.
Lane Cardwell is president of Cardwell Hospital Advisory Inc. and is a 35-year restaurant industry veteran, having worked in management or on the boards of 40 different restaurant brands, according to a trade show bio.
Joseph Kefauver was vice president of public affairs for Wal-Mart and served as the top lobbyist for Darden Restaurants, according to a biography from the Edgewater Group, a lobbying and consulting firm.
Berman is a former labor lawyer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Berman and Co. was created in 1986, according to the company fact sheet. The Center for Consumer Freedom was created from an earlier group, the Guest Choice Network, which got its “seed money” from Philip Morris, the tobacco company, now known as Altria.
“The money funded a specific campaign related to smoking sections in restaurants — not smoking per se. BAC [Berman and Co.] spokespersons have never advocated for smoking or said it wasn’t harmful to peoples’ health,” the Berman fact sheet reads. “However, we have supported adults’ right to free choice when it comes to legal products.”
In the 1990s, Berman was president of Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving (BRADD), an organization formed in response to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
As president, he argued for "tolerance of social drinking.” He was a lobbyist for the American Beverage Institute from 1999 through 2005, according to federal records.
Berman’s fact sheet says the Center for Consumer Freedom and other nonprofits he manages are not “shadowy front groups.”
“These organizations were founded to combat a tidal wave of anti-business, anti-free market Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that advocate for a battery of laws, restrictions and regulations that attack personal freedom and entrepreneurialism,” it states.
Attacks on HSUS
Berman told the New York Times that the “Humane Society wants to force us all to be vegetarians — or vegans” and that it opposes the consumption of animals, regardless of how they are treated.
The Humanewatch.org ad currently running in Washington’s metro trains says that HSUS gives 1 percent of its budget to pet shelters and “spends millions on its offshore hedge fund investments and pension fund.” It also says dues go toward paying a more than $15 million federal racketeering settlement.
“The first thing is overall it’s just a false framing of the issue,” said HSUS spokesman Alan Heymann. “It’s never been the case that we’re some sort of grant-making association for local shelters — at the same time, the figure does not take into account all the other ways we support local shelters.”
As to the racketeering charge, The Fund for Animals (now a Humane Society affiliate) was one of several animal rights activist groups that sued Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, for mistreating its elephants. They lost the case, and a former Feld employee was found to have been paid at least $190,000 by the animal rights groups to back their charges.
Feld filed a racketeering lawsuit seeking legal fees and won nearly $16 million in a settlement reached in a U.S. District Court in Washington. Heymann said its share of the settlement, which was not disclosed, will be paid from insurance.
“No HSUS donor dollars are being used to pay this,” he said.
Dog breeders contacted for this story don’t seem to be bothered by Berman’s reputation as a hired gun.
Darci Brown, owner of a car dealership in Greenfield, Mass., has bred dogs as a hobby for 30 years. She says the Humane Society would like to enforce spay and neuter laws to the point where there would be no pure bred dogs left.
She was present at the legislative presentation. The fact that Berman represents unnamed clients “concerns me a little, yes,” she said, but she feels the information he produces is factual.
“I think our people are focusing on the message they’re giving,” she said. “It just happens to be one we agree with.”
Chris Young contributed to this report.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that the Humane Society of the United States was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Feld Entertainment and to note the person paid by the animal rights group in the lawsuit was a former employee.