Posted on May 7, 2012
Non-profit organizations that advocate for animals urge us to eat less meat or forgo meat altogether at the same time as we face a constant onslaught of advertising from the meat industry urging us to eat more of their meat products. In this struggle between opposing messages, meat-oriented chain restaurants and the meat packing industry have a significant advantage in financial resources available to them. However, as the message of the animal advocates begins to nick the meat industry bottom line, groups funded by the industry and some in the meat industry press have been grousing over the last few years about the amount of money spent by animal advocacy organizations. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest of the animal advocacy groups to have wrangled with the meat industry, is sometimes described by them as being “too big”, likening it to a gorilla of various sizes ranging from nine hundred pounds to nine million pounds! But, a close look at the numbers shows that this is actually a tussle between a David and a Goliath, with the exception that in this case Goliath cannot stop whining about how David is “too big”.
The following graphic helps us visualize the scale of the difference between the dollars spent on promoting meat and the dollars spent on the advocacy of farm animals. In this figure, each red circle represents a meat-promoting entity, with the area of the circle being proportional to just the annual advertising or promotional expenses of that entity. Each green circle represents an animal advocacy organization engaged in promoting vegetarian eating or meat industry reform, with the area of the circle being proportional to the total annual expenses of that organization. If you hover your mouse near the center of any circle, you can see a pop-up bubble that identifies the entity corresponding to the circle, the dollar amount, and the source of my information about the entity (the hover function is unavailable on mouseless devices such as the iPad or the iPhone). If you click on a circle, it takes you directly to the web site of the organization.
For the meat-promoting entities, I have included the largest meat packers, meat-oriented chain restaurants and meat industry trade groups that have a significant presence in the United States. For publicly-held companies (such as McDonald’s), I am using their latest fiscal year advertising expenses as reported in their annual SEC filings. For privately-held companies (such as Chick-fil-A), I have deduced the advertising expenses using the ad-to-sales ratios published by Schonfeld & Associates, a business research company. For meat industry trade groups (such as the American Meat Institute), I have used their total expenses (since almost all of what they do is promote meat) from their latest (usually 2010 or 2011) Form 990 filing with the IRS.
As for the other side, the graphic includes some of the animal advocacy organizations with annual expenses of around $500,000 or more and which are substantively engaged in farm animal advocacy in the United States. The total expenses are obtained from their most recent (usually 2010 or 2011) Form 990 filing with the IRS. As a representative sample of smaller non-profit organizations, I have also included a couple that you can find in the graphic if you squint hard enough.
There is an important lesson in this graphic for the meat industry. Clearly, the advertising expenses alone of a few of the top entities in the meat industry overwhelms the entire expenses of the animal advocacy organizations. In fact, in the case of larger organizations as well as some of the smaller ones which work on a variety of animal issues, only a portion of their total expenses go into farm animal advocacy. So, the meat industry press should know better than to bemoan the money raised by animal advocacy organizations. A piece in FeedStuffs, a popular agribusiness newsletter, once suggested that “maybe HSUS could lower its voice” to avoid “the blame for promoting a future protein shortage!” Never mind the stunningly flawed logic of it, but the graphic in this post should make very clear who is actually using a louder voice.
Meanwhile, there is an even more important lesson that emerges from this graphic for both the meat industry and the animal advocates. Obviously, animal advocates have no chance of winning this tussle if it was only a matter of who spends more money. But, in spite of the overwhelming superiority of financial resources available to the meat industry, the HSUS and even some of the smaller organizations like Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing are feared by the meat industry. The Ag Gag laws recently passed in Utah and Iowa are clearly a fear-borne response intended to silence some of these organizations. The fact that the gigantic blood-red blobs in the graphic feel that their interests are threatened by the constitutional rights of some of the tiniest green dots is a recognition by the meat industry of the power of the message carried by the animal advocates. While the animal advocates are steadfastly committed to promoting their message, the meat industry has no such commitment but merely a financial interest in the status quo. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, a few people with a commitment are a social power equal to thousands who have only interests.