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How Colorado cooled the controversy between the Humane Society and big agriculture

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Pacelle (the former) and HumaneWatch's David Martosko (the latter) may author their own blogs, but behind each cyber-outpost is a well-oiled political apparatus. And in their writings and talking points, the men keep tabs on one another like hawks.

Pacelle and Martosko have never met. But they did share the same air three years ago during a congressional hearing on animal welfare. In testimony that day, Martosko offered to treat Pacelle to a meal of the most humanely raised veal "on the planet" — under one condition: Pacelle would have to eat it in front of "a few dozen cameras."

Martosko knew Pacelle wouldn't bite. He's a vegan.

Has been since 1985, when he founded Yale's first animal-rights group after seeing hog farms with a college buddy from Iowa and mulling over man's authority to exert power over animals in a way that contradicted the latter's nature. "The sentiment was strong from the beginning, from the age of three or four," Pacelle explains during an interview in the Humane Society's headquarters. "But there was no epiphany. No moment where I shot a bird and saw the last gasp of the animal as I walked up to him or her."

At 44, Pacelle is lean and long-limbed, with the facial architecture of a cover boy: dark complexion, a thick, slate-hued mane and a smile that seems to sparkle. He may have experienced an entire spectrum of human-animal interactions, from gliding across ice floes with baby seals to being threatened by bear hunters, but he's not exactly a spirited storyteller. Universally described as a "gifted communicator," his speech is measured, his diction precise.

"When he was younger, he was concerned about animal issues, but he wasn't out there saying, 'We have to do something radical or violent,'" observes Singer, the Princeton University bioethicist. "I don't think he's dispassionate. I think he realizes that to be politically active, you have to be calm and take the long-term view."

After ten years as its lobbyist, Pacelle became head of the Humane Society in 2004. For decades the group had focused primarily on issues like fur trapping, cockfighting and hunting. His pitch for the top job, he says, centered on "curbing the most serious abuses in the field of industrialized agriculture" by using the political system.

For some activists, spray-painting fur wearers or protesting a biomedical company in the buff might come easier than scaling the rungs of bureaucracy. But the hardball approach seems to fit Pacelle's temperament. "My father was a high-school football coach, and I was a competitive tennis player," he explains. "I'm a sore loser."

To hear Martosko tell it, Pacelle draws his sword for the money — $228,981 in 2008, according to IRS records — and the opportunity to "manhandle companies."

In an interview at the Starbucks below his office, having declined a request to meet at work, the 39-year-old Martosko details his own youth in the "Drew Carey suburbs" of Cleveland, opera studies at Dartmouth and a current paycheck that he is "contractually obligated not to disclose," but one that he says doesn't afford him fancy stuff like foie gras. (He has never tried it.)

Martosko is husky, though not Drew Carey-sized, his delivery breathless and buoyant. He is an opposition researcher for Richard Berman, a controversial lobbyist whose firm manages the Center for Consumer Freedom, whose funders come from the food and restaurant industries, though Berman declines to identify them. CCF hatched the HumaneWatch.org website in late 2008 but let it lie dormant until February of this year, just as the Humane Society's 2010 legislative push got under way. The site is becoming a clearinghouse for social-media uprisings against the Humane Society, all of which Martosko catalogues in catchy, snarky prose.

He says the animal-rights movement reminds him of a religion. "'Every animal is a person and every person is an animal, and we're no better than they are,'" he mimics. "That's their creed. I don't agree with it, but I find it fascinating to watch how they live out their faith."

The prevailing sentiment among activists and scholars is that man does not have dominion over animals. As sentient beings, they deserve freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; from pain, injury and disease; from fear and distress; and the freedom to express normal behavior.

So: Is that animal welfare, or is it animal rights?

According to Peter Singer, "animal rights" is a convenient catch-all for Americans, because, he says, "they imbibe their Bill of Rights with their mother's milk." In reality, explains the Australian philosopher, that descriptor is "too absolutist"; realistic progress for animals can only be "incremental."

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Kristen Hinman
Contact: Kristen Hinman

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