Today, the pizza industry gets a double whammy from animal rights groups: PETA and The Humane Society of the United States are "crashing" Papa John's and Domino's shareholder meetings, respectively.
Representatives from both groups claimed they want to start a rational dialog with the pizza companies about their food supply.
The Humane Society of The United States' Kristine Middleton said she would address what she said is the pizza company's practice of using pork from suppliers that confine breeding pigs in gestation crates.
"They are kept in these crates for their entire four-month pregnancy, placed into another crate to give birth, then put back into the gestation crates after pregnancy, until they are slaughtered," her statement for the meeting read.
Domino's spokesperson Tim McIntyre said the company is willing to listen to the group and talk to its own suppliers, but that the pizza company is not involved in the actual raising or transportation of the pork.
"It's good business to care about the quality of everything you use, and the treatment of animals that go into your products," he said. "We'll share the perspective with our suppliers because we don't own animals, we don't raise them. We buy product like everyone else does, we're one step removed from the grocery store."
Stephanie Corrigan from PETA said the group would like to work with Papa John's on the company's dairy standards. "We're looking at the dairy farms they're using and encourage pizza companies to make sure their suppliers implement the most basic animal welfare standards," she said.
A spokesperson from the National Restaurant Association declined to comment on whether such tactics could make the restaurant industry more responsible in their sourcing practices.
Question of credibility
The animal advocates groups' queries could resonate with the increased scrutiny of food manufacturing processes. Documentaries like Food, Inc., have shown how animal overcrowding and some slaughter practices make for sub-par food.
But some question whether the activist groups' tactics throw their credibility into question.
PETA's extreme practices are well-documented. They garnered extra press last August for distributing "Unhappy Meals" to children outside of a dozen or so McDonald's restaurants. The blood-stained meals included a sharp-toothed, knife-wielding version of Ronald McDonald and pictures of cut up chickens, among other things.
And there's a questionable continuum between PETA and HSUS. Matthew Prescott was head of corporate affairs at PETA before he joined HSUS as corporate outreach director for its Factory Farming Campaign in April 2009.
HumaneWatch.org blogger David Martosko said Prescott helped spearhead shareholder meeting interventions at PETA, and is now trying to gain more traction with the tactic under The Humane Society's less volatile reputation. "Peta has been doing this for years," he said. "They never got more than about 3 percent of support from any shareholders."
Martosko also is involved with the Center for Consumer Freedom, a self-described nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility. Some advocacy groups counter that The Center for Consumer Freedom is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries.
Martosko himself maintains that groups like HSUS want nothing less than for America to eliminate animal products from its diet entirely. A recent post on his site unearthed an old HSUS mission statement that disregarded any moral distinctions between the treatment of animals and humans.
So why haven't we heard of The Humane Society's so-called vegan agenda? Some believe people confound that organization with others that sound like it. For example, the unafilliated American Humane Association has advocacy groups for both animals and children, and provides training services to animal shelters. But unlike HSUS, it has no dietary agenda.
Humane Association spokesperson Heather Black agrees that people get the agencies confused frequently, but doesn't believe that was the intention of HSUS.
But regardless of accusations from both sides, what matters most to the pizza industry is whether the animal rights groups' tactics resonate with consumers.
"Usually their proposals will resonate with consumers until they realize it will raise the cost of pizza," said Martosko. "Most vote with their pocketbook."