SEC Rules Bob Evans’ Proxy Must Include Animal Cruelty Resolution

The SEC ruled that Bob Evans must allow shareholders to vote on whether to phase in eggs from cage-free hens

By Kristie Middleton

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ruled last week against Columbus, Ohio-based restaurant chain Bob Evans, requiring the company to allow shareholders to vote on a proposal submitted by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The HSUS’ proposal encourages Bob Evans to begin phasing in cage-free eggs and will be printed in the company’s 2011 proxy materials. Bob Evans petitioned the SEC for permission to block the proposal from being voted on at its shareholder meeting this fall. The animal protection organization challenged the proposed exclusion, and the SEC ruled in the organization’s favor.

Animal welfare has become a prominent corporate social responsibility issue in recent years, with companies focusing on the issue in their CSR reports and through their PR channels. So much so that industry trends analyst Phil Lempert, “The Supermarket Guru,” wrote in his predictions for 2011:

Move over local. Move over organic. Humane is stepping in.

Many of Bob Evans’ major competitors, including Denny’s, Golden Corral, Cracker Barrel, IHOP, and Ruby Tuesday have recognized the growing consumer demand for the humane treatment of animals and have started to use some cage-free eggs.

Why all the flap about eggs?

American egg factories cram some 280 million egg-laying hens into cages so small the birds can’t even spread their wings. Each hen has less space than a sheet of paper on which to spend her entire life. Virtually unable to move, these animals can’t engage in many of their important natural behaviors.

Anyone who has ever spent time around chickens can attest that these animals are highly active and inquisitive. In a more natural setting, they spend half of their active time pecking the ground, searching for seeds and insects. Given the chance, they perch—an activity that has carried down from their ancestors, the red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia who would perch high up in trees at night to keep safe from predators. Perhaps most important to a hen is to lay her eggs in a nesting area. She will seek out a private, secluded spot, dig a shallow hole, and lay her eggs where she can safely raise her young.

The science overwhelmingly demonstrates that confined in cages for their 12-18 month lives, hens’ existences are filled with suffering and that allowing them to live free from cages results in far better welfare. A joint study by The Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health—and which included a former USDA Secretary—concluded that battery cages should be phased out.

Unlike their caged counterparts, cage-free hens are able to dustbathe, walk, flap their wings, and lay their eggs in private nesting areas.

Supporting animal welfare initiatives makes good business sense

Consumers want the companies they patronize to support good animal welfare practices. The issue is so prominent that Citigroup wrote in a restaurant industry focus that “concerns over animal cruelty” present a “headline risk” to restaurant companies. In 2008 California voters overwhelmingly voted to ban the cage production of eggs in that state. In 2009, the Michigan legislature passed a similar law.

Many of the largest food companies take animal welfare so seriously that they are actively working in earnest to improve conditions in their supply chains. Bob Evans’ unsuccessful petition for SEC permission to exclude The HSUS’ shareholder proposal from being voted on indicates that it is lagging behind.

Kristie Middleton is the Manager of Corporate Policy and Supply Chain Strategy for Farm Animal Protection at The Humane Society of the United States. Follow her on Twitter.

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5 responses

  1. What about the health of human beings. Studies show that free roaming chicken eggs carry more samonella and toxic chemicals such as PCBs and dioxin from eating off the ground. Stress levels are higher in free roaming chickens which was why agricultural colleges recommended caged chickens was to reduce human exposure to diseases and cancer causing toxins. So what about human health?

  2. 7 Things You Didn’t Know About HSUS
    (The Humane Society of the United States)

    1. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a “humane society” in name only, since it doesn’t operate a single pet shelter or pet adoption facility anywhere in the United States. HSUS operates sanctuaries for large animals only, not shelters within the commonly accepted definition of shelter. During 2006, HSUS contributed only 4.2 percent of its budget to organizations that operate hands-on dog and cat shelters. In reality, HSUS is a wealthy animal-rights lobbying organization (the largest and richest on earth) that agitates for the same goals as PETA and other radical groups.

    2. Beginning on the day of NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s2007 dog fighting indictment, HSUS raised money online with the false promise that it would “care for the dogs seized in the Michael Vick case.” The New York Times later reported that HSUS wasn’t caring for Vick’s dogs at all. And HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told the Times that his group recommended that government officials “put down” (that is, kill) the dogs rather than adopt them out to suitable homes. HSUS later quietly altered its Internet fundraising pitch.

    3. HSUS’s senior management includes a former spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a criminal group designated as “terrorists” by the FBI. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle hired John “J.P.” Goodwin in 1997, the same year Goodwin described himself as “spokesperson for the ALF” while he fielded media calls in the wake of an ALF arson attack at a California veal processing plant. In 1997, when asked by reporters for a reaction to an ALF arson fire at a farmer’s feed co-op in Utah (which nearly killed a family sleeping on the premises), Goodwin replied, “We’re ecstatic.” That same year, Goodwin was arrested at a UC Davis protest celebrating the 10-year anniversary of an ALF arson at the university that caused $5 million in damage. And in 1998, Goodwin described himself publicly as a “former member of ALF.”

    4.HSUS raised a reported $34 million in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, supposedly to help reunite lost pets with their owners. But comparatively little of that money was spent for its intended purpose. Louisiana’s Attorney General shuttered his 18-month-long investigation into where most of these millions went, shortly after HSUS announced its plan to contribute $600,000 toward the construction of an animal shelter on the grounds of a state prison. Public disclosures of the disposition of the $34 million in Katrina-related donations add up to less than $7 million.

    5. After gathering undercover video footage of improper animal handling at a Chino, CA slaughterhouse during November of 2007, HSUS sat on its video evidence for three months, even refusing to share it with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. HSUS’s Dr. Michael Greger testified before Congress that the San Bernardino County (CA) District Attorney’s office asked the group “to hold on to the information while they completed their investigation.” But the District Attorney’s office quickly denied that account, even declaring that HSUS refused to make its undercover spy available to investigators if the USDA were present at those meetings. Ultimately, HSUS chose to release its video footage at a more politically opportune time, as it prepared to launch a livestock-related ballot campaign in California. Meanwhile, meat from the slaughterhouse continued to flow into the U.S. food supply for months.

    6. According to a 2008 Los Angeles Times investigation, less than 12 percent of money raised for HSUS by California telemarketers actually ends up in HSUS’s bank account. The rest is kept by professional fundraisers. And if you exclude two campaigns run for HSUS by the “Build-a-Bear Workshop” retail chain, which consisted of the sale of surplus stuffed animals (not really “fundraising”), HSUS’s yield number shrinks to just 3 percent. Sadly, this appears typical. In 2004, HSUS ran a telemarketing campaign in Connecticut with fundraisers who promised to return a minimum of zero percent of the proceeds. The campaign raised over $1.4 million. Not only did absolutely none of that money go to HSUS, but the group paid $175,000 for the telemarketing work.

    7. Research shows that HSUS’s heavily promoted U.S. “boycott” of Canadian seafood—announced in 2005 as a protest against Canada’s annual seal hunt—is a phony exercise in media manipulation. A 2006 investigation found that 78 percent of the restaurants and seafood distributors described by HSUS as “boycotters” weren’t participating at all. Nearly two-thirds of them told surveyors they were completely unaware HSUS was using their names in connection with an international boycott campaign. Canada’s federal government is on record about this deception, saying: “Some animal rights groups have been misleading the public for years … it’s no surprise at all that the richest of them would mislead the public with a phony seafood boycott.”

    Want evidence? Visit
    Revised October 2008. Complete sources and documentation available upon request.

    1. The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), while organized as a 501(c) (3) charity, is a flack agency and industry front group for tobacco, alcohol, and agribusiness interests. The group’s stock-in-trade involves taking aim at organizations that promote food safety, public health, or animal welfare. It started with a $600,000 grant from tobacco giant Philip Morris. CCF has even attacked the National Cancer Institute, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their anti-drunk driving and public health campaigns.

      CCF has been condemned by the editorial boards of USA Today and the Washington Post for misleading the public. ABC News has also exposed the organization as a front group. CCF is now circulating a document called “7 Things You Didn’t Know About HSUS,” which is chock full of falsehoods and distortions. Read more here:

  3. Hi Vet Barnes, Thanks for the comment. Ample science also demonstrates that cage-free egg production results in cleaner, safer eggs. Every scientific study published comparing Salmonella rates in cage and cage-free operations in the last five years (16 out of 16 studies) found increased Salmonella rates in cage operations. You can read a white paper on food safety in battery cage egg confinement operations here:

    For these reasons, food safety organizations like The Center for Food Safety, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Consumer Federation of America have all supported bans on the cage production of eggs.

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