A Washington, D.C.-based pro-consumer group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service alleging the Humane Society of the United States has used charitable donations to benefit Whole Foods Market and its CEO, John Mackey, who serves on the HSUS board of directors.
The 14-page complaint from the Center for Consumer Freedom — which is largely funded by restaurant and food companies — targets HSUS’s promotion of the Global Animal Partnership, a tax-exempt organization founded by Whole Foods in 2005 that certifies meat products sold by Whole Foods satisfy animal-welfare standards.
CCF alleges the Humane Society has promoted GAP standards and used charitable funds to threaten brand attacks against companies that don’t adhere to GAP standards.
The complaint also points out that Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle is a GAP board member, Mackey was a GAP board member until 2014, a former HSUS executive ran GAP for many years and GAP is currently run by a Whole Foods employee.
The Whole Foods website lists Anne Malleau as its GAP and welfare coordinator. GAP’s website lists her as its executive director and Whole Foods President A.C. Gallo as a GAP board member.
GAP’s IRS form 990 for 2014, the most recent available, shows an income of $328,007 with $300,000 contributed by Whole Foods and $25,000 by HSUS. GAP’s only listed address is a postal box at a UPS Store in Austin, Texas, the city where Whole Foods is based.
Numerous calls and emails to Whole Foods and GAP have not been returned, but HSUS, in response to Capital Press requests for comment, provided the following statement from its CEO, Michael Markarian: “The entire food-retail sector is embracing cage-free and crate-free farming practices, so it’s hardly just Whole Foods. This letter is a wheeze from the front group for factory farms who are paid to fight progress for animal welfare.”
In the complaint, Will Coggin, CCF research director, alleged HSUS, coordinating with several other animal activist groups, is threatening attacks on food companies unless they agree to buy GAP-certified chicken.
The animal activist groups are “bullying” companies into pledging to use only GAP-certified chicken by threatening them with a negative publicity campaign claiming the companies support animal cruelty, he said.
“It definitely looks like that campaign is going to benefit the business interests of Whole Foods,” Coggin said.
The complaint alleges “HSUS uses tax-exempt funds to benefit the private interests of Whole Foods by attempting to intimidate Whole Foods’ competitors into adopting stringent and costly GAP standards.”
Mackey, the Whole Foods CEO, is an HSUS board member, and charities are not supposed to engage in activities that benefit the private interest of a board member, Coggin said.
“This stands to increase Whole Foods’ business (in part through promotion of GAP products, presently available nearly exclusively at Whole Foods) and harm its competitors’ business (by cajoling them into buying higher-cost GAP products),” according to the complaint.
CFF is requesting the IRS to investigate the use of charitable funds, revoke GAP’s tax exemption and assess any applicable taxes and penalties on HSUS and Whole Foods.
“The IRS can certainly crack down on what’s going on here. We’re hoping they take an appropriate action that dissuades this type of activity in the future,” Coggin said.
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