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Considering our current political climate, it was bound to happen: an animal rights activist has ended up on the FBI’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.” Having the government refer to animal activists as “terrorists” is nothing new, but Daniel San Diego is the first such activist to be named one of the FBI’s 24 most-hunted terrorist suspects.
Daniel is sought for allegedly bombing Chiron and Shaklee offices in Emeryville and Pleasanton, Calif., in 2003. The FBI says Daniel targeted the two companies because of their ties to Huntingdon Life Sciences, the British-based research firm that performs laboratory tests on animals. The blasts caused damage to the buildings, though no one was hurt.
The FBI’s list also features a variety of fugitives mostly wanted for murder or mass murder, including Osama Bin Laden. Daniel, it should be noted, is the only “domestic terrorist” on the list and probably the only one who hasn’t harmed anyone.
I am not defending the use of bombs as a means of advancing the interests of animals. Although I believe the relatively few animal activists who engage in property destruction have deliberately avoided inflicting bodily injury, they’ve been as lucky as they’ve been careful. Frankly, it’s only a matter of time before a fire or explosive device does indeed harm someone, and then the animal-rights movement will have a genuine shit storm on its hands.
What is troubling is that the US has plenty of home-grown criminals perpetrating truly lethal, terrorist-type acts, yet the FBI lists a man who has killed no one alongside members of al-Qaeda. Anti-abortion violence, for example, has killed at least seven people in the US in recent years and resulted in millions of dollars worth of property damage through arson, bombings and vandalism. Many of these cases remain unsolved. And then there’s Bruce Ivins, who allegedly sent weaponized anthrax through the mail — along with letters that declared “Death to America” — killing five people and injuring seventeen more in 2001. He even sent anthrax spores to members of Congress. With all the resources the FBI used looking for the perpetrator of these crimes, which surely fit the description of terrorism, you’d think the bureau itself would have referred to the anthrax suspect as a “terrorist.”
Perhaps if Ivins had been an animal activist, they might have. Or even vegan. In its description of Daniel San Diego, the FBI repeatedly emphasizes that he is “a strict vegan,” apparently in an attempt to marginalize people who avoid exploiting animals. Indeed, veganism has become fertile ground for law enforcement, with FBI agents infiltrating vegan potlucks in the hope of catching terrorists between recipe-swapping and courses of seitan and dairy-free ice cream. Welcome to the post-Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act world, where police even spy on peaceful protest groups.
Incidentally, it’s not just law-abiding vegans and animal activists who should be worried about the government’s disturbing policy of classifying non-violent acts as terrorism. Earlier this month the US Department of Homeland Security declassified a report suggesting that pretty much anyone who voices criticism of the government could be labeled a terrorist.
Remember, US activists: you have a Constitutional right to protest and to voice your objection to animal cruelty. And everyone has the right to be vegan.
Vivisectionists are looking over their shoulders a little more. University police are double-checking locks. Research labs are reviewing security measures. Yes, World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week is almost here. From April 18th to the 26th animal activists across the US, France, Ireland, Israel, South Africa, the UK and elsewhere will be staging protests and media events to raise awareness about the millions of animals who suffer and die in laboratories every year around the world. These animals are subjected to caustic chemicals, addictive drugs, electric shock, ionizing radiation, chemical and biological weapons, deprivation of food and water, psychological torture and many other atrocities, all in the name of “science.”
According to Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week dates back to the early ‘80s when a number of coordinated protests took place at US primate centers, including those at Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Davis. “It has grown from being observed on a single day, April 24th, to an entire week to allow more people to participate,” says Michael, who, after earning a degree in animal health technology from the University of Cincinnati, found himself working inside a laboratory. “That’s what woke me up to the issue,” he says. “Basically, animal health technicians do one of two things: they work for veterinarians in private practice or they work in research laboratories.” After engaging in lab work, such as oral dosing procedures that are part of the infamous LD50 tests, Michael quit to become an advocate for animals. “If that doesn’t make you an activist, nothing will.”
Michael told me about a report that details the duplication of animal experimentation within the National Eye Institute. “According to the information we’ve gathered over the last year, NEI is currently funding primate experimentation at 26 laboratories in 15 states involving 53 grants, which utilizes roughly $100 million over five years. But the bottom line is they are funding the same paradigm — the same experimental procedures ― over and over and over again. Even if someone had doubts about the validity of animal research or felt there might be some value in it, why do we need to be doing the same thing at least 53 times simultaneously?”
Getting involved in World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week can be as simple as spreading the word. Here are five things you can do:
1. Educate yourself. Learn the facts behind animal experimentation by reading the articles and fact sheets on the SAEN site. Check out resources on other sites, such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Americans for Medical Advancement. You can also read books such as Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, which gives readers an inside look at the research industry and its use of animals.
2. Educate others. Talk to friends and family about what is going on behind the closed doors of research labs. Add an auto-signature to your email with a link to SAEN. Post information on social-networking sites. Forward this post others.
3. Participate in a World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week event ― or plan one of your own. The goal of WLALW is to raise awareness about the horrors of animal experimentation. It’s important that the public understand the toll in terms of animal suffering, wasted tax dollars and the danger to human health. SAEN will be happy to help you.
4. Send letters to elected officials. SAEN is asking people to contact their senators and representatives to request a General Accounting Office audit of the National Eye Institute around the duplication of research projects. If you live in the US, you can find contact information for your elected officials here.
5. Support World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week financially. Working with local activists to support protests, news conferences and tabling is costly. SAEN provides all support to local groups and activists free of charge. Their communication costs, travel costs (to work directly with local groups) and materials costs are covered by donations from people like you. Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law. Please send all donations to:
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
PMB 280 1081-B State Route 28
Milford, Ohio 45150
Remember: animals suffer in labs around the world 365 days a year. Anything you can do to help is appreciated.
Paul Shapiro may not be your typical activist ― he’s been working full time for animals since he was in college, and he even founded Compassion Over Killing while still in high school. But his positive attitude is fairly typical of those employed by the Humane Society of the United States, where Paul is now senior director of the Factory Farming campaign. “Not only do you get to interact with other animal advocates all day long, but it enables you to lead a very meaningful life in that you can devote your talents and resources full-time to reducing animal suffering,” Paul says about his work with HSUS.
Paul’s upbeat outlook got me wondering: how satisfied are other animal activists ― both those working inside nonprofits and those doing outreach on their own? To take a collective pulse, I recently asked animal advocates around the world to give me their thoughts on engaging in individual activism versus working for an organization.
Both approaches have their pros and cons, though from the feedback I received, activists working for organizations seem to be more stressed than advocates working on their own. On the other hand, full-time employees of nonprofits had generally higher levels of satisfaction; they feel a greater sense of accomplishment for animals than activists who engage in part-time, individual activism. I should emphasize that this was an informal survey, and I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t plenty of advocates happily leafleting every weekend or engaging in other forms of activism in their spare time. But it does appear these weekend warriors don’t enjoy the support that nonprofit employees do, and that impacts their satisfaction level. As Niranjan Amarnath of PETA-India puts it: “Working for an organization is better than solo activism because there are more chances for bringing change than working all alone.”
That’s not to say the picture with animal-rights organizations is all rosy. Most of the complaints I heard were from activists working for an organization (or who used to), and many of these people asked to remain anonymous. One US activist, for example, cited low salary, a lack of benefits, long hours and a difficult workload as some of the drawbacks to working for a group. In contrast, Erin Williams of HSUS says she’s “incredibly satisfied and grateful to be part of a movement making positive changes for animals. The sense of camaraderie is so rewarding — of being able to work alongside amazing people who share the same passion and work toward the same goal of protecting animals.”
Let’s take Erin’s lead and begin with the positives.
“I’ve worked with and for lots of the big groups, and smaller groups too,” says Sarah Baeckler, executive director of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. “I think banding together is the way to go to get the message out. I work for a group that I had the pleasure of helping to shape early on and now direct with two partners. It’s very rewarding to have a say in the direction of our activism.” Sarah says she is very satisfied that her efforts are benefiting animals. “Seeing our chimps play and laugh every day is the best thanks. We touch a lot of hearts just by letting people know our seven individual chimps, and they ― the chimps ― are great ambassadors for others who don’t get a voice.”
Down under, Wendy Parsons is especially proud of the work her group, Animals Australia, is doing on behalf of rabbits and animals used in rodeos. “Legally enforceable standards are increasing in Australia in regard to rodeos, and some sponsors have pulled out as a direct consequence of work I ― and others ― have done,” she says. “The rodeo industry’s reputation has suffered a considerable blow within the last few years, and that makes me happy. I distribute a booklet on rabbit care and maintain a website, which, from feedback I get from rabbit owners, is improving the way they keep their rabbits. This makes me happy.” Wendy also notes that a number of fur retailers are no longer selling fur after she contacted them. “This is not affecting the trade itself, but it is affecting the popularity of fur. This is satisfying.”
Sirma Oya Tekvar, with the HAYTAP Animal Rights Federation in Ankara, Turkey, enjoys having many activists under one roof. “Being a member or volunteer of a group brings much more efficiency and enthusiasm for reaching your ideals. United we stand and united we are stronger,” she says.
Germany’s über-activist Mahi Klosterhalfen has been taking on the egg industry in Europe as the vice president of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation and the German Food Business Rep for Compassion in World Farming. “‘Overwhelmed’ would be the best word to describe my level of satisfaction,” he says, adding that working for an organization (or two) means “the chances that my message will be heard when I reach out to companies drastically increases.”
Back in the states, four additional advocates have found that working for, or even starting, an organization is the most rewarding way to speak up for animals. “I’m very satisfied and always looking for new ways to contribute,” says Veda Stram of All-Creatures.org. “Having the credibility of an established organization is wonderful to work with and contribute to.” Veda regards the ability to reach more people as one of the main benefits of working for a group.
“For as long as I’ve been an activist, I have been involved in group efforts on behalf of animals and found it some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done,” adds Jenna Calabrese, who founded the L.O.V.E. Collective last year. “The saying ‘two heads are better than one’ definitely applies when it comes to activism, and I’ve always appreciated the contributions and criticism from fellow animal advocates.”
Gil Schwartz was a volunteer with Compassionate Action for Animals (CAA) for five years before being hired as their director of volunteer programs. “Working for an animal advocacy group as a volunteer coordinator changed my involvement and perspectives from when I was just volunteering,” says Gil. “I now engage in recruitment, interviews, orientation meetings and provide guidance and resources for volunteers running the group. Due to the small staff at CAA ― myself and one half-time development/fundraising coordinator ― we place great emphasis on delegation of responsibilities that other nonprofit advocacy organizations often pay staff to do, such as accounting, graphic design, media work and outreach. Being a paid staff versus a volunteer means higher accountability and reliability on my part, as well as good people skills ― including people you may not otherwise want to work with ― and knowledge of all aspects of the group.”
Over at HSUS, Josh Balk says he’s never been happier. “I work alongside my best friends and my heroes. More importantly, I feel like I’m making a tangible difference for animals.” For Josh, that difference is made tangible because his work is backed by a large nonprofit. “It’s tremendously beneficial to have the power of HSUS in campaigns to help farm animals,” he says. “We’ve made history in banning battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates in many states, changed the purchasing policies in major American food companies and added vegan items to menus and grocery stores across the country.”
Mark Middleton, creator of the Virtual Battery Cage, is typical of activists not working for an organization. “I’m somewhat satisfied, in that I know a few things that I’ve done have benefited animals in some way, but it’s hard to be satisfied when you don’t really know how much your efforts have helped animals and don’t see the effects of it yourself,” he says.
Tim Martin, whose activism centers around letter- and article-writing, agrees. “I hope my writings are opening some minds, although I’ll never know how much and realize it can never be enough,” Tim says.
Though there aren’t many letter-writers as prolific as Tim, a growing number of advocates are relying on their writing to become active for animals. This is nurtured by organizations such as Animal Liberation Victoria, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy For Animals and PETA, which offer writers groups that assist solo activists. Dian Hardy is a longtime activist who has moved away from leafleting and demos to the written word. “Writing allows me to put my theories to the test,” Dian muses. “What is it at bottom that is the cause for my activism? I say it’s my burning thirst to see justice done, but is it only that? When I look into my past I see the beginnings of that thirst. That thirst fires my imagination and when there’s combustion, I’m satisfied and can rest for a while.”
“Getting letters published on behalf of animals is very rewarding,” says Patti Breitman, another name you’re likely to see on the Letters page of newspapers across the US. Although Patti founded a small organization, Marin Vegetarian Education Group, in 1991, most of her activism is writing; indeed, she recently co-authored the excellent How to Eat Like a Vegetarian, Even If You Never Want to Be One with Carol J. Adams.
I agree with Patti that getting letters published ― or articles, opinion pieces or books ― in support of animals is very satisfying. But I also really enjoy the one-on-one aspect of activism, such as when I leaflet at a college or bring a vegan dish to work. I believe this face time is crucial to helping solo activists stay engaged, in part because feedback is immediate. I also encourage activists to volunteer at farmed animal sanctuaries; there is no substitute for working directly to help animals.
Activist Erik Marcus estimates he’s written 60,000 book- or web-published words in the last year (his latest book, The Ultimate Vegan Guide, was published in November). “I’m fairly satisfied that I’m making a difference,” he says. “But I think often in life you hit a threshold and suddenly make 10 times the difference you’ve made previously. I expect to hit one of those thresholds soon.” Erik blogs regularly at Vegan.com, and he features some of activism’s most interesting voices on his VegTalk podcast. “I write my blog mainly because I’m obsessed with vegan and animal protection topics,” he says. “And I think animal-friendly people who aren’t obsessed with these topics can benefit by spending a few minutes each day reading my blog.” As for his podcast, Erik says he often chats by phone with people in the movement who are doing big things. “So why not record these calls so that a few hundred more people can listen in?”
Long hours, frustration
Many people working for groups have discovered that it can have its downsides, and activists were not shy about sharing their complaints with me. “I am very dissatisfied and have regrets for helping an organization that diverts tens of thousands of dollars of donation money to pay off former employees who threaten to sue for EDD violations and to pay attorneys to sue other organizations or other nonsensical lawsuits that go nowhere and general wastefulness,” says one former employee of a US-based group. “Very little actually goes toward benefiting animals.”
One woman who puts in more than 40 hours a week volunteering for three separate animal groups, in addition to being employed part time for yet another, clearly has a lot on her plate. “Honestly, I am frustrated, often, with the amount of work that I have to do and how little it seems to matter,” she says. “It seems, very often, that I’m doing everything I can, and that none of it matters even a single bit.” (I think this illustrates the danger of tackling too much at one time.) “It’s just frustrating all around,” she continues. “There are either too few people doing too much work, or the people who are doing the work are constantly fighting. As you know, the level of contention in the animal movement is just terrible, and it wears on you after a while. And of course the feeling that nothing you do ever actually matters.”
Some negative aspects of nonprofit work simply cannot be avoided. “While euthanizing older or sick animals is always tragic, it is the animals we cannot save who weigh heavily on my mind,” says Marji Beach, who’s been with Animal Place, a sanctuary for farmed animals in California, for five years. “When we pull birds from a battery cage on an egg-laying farm, I cry for the 300 million hens languishing inside cages in buildings across the country. When we save a pig from a cruel situation, it’s the millions of sows in gestation crates, the millions of intelligent, social piglets in concrete pens, who my heart aches for. For every animal we save, there are billions whose only escape is a frightening, bloody room. That’s almost as hard as trying to get past the defensive roadblocks people put up in regard to how their dietary choice is causing harm and suffering.”
An activist in Australia notes that long hours, reviewing cruelty evidence and apathetic people are some of the drawbacks when working for a group. “Sometimes there can be a culture where people are not looked after, especially in volunteer organizations,” he says. “Both the volunteers can be unappreciated and the paid workers can often have to live up to unreasonable expectations. Dealing with cruelty cases in isolation can be very taxing.”
Meanwhile, a paid campaign worker in the UK expressed her frustration with management, “who seem out of touch with normal people and therefore can take some campaigns in the wrong direction.”
To put these comments into some context, it’s important to remember that no organization, whether it’s a small nonprofit or a large corporation, is perfect. Organizations are run by people, each influenced by their own idiosynchrocies. Of course, it is troubling and sad when anyone lets his or her personal agenda conflict with the needs and rights of animals ― human and nonhuman alike. (One activist told me of another advocate who organized a protest against an animal-rights group because their veg event was not vegan. I can’t help thinking the protesters’ time would have been better spent leafleting somewhere.)
“I actually find that there are a lot of downsides anytime you try to work with a wide variety of people,” says lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project. “Sometimes responsibilities fall through the cracks; people have different ideas on how things should be done.”
Activists are animals too
Is it not surprising that being employed by an animal advocacy group is loaded with trade-offs: great support coupled with management and personnel issues (notwithstanding the happy folks at HSUS). But doing animal activism on your own has its share of challenges, too. The trick to a lifetime of rewarding work in animal advocacy, I think, is negotiating the delicate balance between doing what your ethics dictate and not taking on too much at once. I hear from activists who are so overloaded with commitments that they actually get very little done ― or at least they feel unfulfilled. Yet as activists we’re faced with a social injustice so blatantly reprehensible that our conscience demands we do everything we can to rectify it; unfortunately, in doing so we run the risk of depression and burnout.
Jane Easton, for example, is an activist in the UK who juggles her time between individual advocacy and working for two groups. In addition to being the food and cookery coordinator for the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation and Viva! in the UK, Jane engages in solo activism. Her biggest hurdle will come as no surprise: “Time! I’m fortunate that I have access to resources, technology, expertise and so forth to help me with the vollie [volunteer] work,” says Jane. “But I also have a relationship and friends, so I try not to get burned out.”
Clearly, everyone must find their own approach to activism, and we don’t all have to devote 50 or more hours a week to feel we’re making a difference. But whether you work for a nonprofit, are out there doing activism on your own, or both, please be sure your time and efforts are actually benefiting animals. Erik Marcus recalls a few months 15 years ago when he interned for a veggie organization. “It was frustrating to me because I didn’t feel the group was effective,” he says. “And if your group isn’t effective, you’re wasting your time.”
If only we could all be as happy ― and effective ― as Paul Shapiro.
As documentaries such as Meet Your Meat and Earthlings illustrate, there’s nothing quite as jarring as seeing animal cruelty with your own eyes. Because few people are able to venture inside a battery egg farm, slaughterhouse or other animal factory (nor, frankly, would most people want to), activists are using hidden cameras as a tool to confront consumers with the suffering animals endure behind closed doors. These videos could also lead to animal-cruelty charges against those perpetrating abuse.
The latest example of this is Mercy For Animals’ investigation into Quality Egg of New England. From December 16, 2008, to February 1, 2009, an MFA investigator worked undercover at Quality Egg in Maine documenting such abuses as management and workers callously kicking live hens into manure pits, where they either drowned in liquid feces or likely died slow and painful deaths from illness, injury or starvation; employees killing birds by grabbing their necks and swinging them around in circles; and hens suffering from broken bones, bloody open wounds and untreated infections.
MFA turned their video over to authorities, and yesterday policed raided Quality Egg, spending eight hours gathering additional evidence. Eggs from Quality Egg, one of the largest producers of brown eggs in the United States, are sold primarily under the label of “Eggland’s Best” and are distributed in Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Wal-Mart, Hannaford and other stores.
I caught up with Nathan Runkle, Mercy For Animals’ executive director, as he was changing flights today, and we chatted about this new investigation and what it takes to be an undercover investigator.
First of all, Nathan, can you describe what your investigator found?
The birds at Quality Egg are kept in battery cages that are stacked three tiers high. Each cage, as you know, is the size of a file-cabinet drawer. At this facility, they confine four to six birds per cage, so each bird has less space than a notebook-size piece of paper on which to live. We found birds suffering from broken bones, uterine prolapse, untreated infections. There were birds who were trapped under the wires of their cages, many of them left to die of starvation or dehydration; dead birds left to rot and decompose with birds still producing eggs for human consumption. Our investigator documented 49 separate incidents of live birds being thrown away into trash cans and left to suffer there, sometimes for three days. He also witnessed employees dumping dead birds on top of live birds in trash cans so that these birds were left buried, sometimes two feet under the bodies of dead birds, to suffocate or to be crushed by the corpses.
Did the investigator tell management at the egg facility about the abuse?
Yes, he brought this to the attention of other workers and supervisors, including Jay DeCoster, the son of Jack DeCoster, who is infamous for violating environmental laws, workers’ safety laws, not only in the state of Maine but in Iowa and Ohio, where he has facilities. Whenever our investigator brought this to the attention of upper management and other employees, they told him it was not a big deal and that he should just leave the birds there. They showed a callous attitude and complete disregard for even the most basic animal care.
The investigator also documented numerous cases of employees ripping birds out of their cages, holding them by their necks and swinging them around in circles, tossing them into shed aisles and then kicking them into manure pits while the birds were still flapping, struggling and clearly alive. He found cages with large holes in the flooring, most of these cages still confining live birds. There was sharp wire protruding into the cages with the majority of floor missing, which puts the birds at risk of either getting impaled by the wire, falling into the manure pits or having difficulty accessing food in the front of the cages. He also witnessed a large hole in one of the ceilings for the entire six weeks that he worked there, even though it was in the dead of winter and exposed a lot of the birds to extreme temperatures. Again, this was something he brought to the attention of management, and they failed to take any action.
Why is it necessary for an investigator to work at a facility for six weeks to collect evidence? Is that a long time?
We don’t consider six weeks to be a long time. When we handed our footage over to some of the news stations, they asked, “How long did the investigator work there?” and we told them six weeks, and they were like, “Really? That’s it? We would have thought he’d have to work there for a year to get all this evidence.” So this is really just a snapshot of what’s taking place there. It just scratches the surface of the abuse against these animals. But for these places, it’s important for us to show that this abuse is systemic and widespread, and it’s important to document numerous conditions because the industry always tries to say a plant is a bad apple, an isolated case or say it’s just a few employees, when the truth is much of this abuse is inherent in factory farm systems and it runs rampant and largely unchecked. So for us, it was important to show a pattern of disregard and cruelty.
Bob Leclerc, the safety and compliance manager at Quality Egg, said what was in the video is not general or acceptable practice. Yet it seems every time MFA goes into an egg farm we see this kind of cruelty.
Exactly. Egg producers know that the public does not accept these conditions. We know that they are standard practices within the egg industry and that these abuses take place across the country at egg factory farms. This is the seventh undercover investigation at an egg farm that Mercy For Animals has conducted, and every single time that we enter these facilities we find a laundry list of horrific abuses to animals. The best that the egg industry can do once they’re caught red-handed on video abusing animals is to try to isolate the abuse and distance themselves from it as much as possible. We see this time and again with investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses. They try to say they had no idea this abuse was taking place, which is usually a bold-faced lie, as is documented in our investigation; as I said, our investigator brought it to the attention of supervisors time and again. So we know they were aware of this.
When the public is watching, the egg farm’s strategy is to try to paint it as a picture of a few bad employees. But in reality, most of the abuse that the employees are engaged in is the way in which they were instructed to handle or kill birds. I don’t believe this is a case of sadistic abuse; I believe this is how most of those employees were trained to kill birds.
You mean swinging hens around by their necks?
This is a common technique used to kill birds who are potentially injured or were trapped in their cages. The employees are attempting to use cervical dislocation, but this is certainly not an appropriate way of doing that. Investigators in our last three investigations have been told that is the way to kill birds. This is what’s taught.
What are the qualities you look for in an investigator?
Well, they have to be someone that can be a chameleon and blend in with their environment. They need to have nerves of steel, be quick-thinking and have a sense of adventure. Most of all, they need to be willing to give up their personal comfort and many of the luxuries of safety and being around like-minded people. They need to be willing to submerge themselves into cultures of cruelty and be around people who simply don’t care about animals the same way they do and be able to stomach it while documenting the conditions and understand that that’s what’s needed to ultimately expose and end the cruelty.
People have a false notion that being an undercover investigator is somehow glamorous, and that is certainly not the case. It’s very depressing work. You have to witness egregious cruelty on a daily basis. It’s very isolating. Our investigators are working in facilities that are located in very rural areas and they’re not able to have the same sort of friendships and support system that most activists have because they have to work undercover in secluded areas for extended periods of time.
How much contact do they have with you while they’re working undercover?
Our investigators check in and give us daily reports on what’s taking place, which allows us to make judgments on how much longer the investigation needs to continue and what evidence has been gathered.
How do you decide when you have enough evidence in a particular case?
The goal is to document enough instances of abuse to show there is a pattern. For example, in this case, we documented 49 different live birds being thrown into trash cans. This happened 70 percent of the time he was there, so seven out of 10 days live birds were being thrown away. Our investigator documented 150 cases of birds trapped in the wire of their cages without access to food or water. Certainly, if he had stayed there longer, he would have documented 300 instances of that. There are sometimes key points of information we need to obtain, such as what the corporate structure is or who the suppliers are, and sometimes it takes time to get that information.
How can activists and consumers help?
The very best thing that anyone can do to stop this abuse is to eliminate eggs from their diet. Behind the abuse of animals in agriculture is consumer demand for the product, and we can choose kindness over cruelty every time that we eat.
We’ll certainly keep people posted on this case. If it gets to the point where we’re calling on people to contact the district attorney or contact some of these grocery chains to take action, activists can get involved that way, but right now we are optimistic that cruelty charges will be filed. The Maine Department of Agriculture has been extremely proactive and receptive to this ever since we brought it to their attention ― gaining the warrant, executing the raid ― so we would like for them to have the time they need to go through the evidence and file charges.
Mercy For Animals is a nonprofit organization, funded by contributions from supporters. If you’d like to help MFA continue their investigative work ― or any of their other outstanding efforts ― please consider making a tax-deductible donation.