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Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

She’s been called a “farm animal whisperer” and “the heart” of Farm Sanctuary. As the National Shelter Director of the organization―which rescues, rehabilitates, and houses abused and neglected animals in California and New York―Susie Coston oversees a staff of caregivers, feeders, cleaners, and project workers to ensure that the hundreds of farmed animals at the sanctuary receive the best possible care at every stage of their lives. It’s an enormous responsibility, and Susie is constantly in demand, yet she is always happy to offer support and counsel to other advocates working on behalf of animals.

Since joining the Farm Sanctuary team in 2000, Susie has assisted in rescuing countless cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals most people eat, and she has become a leading authority on animal care and behavior. Based at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen, NY, location, she may be one of the busiest people in the movement, but she is very generous with her time, and I am extremely grateful she paused long enough to offer her insights about sanctuary work and advice for other activists.

For anyone thinking of working, interning, or volunteering at a sanctuary for farmed animals, can you talk a little about the emotional highlights and struggles of this work?

The animals we care for are animals from the food industry, many who have been changed through selective breeding and genetics to live shorter lives, grow faster, produce more eggs or milk, etc., so because of this we are already up against these changes when we are attempting to have them live long, happy lives. Also, there are not solutions for all their conditions. Since they are culled [by the animal ag industry] when they get certain viral diseases, so many of the conditions they arrive with are not treatable but instead are managed. Bottom line is that euthanasia and death are part of farm animal rescue. We do everything you can possibly do, and luckily we have the best school in the country for our animals: Cornell. We have brought animals from California to Cornell since they are so much more advanced with the type of procedures we do. When these animals were bred for fast growth, short lives based on slaughter age, etc., the thing that did not change is that they are loving, amazing, sentient beings, so the loss is incredibly hard. It is the hardest part of the position. There is a sense of guilt that comes from not being able to fix the unfixable.

The second hardest is that these animals need a lot of work, especially when they come in and when they are older. The work is physically exhausting, which makes the emotional a lot worse and harder to handle. Many of these animals are huge and you can get physically hurt, but the biggest issue is the work is backbreaking. It is also not pretty. You never come home without being covered in feces, blood, mud, etc. Part of the job.

The good outweighs the bad in my opinion, of course, because there is nothing on Earth like seeing happy, confident, healthy animals. Nothing can compare.

What do you mean when you say “not being able to fix the unfixable,” and how should sanctuary workers cope with it?

We are fighting a battle that is not going to be easily won, and we’re rescuing animals who have been genetically changed to grow bigger breasts, lay more eggs, produce more muscle, and are designed to live just 36 to 40 days or six months. We want them to live forever because we see them as an individual. Sadly, they are not built to live forever. So instead of taking it all on yourself―“I could have done more,” etc.―recognize that not all of their issues are fixable. Recognize that you may fail to save an animal who arrives in a condition that is not fixable, a condition that in many cases is manmade. And even more important, recognize that you cannot save them all. We have to be able to let go of those things out of our control, so we can function in our role as educators and care providers.

You doubtless have countless examples of how an animal affected you personally. Can you share one?  

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

It happens daily―seriously, it does. One that affected me was with Sebastian pig, who was well known as the bad boy of the pig barn. He has done some serious damage to caregivers’ pants, but also has really bit and chased a lot of people. He just doesn’t really like when he feels people are invading his space―like if they are squeezing past him or trying to get in the barn when he is at the gate. And sometimes, it is completely unprovoked.

I met him, as did others, as a tiny little piglet who was mouthy, but many are. I just never had a problem with him―we seem to get each other. Well, we had a video crew visit the farm, and they were interviewing me about my own life, and during the discussion I started crying. And Sebastian got up from his own bed across the barn and walked right up to me and plopped down beside me. No aggression, which is usually the response with new people like the camera crew, but instead he just stayed with me, and oddly I felt really safe. I think we give each other those feelings: safety, love, friendship.

In a one-on-one conversation, what do you say when you’re trying to convince someone to go vegan?

Most of my one-on-one conversations are about my relationships with these animals and where they came from. What I have seen personally when we do the rescue and then when they are finally happy, is how incredible it is that these animals who were once terrified now trust you, bond with another animal, etc. I try, not always successfully, to be as positive as I can and not make people feel attacked; I try to really get attached to the animals―cell phone photos help―and then give people very basic info.

At conferences, I’ve heard you say activists should not push themselves to view graphic images. Can you explain why you feel that way?

I think unless you are a police officer who needs to go through videos to make arrests, most people working on the ground are not watching video after video of death, rape, and violence against the beings they are attempting to protect. Because those acts are illegal, of course, they cannot be shown publicly. The videos that animal activists watch generally depict completely legal acts—because animals are considered property and have few protections—but we seem to almost thrive on watching these videos, which I think leads to burnout. On social media, I unfriend those people who only post pictures of cats being skinned, for example, or videos of an animal being tortured. It causes you to shut down. I also think it leads to more violent responses—and deep anger, which is not going to effect the changes we are hoping to see.

You said earlier that the good outweighs the bad. What else keeps you going?

There are so many times when it seems like there is no way you can deal with what you see, but while you are at a case, you have to work: help get animals loaded, assess what they need to survive a trip, etc. You go into work mode. Same with stockyard visits. High adrenaline keeps you going, but later it crashes in on you. But even when it does, in most cases we have the animals who came from these places. They are safe, we are working with them, they start to trust us and again, in most cases, they turn around. Some are so scared they throw themselves into walls or fences, and to see them join a herd or a flock and watch them finally feel safe, it just motivates you to keep going. Because there is hope. I see it not just with the animals, but when people are visiting and seeing a pig or a chicken for the first time and learning about them and touching them for the first time. And hearing them say, “I can never eat pork again” or “I had no idea that milk was cruel.” We cannot save them all, but we can help some and tell their stories. Those few can reach thousands or millions of people, and maybe they will stop eating the billions.

Finally, can you talk a little about the importance of activists visiting sanctuaries for self-care?

I do think that activists should visit sanctuaries because they can see the happiness of animals that they are fighting for every day. Seeing an animal even at a small farm is so different than seeing animals who are thriving and feel secure at a sanctuary. It gives some semblance of hope and also shows that even after the abuse, these animals can recover mentally and physically. I find it makes me stronger knowing that they can live through some of the most egregious acts, and come from the most horrific conditions, and forgive and live life fully and happily.


You will find more information about animal sanctuary work in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.



Back in February, I blogged about Josh Hooten, who rode his bike 600 miles from Portland, Oregon, to Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California, raising funds for the organization and awareness about animal cruelty. Inspired by Josh’s feat, animal activist and athlete John Merryfield recently embarked on a three-day journey around the circumference of Lake Tahoe — 72 miles ― on his stand-up paddle board. He even invited anyone who was interested to join him. John is a great reminder that using our strengths and interests is an easy and fun way to campaign for animals. He plans to make his “Stand Up for Farm Animals” event an annual tradition, and we chatted the other day about his advocacy efforts.

What inspired you to go vegan?

I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years and was in denial about the abusive practices within the dairy industry for 20 of those years, until becoming a vegan five years ago. Part of my denial was infused with a spiritual practice that included the use of milk in the diet as a form of spiritual connection to the cow. I now see my former practice as antiquated, and ultimately I could no longer deny the harm caused to cows as well as the overwhelming information about the effects to the dairy industry has on the environment. Oh, and not to mention the adverse affects animal fat has on our health.

Was there something you read or saw that was a tipping point regarding milk?

Some talks by Erik Marcus and Gene Baur here in Tahoe had a big influence on me. They made me realize there was no reason to use dairy products.

What was the toughest part about your 72-mile journey?

John Merryfield, third from the left, just before he set off to stand-up paddle Lake Tahoe. Photo by Michael Fish

John Merryfield, third from the left, just before he set off to stand-up paddle Lake Tahoe. Photo by Michael Fish

The logistical components. Who, if anybody will be coming with me? How far will we get each day? What if other people coming along become unable to continue? Where will other people coming with me sleep at night? Will the weather challenge us?  

Where did people sleep?

Eight paddlers started with me, but in the end only my step-daughter, Kim Kerrigan, and I completed the entire 72-mile paddle and needed to sleep overnight. I have a Eurovan, which my wife drove and followed us around the lake. We stopped at camping grounds to sleep.

How did you prepare for the event?

I prepared for the paddle by paddling and stand-up paddle surfing, which is done in the ocean. Not too grueling and a lot of fun. My preparation paddles were six- to 18-mile paddles two to four days a week for a month or so, which isn’t that different from my normal fun paddles. I also got in a couple of surfs on a nice south swell this summer down in Southern California, which I logged as “training.”

When will the next Stand Up for Farm Animals event take place? Will it be another excursion on Lake Tahoe?

The second-annual Stand up for Farm Animals will be in Lake Tahoe the first weekend after Labor Day. I have thought about this idea growing to include other locations, and in the year to come I can see how or if that idea could take shape. Stand-up paddling is a hugely growing sport that is getting a lot of attention and I thought, What better way to bring attention to what really needs our focus ― the cruelty to factory farm animals — than a cool sport people are noticing? I’ve been an athlete my entire life with many different accomplishments with some recognition. I don’t need attention anymore. I can use that former need for attention and translate it into bringing attention to these inconceivably cruel farm animal practices and bringing about change. I stand on my paddle board, paddling Lake Tahoe, while people on the beach look at me and point, [saying] “Look, I’ve never seen that before. I want to do that. Is it hard? Do you have to know how to surf?” Light bulb! Paddle the entire lake and connect the paddle to end cruelty to farm animals! People will take notice.

So how hard is stand-up paddle boarding?       

It can be very challenging for someone with no experience on the water, but the boards are large, which makes it easier to balance. Anyone who has done yoga usually takes right to it.

How can others help or get involved?    

Others can get involved by paddling the second-annual Stand up for Farm Animals with me, or starting a Stand Up for Farm Animals paddle in another location or doing something unique to their own interests that ultimately raises awareness. At next year’s paddle, I hope to have more paddle boards available for people who want to paddle the entire thing, 15 miles of it or as little as 10 minutes. The more the better.

If you’d like to support John’s work by donating to Farm Sanctuary, please click here. Every little bit helps the animals.

Like any social-justice movement, the struggle to advance the interests of animals has its share of detractors. The most vocal of these critics come from animal enterprises such as factory farms, labs, puppy mills, circuses and other industries that exploit animals for profit. And, of course, there’s a segment of the population ― sport hunters and those who believe they have a “right” to eat animals, for example ― that enjoys blogging about their affinity for cruelty.


But there are some within the animal-protection movement itself who criticize the methods other individuals and organizations use to advocate for animals. Chief among these cynics’ targets are Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Those who disparage these nonprofits argue that they have sold out to animal agriculture and non-vegetarian businesses by cooperating with them. Here’s one example: Following pressure from Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA, Smithfield Foods — the world’s largest pork producer — announced in 2007 that it would begin phasing out cruel gestation crates on all its company-owned farms. While many lauded this as step forward for animals, one longtime critic of animal-welfare campaigns decried it as a “sad defeat for nonhumans” and cynically labeled it a fundraising ploy.


Although I agree with those who argue that “humane meat” is oxymoronic, I believe that while we promote the benefits of veganism, we owe it to farmed animals to fight for every bit of humane treatment we can win for them as soon as we can. I understand there are those who think this position only benefits animal exploiters; yet, if that were the case, you would expect agribusiness and fast-food chains to be thanking animal advocates.


Let’s consider some of the comments from agribiz. Corporate farmers across the U.S. have their collective knickers in a twist in the wake of California’s Proposition 2 ― which, in case you’ve been meditating in a cave for the last year, will make it a crime to confine hens in battery cages, pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates and was primarily sponsored by HSUS and Farm Sanctuary. As Bryan Black, president of the National Pork Producers Council, put it: “It is regrettable that animal rights groups were successful in vilifying hardworking, honest farmers and ranchers who treat their animals humanely and provide them with a healthful and safe environment in which to grow.”


More to the point was Steve Kopperud, senior vice president of Policy Directions, Inc., which lobbies on behalf of agribusiness. Kopperud told attendees at a farm forum in Ohio this month: “The Humane Society of the United States say they aren’t pushing for a vegan society; however, if you cut the crap you’ll find they are in a PETA-kind of agenda. If you think you can sit down with an animal rights group and give them something and they go away, you are absolutely insane.”


Doesn’t exactly sound like they consider HSUS or PETA to be helping them, does it? In fact, Kopperud and many others declare animal rights organizations to be the biggest threat to their way of making a buck: raising and slaughtering animals for food.


And these complaints go back well before Prop 2. In its 2006 outlook report, Poultry Times quoted United Egg Producer President Al Pope (since retired), who noted that at a recent convention, an HSUS official stated that “its goal was to ELIMINATE the poultry industry.” The report goes on with more of Pope’s concerns: “Activists’ actions force the industry to add substantial costs to producing its product. Higher prices affect the customer’s willingness to purchase as we compete with other protein products. Long-term this issue has the potential of greatly impacting the demand and thus the economic well-being of the industry. It is imperative that animal agriculture look beyond 2007 and recognize ‘WE ARE AT WAR.’”


Gene Gregory, now president and CEO of United Egg Producers, used similar rhetoric three years ago in an Egg Industry Magazine article. “I’m afraid we’re losing the battle,” he said. The article described Gregory’s struggle “to compete with the budget of $100 million that the Humane Society of the United States has, and it’s relatively easy for the Humane Society to recruit members on college campuses…. [Gregory] also thinks that when universities go cage-free, it means egg consumption declines because total costs go up and that translates into fewer eggs that end up on student plates.”


logos2In contrast to the grumbling from Big Ag, which is vociferous and frequent, you don’t hear much from fast-food companies, even though Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s have all been targets of campaigns encouraging them to adopt policies that reduce cruelty to animals (usually by sourcing from suppliers with higher welfare standards, such as not keeping laying hens in crowded cages, or that slaughter animals using methods that minimize suffering, such as controlled-atmosphere killing). That’s not to say these restaurant chains don’t have their gripes against animal activists ― not by a long shot. They just let front groups like the ironically named Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) do the griping for them. You’d be hard-pressed to find many purveyors of hamburgers or chicken nuggets complaining in public about PETA, Farm Sanctuary or HSUS. It’s much easier for them to support CCF, infamous for fighting consumers’ right to have nutrition labels in restaurants and maintaining that humans must eat animal flesh to be healthy. CCF has complained about PETA offering anti-meat and anti-dairy “propaganda” to children, has called Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Turkey project “a farce” and continues to criticize efforts by HSUS to outlaw cruel agricultural practices, to name but a few examples. (As a paid lobbyist for tobacco, alcohol, meat, soft drink and fast-food interests, CCF is likely to attack anyone who criticizes their clients’ products.)


Animal rights organizations are also putting pressure on corporations by owning stock in the company. PETA, for example, which currently owns 478 shares of Smithfield Foods stock, recently submitted a shareholder resolution calling on the company to publicly disclose a timeline for fulfilling its promise to phase out gestation crates, and McDonald’s shareholders will soon be asked to vote on HSUS’ resolution urging the chain to begin switching to cage-free eggs.


It is not my contention that the tactics and campaigns of Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA are always right. They have their share of misses just like any organization. But when animal exploiters or those paid to shill for them are raising the battle cry against animal advocates, I know we’ve got them on the run. Their vitriol is a signal that we ― the individual activist and nonprofit group alike ― are impacting their bottom line and making a difference for animals.


I love how Steve Kopperud, the trusted advisor to factory farms, characterizes the situation. Warning his Ohio farm forum audience about the reforms animal-protection organizations are working on, he said: “This is a collective threat. If all of the Ohio agricultural community does not sit down and figure out a collective way to stop this right now, you will all wind up as crop producers.”


And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?

online_activismA few weeks ago I got an email from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) with the subject line “Tell President Obama: No compromise on saving whale’s lives.” The body of the email contained a link to a page that, with a single click of my computer mouse, would send a message to the president expressing my concern that the US is not taking a strong enough position against whaling. I obligingly sent the message; then I wondered: How effective are these kinds of emails?


If you’re a member of one of the many major animal advocacy groups, you’re no doubt familiar with these messages. Heck, you don’t even need to be a member: emails like these can be forwarded to friends, and online petitions are as common as recycle bins at a Prius convention. But I’ve never felt completely satisfied that this one-click activism was benefiting animals. I was curious, and I wanted to make sure I was being effective as an advocate. Do elected officials and other decision-makers even care about the mass emails they receive?


So I called the office of Dianne Feinstein in Washington, DC, figuring my state senator would be only too happy to answer my questions. (No, I am not thrilled she co-sponsored the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but that’s another topic.) I spoke with David Hantman, an aide in Senator Feinstein’s office. “I would say those emails are very effective,” he says. Hantman explains that when such emails come into their office, they are forwarded to the person in charge of the issue, who then discusses it with the senator. “They will then work on a response with the senator.” If it’s an individual sending the email, the senator will know that one person wrote about an issue. “But if it’s a campaign of 10,000 emails, she won’t go through them all; she’ll see that 10,000 people emailed her on one issue.” Does it make any difference if she receives thousands of emails on a single issue versus, say, five? “Definitely,” says Hantman. “She knows that that many people care about that issue. If she were to receive five emails on any given issue, she may say, ‘This may not be as important to my constituents — only five people have written me  — compared to 10,000 people on this other issue.’”


Hantman stresses that every piece of communication counts. “Even if one person is writing, the Senator knows it is something that is affecting her constituents, but when more people email, she knows more people are concerned about that issue.” Plus, emails, letters and phone calls inform her (and any legislator) about what’s happening in, for example, the animal protection movement. “Animal welfare is one of the main issues she’s concerned with,” Hantman told me, “so when animal issues are brought to her attention, they’re definitely things she wants to investigate. It may be something that wasn’t even on her radar until someone writes her about it. So writing always helps.”


“These emails do work, but as part of a larger campaign,” says Grace Markarian, HSUS’ manager of online communications. HSUS combines these alerts with information on its Web site and on social-networking sites or even direct mail. Grace admits that asking people to contact President Obama is rare; it’s far more likely an email will target a company like Ben & Jerry’s. In 2006, as they were trying to get the frozen-dessert company to adopt a policy of using only cage-free eggs in its ice cream, HSUS sent an email alert to their members, resulting in so much communication to Ben & Jerry’s that the company, which responds to all its mail, couldn’t keep up. “Being able to say Ben & Jerry’s received 60,000 emails from customers demonstrates a tidal wave of response,” adds Erin Williams, communications director for HSUS’ factory farming campaign. Not only did the campaign work, but people could quickly send Ben & Jerry’s a thank-you email via the HSUS Web site.


Kim Sturla of Animal Place agrees one-click activism can be effective, but she warns that you can’t generalize. “Some aides don’t tally, for example.” Kim says her organization has struggled with the e-alert issue as technology and communication methods have evolved, but the results are still positive. “You’re encouraging people to become more active,” she says. “Maybe next time they’ll send a letter.”


Two other animal advocacy groups that use email alerts, Farm Sanctuary and PETA, are adamant they do make a difference. “If it weren’t effective, we wouldn’t be doing it so much,” says Tricia Barry, communications director for Farm Sanctuary. “We ran a report in January, and we found it’s become even more effective. From the action alerts we sent in January, we had sixty-six hundred letters sent to various legislators on various issues. It definitely prompts action.”


“I think they’re probably more effective for PETA than for other organizations because most people seem to use them to contact legislators and other government officials,” says Joel Bartlett, who manages PETA’s online marketing department. Joel explains that people also use them to communicate with corporations, allowing them to voice their displeasure over, say, a company selling fur. “Ten thousand people send them a message over a weekend and they’re like, ‘Uh-oh.’ We win campaigns thanks to our online action alerts.”


So click away, activists. You never know which piece of information is finally going to make the difference, and it all adds up.


WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD: Josh Hooten of Herbivore will bike 600 miles on behalf of animals in May.

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD: Josh Hooten of Herbivore will bike 600 miles on behalf of animals in May.

When I first heard that activist and graphic designer Josh Hooten was going to ride his bike 600 miles to raise awareness for animals, I was heartened and impressed. Six hundred miles on a bike is no easy task. That’s roughly the distance from San Francisco to San Diego; I don’t even like driving that far. But Josh is doing it for a great cause: he’s both celebrating 10 years of being vegan and he’s benefiting Farm Sanctuary, which he acknowledges had a major influence on him a decade ago.


“I don’t remember exactly how I found out about Farm Sanctuary, but I was living in Boston back then and involved in the punk scene,” Josh says. “There were ― and are — a lot of animal rights people in that scene, and Farm Sanctuary is a well-known organization on the east coast, as well as other places, obviously. The first I really remember learning the story of Farm Sanctuary was through Eric Weiss, who worked at Satya magazine, and for Eddie Lama, and is an amazing activist. He did a music zine called Rumpshaker, which was amazing — truly one of the best ever. He did an article on the farm and on [co-founders] Gene and Lorri. Hearing the story of Hilda and of their dedication and pioneering work really moved me. It took me awhile after that to finally go vegan, but Farm Sanctuary had a real effect on my decision and therefore on my life.”


After 10 years of vegan living, Josh will be giving back to the organization that inspired him by pedaling from his home in Portland, Oregon (where he and his wife, Michelle Schwegmann, run the ultra-hip Herbivore Clothing Company), down to Farm Sanctuary’s California shelter in Orland. His plan is to leave the first week of May and arrive at Farm Sanctuary in time to emcee their annual Country Hoe Down on May 16 and 17. (Look for the tired guy with the big smile.)


In addition to donations for Farm Sanctuary, Josh is hoping for another form of support. “I’m going to ask non-vegans to go vegan for the days that I’m riding down,” he says. “It’ll be nine or 10 days of pretty serious biking, so I’m asking folks who want to support me to do so by being vegan for those days if they aren’t already.”


Josh is busy training for the long ride, and he’s taking some beautiful photographs along the way. See it all and learn more at

It’s certainly no secret that animal agribusiness regards animal-rights activists pretty much the way the Chinese government regards supporters of a free Tibet. And in the same way His Holiness the Dalai Lama keeps up to date on his homeland’s Communist oppressors, it is imperative that animal activists get into the heads of animal exploiters ― not just under their skin.


Well, here’s a great opportunity to learn what someone with 25 years of agribiz experience thinks of efforts by HSUS, PETA and others to impinge upon their ability to torture and kill farmed animals. The Cattle Network just published an in-depth interview with Steve Kopperud, senior vice president of Policy Directions, Inc., which lobbies on behalf of agribusiness.


I’m only hitting the high notes here: be sure to check out the entire article.

Q.  Steve, we know the animal rights organizations tend to be well-funded, sophisticated communicators.  Let’s define them, first.  What are the organizations we should watch and what are their agendas?  Tell me about the size of their memberships and their war chests.

A. Fifteen years ago we were confronted by about 150 animal rights organizations, subject to infighting and competition. Today, the movement is defined by the Humane Society of the U.S. and its president, Wayne Pacelle. When Pacelle joined HSUS as vice president, he declared he would create the “NRA (National Rifle Assn.) of animal rights, and he’s well on his way. The organization leverages its public image as a dog/cat, spay/neuter, pet adoption group, positioning itself as “moderate” in comparison to the PETAs of the movement. When you peel away the layers of public image, you’re left with an HSUS agenda that is anything but moderate, and not too radically different than that of PETA. You need only look at the organization’s legislative agenda, the comments of some of its officers, to see where HSUS would eventually hope to see animal agriculture wind up.


HSUS claims to have about 10 million members – 20,000 per congressional district – and has an annual budget in excess of $130 million.  Through mergers with smaller organizations, HSUS has grown, and under Pacelle’s watch, created the Humane Legislative Action Fund (HLAF) not-for-profit association with no limits on its lobbying activity – HSUS, by virtue of its 501(c) (3) status, is limited by IRS rules to about spending 20% of its previous year’s program spending on “advocacy,” so the HLAF is an important tool.  On the international front, Humane Society International works as an arm of HSUS. 


PETA continues to be the noisemaker; its apparent role is to keep the issue in the press, thereby keeping it mainstream. Its income each year continues to hover in the $20-30 million range, allowing it to maintain its global network of offices and harassment.  However, PETA has so marginalized itself in policy discussions as to be almost a non-player. 


PETA continues to frighten corporate targets, major brands which fear PETA will begin boycotts, pickets, disrupt annual meetings, etc. PETA’s outrageous behavior and unrealistic demands enable groups such as HSUS to contact the same target companies, offering itself as the “moderate” group with which the company can work. The company believes that by working with HSUS, it’s somehow protected from PETA. Not so. The company is only protected as long as it toes the line, issuing public statements about animal housing, care and such.  The worst thing any company can do is try to negotiate with any animal rights group. It signals weakness and fear and sets the company up as a perpetual target for other groups.


Farm Sanctuary, with a budget of about $1 million a year, operates almost as an independent subsidiary of HSUS, acting as HSUS’s foot soldiers on the ground in the various states in which HSUS has begun referenda campaigns, etc. 


Q. One of the things I’ve been watching is the process you’ve often described as getting “pecked to death by ducks.” First, Florida outlaws gestation crates.  Burger King covers its backside from a PETA push and earns that organization’s praise by declaring they will no longer buy eggs or pork from suppliers that keep their animals in cages or crates. Now, we have California’s Prop 2, which won with about 60% of the vote and will force huge changes in the farming practices of the biggest agriculture state in America.  Can we expect animal rights groups to press for similar legislation in other farm states?  And what will an expansion of similar laws do to the price of food at retail?

A. The strategy being followed by savvy animal rights groups is what the late animal activist Henry Spira, founder of Animal Rights International, called the “step-wise approach.” It translates into “We get a little bit this year, a little bit next year, and before you know it, we’ve forced real change.”  Spira once said to me that farmers and ranchers are their own worst enemies because they’re “too nice,” meaning, I think, that we expect the animal rights movement to operate on rules of honorable engagement and conventional issue management. I can assure you, after battling successfully animal rights initiatives for nearly 25 years, I’ve learned there is nothing conventional about “managing” the animal rights issue, and I think it’s this reality that industry – from farm to fork – must acknowledge. Managing the animal rights issue takes outside-the-box thinking and strategy. 


In a way, perhaps we are “too nice,” as we steadfastly avoid public confrontations with the animal rights groups.  We somehow believe that by confronting these groups, calling them out in the media, on Capitol Hill or in a state legislature, we will suffer some worse consequence than allowing these zealots to prevail.  We think because what we do is so fundamental to every citizen’s quality of life, that the “crazy people” cannot prevail.


The animal rights issue cannot be fought using statistics, economics, science and fact alone; it must utilize strategies that inspire positive emotion among consumers toward farming and ranching. There will be no gain without some pain, but it’s our job to ensure that the “pain” we feel is merely the temporary discomfort that comes from shifting away from a traditional approach to a more progressive one.


California’s Proposition 2 is a classic example. Proponents of that measure had no facts to support their demand that sow gestation stalls, veal stalls or egg layer cages were inhumane on their face because the overwhelming public testimony of vets and animal scientists showed just the opposite to be true. Instead, supporters ran TV ads that included video of downed animals and other emotional images of animal neglect and abuse, fully aware Proposition 2 would do nothing to solve these alleged problems. Why? Because emotion rules the day when it comes to human interaction with animals, no matter what the species or the animal’s ultimate fate. When you’ve got the attention of a politically overwhelmed constituency, you use images and emotion, not rhetoric. What thinking, feeling person condones any form of animal “abuse”?

Q. Every industry has its bad actors. We’ve seen them up close and personal, thanks to the undercover videos shot by HSUS undercover agents. Wayne Pacelle, HSUS CEO, says the practices exposed on those videos are endemic; Ag organizations say they’re anomalies, a position backed by industry experts like Temple Grandin. Regardless, it’s footage that, in the public’s eye, is damaging.  How would you go about reversing the damage?

A. Our responses to these episodes of unauthorized entry and video-taping of our facilities have been lukewarm. These episodes are anomalies, but not one can be tolerated as they paint the entire industry with the same brush, allowing HSUS leverage them to make its case that all producers are uncaring and that our industry needs state and/or federal regulation. When episodes of wrong behavior occur – and they will because no industry is perfect – then we must call them out as we see them with appropriate outrage, telling the public what they’ve seen is unacceptable and then swift and public action must be taken to rectify the situation. The public must understand that we share their concerns.


Having said that, I repeat my call to begin talking to the public consistently and loudly that we take animal wellbeing seriously, that it is and always has been the highest priority of our producers and processors, and that the public can trust the men and women who work in our industries. We must reintroduce the public to farming and ranching, explain who we are, what we do, how well we do it and that we share the public’s value of good husbandry. This must be as much a part of our product promotion and sales effort as the creation of recipes, new products and market development. When checkoff boards sit down to decide how those producer payments are to be spent in the best interest of the industry, selling the producer and the process must be every bit as important as selling the product. 


Again, readers, please take a moment to read the entire interview.

It took just two protest demonstrations for activists from England’s Bath Activist Network (BAN) to persuade the owner of a new restaurant to stop selling foie gras.


“We are pleased this was done in an amicable way,” said a spokesperson for BAN. “We are not against people eating meat and do not want everyone to be vegetarians, although that would be good. It is more about the additional cruelty in foie gras, which is just unnecessary and has no place in civilized society. The amount of support we get when we hold these protests shows most people agree with us.”


The culinary extravagance known as foie gras, the “fatty liver” of male ducks and geese, is created by grossly manipulating an animal’s body to provide a fleeting gustatory pleasure to the palate. The foie gras industry uses an invasive technique to force-feed ducks and geese until they have become so obese their livers are engorged with fat. The diseased livers of the slaughtered birds are considered a delicacy in many high-end restaurants, which have attracted protests from outraged activists who regard foie gras as a frivolous appetizer inseparable from the egregious abuse of animals.


Following the two-hour demonstration on Friday, which involved 14 activists, restaurant owner Hein van Vorstenbosch decided to take the pate, imported from France, off his menu, even though it was popular with his patrons. Friday’s protest was the second time BAN had targeted the Minibar.


BAN was formed in the fall of 2006 and also campaigns on environmentalism, anti-globalization, food issues, pro-peace and gender. Earlier this year, BAN protested outside Bath’s Beaujolais restaurant, prompting it to stop selling foie gras.


Two for two. Not bad!


Interested in combating foie gras in your area? US activist Nick Cooney uses these tools:


• postcards to city council members from their constituents (signed at tabling venues)

• letters from local free-range duck farmers supporting a ban on foie gras

• meetings with council members and pledges from restaurateurs not to sell foie gras

• petitions signed by business owners in favor of the ban

• emails, faxes and letters to legislators

• endorsements from other animal groups in the city.


Nick and his fellow activists use the Internet to identify restaurants offering foie gras. “Many upscale restaurants have their menus online,” he says, “and there are thousands of restaurant reviews online for every city. It’s not hard to find restaurants that serve foie gras.” He also uses resources offered by national groups like Farm Sanctuary, which keeps track of businesses selling foie gras, and looks at menus posted outside restaurants.


“We have tried contacting restaurants in advance through letters or phone calls,” Nick says, “but typically this doesn’t yield any results. Letters are usually ignored, and so far phone calls have not led anywhere. So we organize evenings of demonstrations ― usually on a Friday or Saturday, as that is when the most customers are dining out. We’ll have one individual go into the restaurant and ask to speak with the manager or owner about the issue. He or she will inform the owner that we would like to set up a meeting to discuss the issue with them, but that if they are not willing to meet with us we will be protesting the restaurant.” Nick reasons that the restaurants are not making much profit from foie gras, which is used to showcase a chef’s talent and attract hard-core foodies.

Whenever I speak to animal activists about burnout, I always recommend they spend some time at a sanctuary for farmed animals. Heck, even if you’re not worried about getting burned out, spending time with animals is a good thing. Whether you take a tour or volunteer each month, sanctuaries help reconnect you with the very reasons you’re active in the first place. Plus, they are great places to learn and meet like-minded animal advocates.


With Thanksgiving coming up in the U.S., a number of sanctuaries will be offering special events in celebration of the animal Ben Franklin suggested as the official bird of the United States.


“Turkeys are a misunderstood species,” says Kim Sturla, executive director of Animal Place, which will be hosting its first-annual ThanksLiving event on November 22. “Often thought of as stupid, turkeys are actually quite intelligent and form incredibly strong social bonds with other turkeys, sometimes other species! Animal Place wants the public to celebrate these birds, not eat them.”


If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, sign up for this great event at Animal Place. Yours truly will be speaking there, along with long-time activist lauren Ornelas.


Meanwhile, that same day, in Southern California, Animal Acres will hold its Celebration for Turkeys.


If you call Colorado home, you likely already know about Peaceful Prairie. Their Living at Thanksgiving! event will take place on Sunday, November 23.


In Maryland, the Poplar Springs sanctuary, home to eight lovable turkeys, will celebrate Thanksgiving with the Turkeys on November 22.


I don’t know anyone who has done more to help people appreciate turkeys than Karen Davis. Her organization, United Poultry Concerns, in Virginia, will host its 18th-annual Thanksgiving Feast on November 29.


Residents of New York State have two celebrations to choose from. Farm Sanctuary’s Celebration for the Turkeys will take place on November 22, and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary will have its ThanksLiving gala on November 23 (though I understand that event is already sold out).


This is just a partial list of the sanctuaries offering special events this Thanksgiving season. Check the Website of your local sanctuary to see if they have something planned. Even if they don’t, do yourself a favor and pay them a visit!

With the number of land animals raised and slaughtered for food worldwide every year now exceeding 50 billion (and still growing), there’s never been a more critical time to speak out for the voiceless. Animal activists around the globe work tirelessly to raise awareness, of course, but events may reach a peak on or around October 2 – World Farm Animals Day. Marking the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, an outspoken advocate of compassion for animals, World Farm Animals Day mobilizes activists in all 50 U.S. states and two dozen other countries. Participants include animal advocacy groups and individual activists; anyone who cares about animals is encouraged to join this global outcry against cruelty. And it’s not too early to begin planning for it.

World Farm Animals Day observances traditionally include vigils, marches, leafleting, tabling and exhibiting. More dramatic events include die-ins, cage-ins and video rigs. Activists encourage governors and mayors to issue special proclamations denouncing cruelty to farmed animals.


Among the activities to take place in North America will be Farm Sanctuary’s annual Walk for Farm Animals. This is actually a series of walking events held throughout Canada and the U.S. in September and October. As Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder, explains, “The Walk for Farm Animals is a critical tool that provides an opportunity for animal advocates to demonstrate their support for animal protection, educate the public about why this is important issue and help raise the funds necessary to continue Farm Sanctuary’s distinctive work to rescue farm animals from abuse, and advocate for farm animal protection across the country through legislative, legal and corporate campaign efforts.”


National Walk participants can register at, or call 607-583-2225 ext. 229.


Other ways to observe World Farm Animals Day include:


Leafleting: Leafleting is a simple activity, as it requires no permits, no equipment and little planning. Make sure to make the most of your efforts by hitting high-traffic areas like colleges and city streets at the busiest times. Lunch hour and quitting time are optimal times. Request literature from Vegan Outreach or the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM).


Information Tables/Stalls: A simple and easy way to get the message out. Information tables require relatively little planning and allow activists to engage the public in meaningful, one-on-one dialogues. Pick a popular location and busy time of day, get a permit (if necessary), then show up for a few hours with a large table, display materials and handouts. FARM will provide the materials you need; simply register online or call 888-FARM-USA to get your free Action Guide and Event Pack.


Vigils & Memorial Services: Vigils and memorial services are somber events that focus attention on the tragedy of factory farming. They are a time to remember the losses suffered by each of the 50 billion individual land animals murdered by agribusiness each year. These events can be as elaborate as funeral processions or as straightforward as candlelight vigils. Props such as candles, black ribbons, somber music and funeral attire can create a very dramatic effect. Activists can also conduct a fast to increase the media appeal of the event and to bring attention to the millions of people who go hungry as grains are fed to livestock instead.


Video Rigs: Playing a video to expose standard farming and slaughter practices is a sure way to simultaneously grab attention and create awareness.


Exhibits: Exhibits are basically the unstaffed version of an information table or stall. The typical duration of an exhibit ranges from one week to one month. Libraries and student unions are popular locations for exhibits, which tend to be more visual than information tables. Display materials, including books, are usually under protective glass cover, while handouts are available to passersby. FARM can provide the materials you need.


Cage-ins: An excellent way to bring attention to the plight of farmed animals. They are highly effective in conjunction with videos and can attract a media attention.


Protests: A protest is a great way to express outrage toward an establishment’s treatment or policies regarding animals. It can also generate a lot of negative publicity for your target, if well-thought-out. If you are working on a campaign in your area, consider incorporating it into World Farm Animals Day by staging a protest on or around Gandhi’s birthday. Making your campaign part of an international day of action makes it much more newsworthy. When planning your protest, be sure to read up on local ordinances regarding the size, location, timing, and noise levels of protests. Depending on local laws, you may need one or more permits. And don’t forget: stay on public property!


KFC Demo: Kentucky Fried Cruelty demonstrations are a great way to support both World Farm Animals Day and the Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign spearheaded by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).


Die-Ins: A visually powerful and symbolic form of protest, die-ins have traditionally been used to protest nuclear proliferation and war. World Farm Animals Day die-ins take a stand for animals (whose suffering is invisible and denied). The idea is for a group of activists dressed in black to lie motionless for a set amount of time (usually about 20 to 30 minutes). 


Launched in 1983, World Farm Animals Day is an international campaign of FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), a non-profit public interest organization based just outside of Washington, D.C. FARM works with local volunteers hosting activities, serving as a resource by providing information, guidance, materials, media outreach, and an online Events Directory.

Here’s a great example of the power of activism. Earlier this week, Farm Sanctuary, the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), Animal Place and other groups sent out notices that Covidien Electrosurgery was to host a cruel lab on August 7. The lab was to be part of a conference held by the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists in which pigs were to be killed and sacrificed in a “Hands-On Pig Lab” to demonstrate electrosurgical tools.

     The call went out to activists everywhere to contact Covidien Electosurgery and ask them to remove live animals from their demonstration.

     AAVS has announced today that the lab has been canceled. “Because so many of you voiced your opposition, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists felt enough pressure to cancel that portion of the event,” reads the AAVS statement. “Covidien, the healthcare product company conducting the pig lab, intended to use live pigs in a marketing demonstration of its surgical tools. However, thanks to your phone calls and e-mails, this lab has been canceled and a strong message has been sent to those in the medical field that the public will not tolerate such treatment of animals.”

     While this is great news, it’s also important that activists express their thanks to Covidien for making the right decision. Please take a moment to contact Bryan Hanson, president of Covidien Electrosurgery:; ph: 303-530-2300; fax: 303-530-6285.

     Also, please contact your federal representative and urge him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 2193 – legislation that will amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the use of animals for marketing medical devices. The sponsors of this bill are Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and if your member of Congress has already become a cosponsor, please thank them!

Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for interviews, profiles, and advice for more effective animal activism.

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