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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.”
In 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?
A 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.
If animal advocates have anything to say about it, appalling eBay auctions like this one will be history.
Several advocacy groups in Canada and the US are asking the online-auction giant to ban the posting of certain guided trophy hunts. The Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Big Wildlife and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation have sent a letter to eBay CEO John Donahoe requesting that the posting of hunting auctions for such animals as bears, wolves and mountain lions no longer be allowed.
“Have the lives of Canada’s grizzly bears, wolves and other large carnivores become so cheapened by the purveyors of trophy hunting that selling an opportunity to kill one is now as commonplace as trying to unload a kitchen appliance or baseball cards on eBay?” asked Chris Genovali, executive director of the British Columbia-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
“Few eBay users are aware the company also auctions off the lives of some of our planet’s most magnificent animals,” added Oregon-based Big Wildlife communications director Brian Vincent. “EBay has become an online marketplace peddling the slaughter of wolves, bears and cougars.”
Protecting wildlife from humans is no easy task. Grizzly and brown bears in Alaska and British Columbia, for example, face habitat loss from industrial logging, mining, energy development and urban sprawl and death from trophy hunting, poaching and international trade in bear parts. Though grizzlies are protected under the US Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states, trophy hunters in Alaska and Canada are free to target the animals.
“We look forward to reviewing the communication sent to us by Big Wildlife, Raincoast Conservation, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in regards to the sale of guided trophy hunts, and are in the process of opening a dialogue with them to understand their most recent concerns,” reads a statement from eBay. “EBay is a unique global online marketplace and our international team of legal and policy experts constantly review, refresh and streamline our policies closely collaborating with international and domestic law enforcement authorities, regulatory agencies, non-governmental organizations and our community of buyers and sellers.”
Last year, following an International Fund for Animal Welfare report that revealed eBay was helping to fuel illegal trade in wildlife products, the company announced a global ban on sales of ivory products. After working with the Humane Society of the United States, eBay has also discontinued auctions for canned hunts.
Josh Balk is the outreach director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign, where he works with corporations to end their purchasing from factory farms that use the most intensive confinement devices, such as battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates. As part of HSUS’ “No Battery Eggs Campaign,” grocery stores, fast food chains, food service providers and hundreds of universities have moved away from buying and selling eggs from caged hens. Josh took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions regarding his activism, what brought him to the movement and how even one person can make a difference for animals.
What was your “a-ha” moment when you decided to go vegan?
I went vegan about eight years ago after watching the documentaries The Auction Block and Hope for the Hopeless. The first video is about the cruelty endured by dairy cows and other animals at livestock auctions and the second is about the battery cage-egg industry. Ironically, prior to coming to HSUS, I went on to work for Compassion Over Killing for three years, where I conducted undercover investigations, worked with Washington, DC, restaurants to add vegan items to their menu and did tons of vegan outreach to consumers.
Could you describe the industry cruelties you saw in those two documentaries?
The Auction Block, filmed by Compassion Over Killing, is a behind-the-scenes look at several farm animal auctions where dairy cows, their calves and other animals are sold to the highest bidder, many times to factory farms and slaughterhouses. Inside the closed doors of auction houses, animals are often kicked, shocked with electric prods, dragged by their legs and beaten. I can’t imagine the confusion and fear they’re undergoing, especially the calves who only a short time earlier were taken away from their nursing mothers.
Hope for the Hopeless, another Compassion Over Killing documentary, shows what’s it’s like inside a giant egg factory farm where hundreds of thousands of hens are confined inside barren battery cages. These living, feeling beings are turned into egg-producing machines within an industrial assembly line. There’s little consideration for their welfare other than providing them water and food — the barest necessities to keep them alive for another day’s worth of production. They’re given so little space they can’t even spread their wings. It’s like forcing someone to live in an elevator with six other people for your entire life.
You’re well known in the movement for working with college campuses, getting their dining halls to buy cage-free eggs. Does that take up the bulk of your activism?
So far, more than 350 universities in the country have eliminated or reduced their use of battery eggs. While I’d love to take credit for this enormous success, most of the victories are due to the relentless and effective activists on college campuses I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.
That said, most of my time is spent working with major retailers, helping them move away from using the cruelest animal products and adding vegan items to their product line. Working with corporations to enact purchasing policies that help animals is one of the most effective things we can do for farm animals.
Can you explain what the Cage-Free Campus campaign is?
The Cage-Free Campus campaign is one of HSUS’ signature campaigns to help abolish battery cages. University cafeterias often use hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of eggs a year. Whether anyone likes it or not, this will be the case for the foreseeable future. The question is: Is it better that these eggs come from hens confined in cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives, or from hens living in a cage-free environment where they’re at least able to lay eggs in a nest, dust bathe, perch, flap their wings and walk? I think the answer is clear.
Of course, “cage-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “cruelty-free.” However, while cage-free hens can and do still suffer, it doesn’t mean we should ignore that the alternative for most major egg buyers, including universities, is eggs from caged hens who are given less space to live than a single sheet of paper. In other words, cafeterias aren’t likely to stop serving eggs anytime soon, but they may stop serving the cruelest types of eggs.
I think most animal advocates would agree that putting an end to battery cages would reduce an immense amount of animal suffering. It’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and force millions of hens we all know are going to be exploited to wait until a future utopia exists before they’re at least freed from the misery of battery cages. In order to so, we have to get major egg users in the country to stop buying eggs from these extreme confinement systems.
You’ve also helped activists overseas working on the same goal. For example, Mahi Klosterhalfen has made some real progress for hens in Europe. Are you open to working with activists in other parts of the world to help them with cage-free campaigns?
Over the past few years I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best animal advocates from around the world. Mahi’s unbelievable work in Germany getting major retailers to end their sales of eggs from caged hens is a testament to his tenacious and effective activism. He’s one of the best activists the animals have; Compassion in World Farming is lucky have him run its German campaigns.
Up in Canada, Bruce Passmore has engineered a campaign that has resulted in numerous cities passing government resolutions opposing battery cages and has convinced some of the largest universities in the country to stop using battery eggs in their cafeteria.
And down in Australia, Kathleen Chapman is launching a veg commercial campaign similar to what Compassion Over Killing and Mercy For Animals have done in the U.S. This is after she got her university to be the first to switch away from battery eggs.
There’s no reason why others can’t duplicate the efforts of these dedicated individuals. I’d be more than happy to work with anyone from any part of the world on campaigns to help farm animals. Billions of animals suffer worldwide, and it’s going to take a global effort to win tangible advances for them.
What’s the best piece of activism advice you ever received?
Something I learned from many of my heroes in the animal protection movement is that I should make strategic decisions as an activist with the end goal being reducing as much animal suffering as possible. Since roughly 95 percent of animal exploitation in the U.S. goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms, I’ve made it may life’s mission to help those animals raised for food. You get the best bang for your activist buck, so to speak, by working to help farm animals.
The path I chose — corporate and university outreach ― isn’t the only way to help farm animals, but it’s the way I think I’m most effective. Others, like one of my heroes, Jon Camp from Vegan Outreach, give out tens of thousands of booklets every year to college students encouraging them to eat less meat as part of the Adopt-A-College program. Another hero of mine, Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League, is in the midst of transforming her hometown of San Diego into the most vegan-friendly, anti-factory farming city in the country. Whatever our interest or our skill set, there’s always something each of us can do to have a major impact in the lives of farm animals.
Can you offer any parting advice to the individual activist who doesn’t work with an organization? Are there any simple things they can do to reach out to restaurants, for example, or approach their college?
The great thing about animal activism is that one person can make a tremendous difference. One way for students to get involved ― on the individual level ― is to meet with their dining director about moving away from using eggs from caged hens and/or add vegan options to the menu. There are numerous universities that have stopped serving battery-caged eggs and added vegan options because one student brought this issue to the attention of the dining staff.
For instance, at Georgetown University, just one student met with the director of dining, and only a few weeks later the entire university ended its support for battery-cage confinement and went exclusively cage-free. The university used one and a half million eggs a year, meaning that one victory led to improving the lives of literally thousands of animals. If someone is interested in doing this type of effort at his or her university, they should feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.