On this page, we summarize some of the most important recent victories for humane, sustainable farming in the United States—both those that we helped to make possible and those accomplished by allies in the work of reforming animal agriculture. For more information, read about our recent work to move farming forward and our unique advocacy strategies, and meet the Farm Forward team.
In recent years, we’ve seen some of the most exciting and encouraging victories to date in the fight against factory farming. If this trend continues we have every reason to expect major shifts in agricultural production methods in the near future. Farm Forward and our staff have played key roles in many of these victories, and we need your help to build on this success and to continue our important collaborative work with other nonprofits and progressive farmers.
Motivating Retailers to Improve Animal Welfare
Campaigns spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Mercy for Animals, and in the recent past by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have pushed corporations and educational institutions to create minimal standards for animal welfare and demand welfare improvements from producers. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has also more recently developed corporate-facing outreach. Negotiations led by Farm Forward Chairman Steve Gross on behalf of PETA have contributed to a number of these important victories with companies such as Burger King, KFC Canada, and Safeway, leading to large-scale, incremental reductions in the suffering of farmed animals.
Then PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich described the role of Gross’s consultations as “absolutely essential to building PETA’s ability to influence and negotiate effectively with corporations—Steve has provided thousands of hours of pro bono consultation over more than 10 years, and without his input and selfless dedication, some of the greatest victories for farmed animals in U.S. history would not have happened.” Significantly, Gross led negotiations on behalf of PETA to achieve the first major corporate victory that became the model that continues to guide animal welfare campaigns targeting large food retailers: the 2000 agreement between PETA and McDonalds that brought an end to a massive, year-long international campaign against McDonalds when the fast food giant agreed to work with Dr. Temple Grandin, the nation’s leading expert on cattle welfare during slaughter, to achieve basic but important improvements in animal welfare.1 Dr. Grandin explains that during 1999 and 2000 when McDonalds hired Grandin in response to PETA’s campaign, “I witnessed more improvements [in animal welfare] than I had seen previously during a twenty-five year career.”2
In recognition of these efforts, Gross was awarded the Matthew Eyton Activist Award by actress Jorja Fox at PETA’s 25th Anniversary Gala. Gross continues to guide Farm Forward’s work with corporations.
In May 2014, Farm Forward identified a unique opportunity to apply pressure to a multinational corporation toward a first-of-its-kind victory for male breeding chicks within the egg industry. Deemed worthless by the egg industry, hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed each year in the US alone, where day-old chicks are typically ground up while fully conscious (the industry calls this practices maceration). While maceration is an industry-wide problem, Unilever, the third largest consumer goods company in the world, has been given high marks from the welfare community for improving animal welfare standards within its supply chain.
In June 2014, Farm Forward launched BuyingMayo.com and two accompanying viral videos to raise awareness about the practice of maceration by targeting Unilever’s Best Foods and Hellmann’s mayonnaise brands, which use hundreds of millions of eggs each year in the US alone. Visitors to BuyingMayo.com were asked to sign a petition requesting that Unilever develop an alternative to the practice of maceration within its supply chain.
In just two months, nearly half a million people watched our videos and more than ten thousand people signed our petition, and through Facebook and Twitter we exposed millions of people to messaging about the cruelty within the egg industry. Shortly after the campaign launched, Farm Forward entered negotiations with Unilever’s corporate affairs department, which requested that HSUS and Compassion in World Farming—which have praised Unilever’s animal welfare policies in the past—also join the discussion. Farm Forward offered to place a moratorium on our campaign if Unilever: 1) agreed that the routine practice of macerating day-old chicks did not conform to their animal welfare policy, 2) committed to investing in identifying and implementing an alternative to the practice, and 3) pledged to explore egg-free alternatives for their products, particularly in the event that an alternative to maceration was not found.
At the end of August, Unilever agreed to Farm Forward’s terms and updated their global website to reflect their new welfare policy. Unilever is now the only company in the world to have taken a stand against this industry-wide practice and is actively pursuing alternative technology for their entire supply chain. Unilever has also agreed to meet with Farm Forward regularly to update us on their progress.
Reinventing the Poultry Industry
When it comes to the treatment of chickens and poultry, anything goes. No farmed animals suffer more than poultry, so the animal movement has increasingly focused its energy on this worst-of-the-worst industry. With assistance from Farm Forward, the 2.5 million member strong ASPCA has launched the first-ever national campaign targeting “broiler” chickens, the name the industry has given to chickens raised for meat. This groundbreaking campaign just might permanently alter the nature of the poultry industry by focusing consumers on the most difficult and profound welfare problem in all of factory farming.
Farm Forward has helped lead this turn towards “broiler” welfare, but more of our energies have focused on providing pro bono consulting services to Frank Reese’s Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, the leading producer of non-factory farmed poultry in the United States. The aim of our work with Good Shepherd is to develop and refine a viable business model for non-factory poultry. Our team has spent more than five years both learning from and assisting Good Shepherd with all aspects of their business as they’ve ramped-up their production of heritage chicken and turkey products.
Among other support, Frank is the first recipient of Farm Forward’s new Pay It Forward loan program. Pay It Forward loans are made available at below-market interest rates to industry-leading, highest-welfare farmers who can play key roles in developing the alternative infrastructure of sustainable, non-industrial farms. The $150,000 loan, which was funded by a grant to Farm Forward from the ASPCA, was utilized by Reese to build a state of the art, high-welfare barn for pastured-based poultry. Good Shepherd has more than tripled their production since we began providing pro bono assistance. We consider our success in growing Good Shepherd to be among our most important achievements.
The work of Farm Forward, and especially the leadership Ben Goldsmith has provided, has been of decisive importance to me and all of us at Good Shepherd. Without their ongoing support my work would come to a standstill. There are plenty of people who have tried to help with the best of intentions, but good intentions aren’t enough. Farm Forward’s hands-on, practical assistance—on my farm and in the public square—is absolutely essential. At a time when almost no one is talking about the crucial importance of preserving both genetics and husbandry techniques, they are. They see what needs to be done and they have the know-how to help make it happen. Farm Forward and Ben get it.” –Frank Reese, CEO of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch
Ensuring Accountability and Transparency
The factory farm industry knows that its actions are indefensible and that its only hope for surviving is keeping consumers in the dark. In 2011, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman coined the term “ag-gag”3 to describe legislative efforts to restrict or ban undercover farm investigations. In 2012, Farm Forward launched the website Ag-Gag.org to rally public opposition to these violations of basic free speech. As of December 2015, more than 20,000 supporters have answered our call by signing the Stop Ag-Gag petition, and we have reached hundreds of thousands more with a series of targeted online advertisements. In 2013, every ag-gag bill introduced—in a total of 11 states—was defeated. In 2014, ag-gag bills in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont were all defeated, with only Idaho passing ag-gag legislation. In response, Farm Forward joined a coalition of animal protection organizations, civil rights groups, and media outlets to file a lawsuit against Idaho in federal court to strike down its ag-gag law as unconstitutional—and we won! In 2015, ag-gag was struck down as unconstitutional in the state of Idaho. With backing from industry giants like Monsanto, our work has just begun.
Helping Expand and Improve Animal Welfare Certification
Currently, few animal products feature legitimate animal welfare certifications, leaving consumers confused about what products meet their ethical standards. Most animal welfare claims cannot be trusted, but a few can. The most rigorous and comprehensive certification today is the Animal Welfare Approved Program of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). While AWI has provided a gold standard, its penetration of the market has been limited, in part because it offers only a single standard of welfare instead of a tiered system. Farm Forward recommends Animal Welfare Approved products for those who eat meat but our energies have been spent trying to develop a complimentary certification that would not only certify the best of the best (as AWI does), but utilize a tiered system to communicate to consumers the full range of welfare standards available.
To this end, Farm Forward has played an important role in growing what is now the nation’s largest animal welfare certification, Global Animal Partnership (GAP). GAP now oversees the welfare standards that shape the lives of more than 290 million animals. We have worked with GAP both as consultants providing thousands of hours of pro bono and at-cost support, and in our capacity as a member of GAP’s multi-stakeholder board to help grow the organization and to constantly press for improvements in its signature 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. Farm Forward Chairman, Steve Gross is a founding member of the GAP Board of Directors. In 2015 our work resulted in the top tiers of GAP’s new turkey standards, Step 5 and Step 5+, becoming among the strictest in the world.
Farm Forward also contributed to the revision of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) meat and poultry standards. SASB provides voluntary, sustainability-related accounting standards for companies that need to disclose sustainability activities to investors. Late last year, SASB began revising its Meat, Poultry & Dairy Sustainability Accounting Standard. Farm Forward (as well as Humane Society International, which Farm Forward invited to participate) successfully requested that the three best welfare certifications—Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership, and Certified Humane—be added to the SASB standards as examples of certifications that companies adhering to SASB’s standards could use when identifying the percentage of their animal protein that is certified to a third-party animal welfare standard.
Culture Makers Speaking Up for Animals
Addressing issues of animal well-being and sustainability in farming requires a broad approach: Changing the way a nation eats is as much a cultural issue as it is a technical one. Reforming farming requires political action and scientific expertise in animal welfare, but it also requires the work of creative writers, artists, humanities scholars, and religious leaders. Increasingly, farmed animal advocates have their eye on the “long game” of fundamentally shifting our treatment of animals to better align with our values. This means engaging constituencies, like persons of faith, that often have been ignored by advocates.
One prominent example of this is the HSUS’s creation over the past decade of a formal Faith Outreach program.4 Farm Forward is honored that our Founder and CEO Aaron Gross serves on HSUS’s Faith Advisory Council and that HSUS has sought his consultation as an expert in both animal welfare and religious studies.5 Farm Forward has assisted in several recent cultural victories along these lines:
Time ranks Farm Forward Board Member Jonathan Safran Foer among the writers who have become a “voice of this generation.” The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Esquire call him “brilliant.” His works have been translated into 30 languages, and his first two novels have both been made into major motion pictures. Foer’s third book, written in close collaboration with Farm Forward, is a unique exploration of the issues that arise from factory farming and the alternatives that are available to conscientious consumers. Eating Animals, Foer’s deeply personal exposition of Farm Forward’s vision, was released in November 2009 to critical acclaim.
It is the kind of wisdom that, in all its humanity and clarity, deserves a place at the table with our greatest philosophers.” –The Los Angeles Times’ Review of Eating Animals
Eating Animals is currently being adapted into a major motion documentary. The film is being produced by Academy Award®-winning actress and Farm Forward supporter Natalie Portman with funding from Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Christopher Quinn, the award-winning director of God Grew Tired of Us, will direct the film. Farm Forward CEO Aaron Gross has met with Portman and Williams and is working closely with Quinn on the documentary, just as he did with Foer on the book.
Farm Forward believes the film will reintroduce the traditional philosophy of high-welfare animal agriculture and the value of plant-based alternatives to a new audience that otherwise might never learn the truth about industrial animal agriculture. We believe the film, which is scheduled for release in 2016, will build even greater momentum in the push to end the abuses of factory farming.
Inspiring Future Generations of Leaders
In 2012, Farm Forward held our first series of Virtual Classroom Visits with Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer met with more than 2,100 high school and college students in eight webinar sessions to discuss animal welfare, environmental degradation, avian influenza, ag-gag, and other issues raised in his international best-seller Eating Animals. Seventy college and high school classes in three countries and twenty U.S. states participated.
In 2013, Farm Forward and Foer hosted eight Virtual Classroom Visits to discuss problems associated with factory farming with more than 3,300 high school and college students at nearly 100 institutions around the world. Participating schools included Rutgers, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, and Oberlin College. That’s a 50 percent increase in participation over our first Virtual Visit in 2012.
In conjunction with the 2014 Virtual Visits with Foer, celebrated German journalist and animal advocate Hilal Sezgin led Farm Forward’s first series of Virtual Visits in Germany. Sezgin’s book No Animal Welfare without Liberation has become a landmark text in Germany for its powerful arguments against industrial agriculture and animal exploitation, and nearly 70 groups throughout Germany signed up to discuss these issues with her. One of the major highlights of the day was a joint session which took place with both Sezgin and Foer as co-hosts. Participants were thrilled to have the opportunity to interact with both writers and to see them exchange ideas with one another.
As of December 2015, Farm Forward has hosted more than 11,000 students in nearly 90 classrooms from around the world have taken part in this exciting program—more than 85 percent of participating students have had the opportunity to interact with Jonathan live in their classrooms. The response from teachers and students has been overwhelmingly positive. We continue to develop to generate discussion surrounding Eating Animals and look forward to the next series of Virtual Classroom Visits as we continue to encourage students to examine these important issues from a variety of perspectives.
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- From PETA’s website (accessed Dec. 2, 2013).
- Temple Grandin, Species Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010) 195-217.
- Mark Bittman, “Who Protects the Animals,” The New York Times, April 26, 2011
- Details about HSUS’s programs are available here.
- From HSUS’s website (accessed December 7, 2013).