Why Farm Forward Matters

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**Updated in December 2015**
Farm Forward is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending factory farming. Since our inception in 2007, we’ve set ourselves apart by acknowledging the need for a shift toward plant-based diets while simultaneously fostering the work of higher-welfare farmers like heritage poultry expert Frank Reese. Working closely with farmers has informed our strategy and allowed us to play a unique role in moving farming forward. As Frank explains:

“I had spoken to half a dozen well-funded animal protection groups who had expressed appreciation for the high welfare I provide my birds, but none would help my efforts. I know it’s not their intention but by focusing exclusively on promoting vegetarianism or improving conditions on factory farms, these big groups end up hurting truly high-welfare farmers by making us invisible. When I met Farm Forward, I thought, these guys are different—they get it.

Factory farming is a new problem, which has created a need for a new form of advocacy. Farm Forward applies this new advocacy not only to our own campaigns but also to the approach we take with the many groups we advise and work alongside. As best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer explains:

“When I sat down to write Eating Animals there were many animal groups ready to help, but only one that wanted to think with me about a fresh approach to the issue. Farm Forward’s team is the only one I know that has the will, the expertise, and the creativity to inspire the ongoing innovation we need to end factory farming. Watch this group. They are just getting started.”

Farm Forward focuses on low-cost, high-impact programs and the development of new strategic directions that promote humane and sustainable alternatives to industrial animal agriculture. Our executive staff and board of directors helped pioneer the development of corporate campaigns and state-based legislative advocacy—the strategies that have most dramatically improved the lives of the largest number of farmed animals in the last decade. With a board that includes prominent ranchers, nonprofit leaders, corporate CEOs, and animal welfare authorities, Farm Forward is the leading group incubating and advocating new strategic directions that will continue to move humane and sustainable agriculture forward.

Establishing a Post-Factory Farm Poultry Industry

Because more chickens and turkeys suffer within the contemporary poultry industry than any other farmed animal, Farm Forward has always made the welfare of chickens and turkeys a priority. Over the past four years, we’ve worked with poultry farmers and animal welfare experts to create BuyingPoultry—a free buying guide that takes the guesswork out of finding alternatives to factory farming. Launched in November 2015, this game-changing website helps consumers identify who’s best and who’s worst nationally and in your local grocery store, find information about what these companies can do to improve conditions for animals, and makes it easy for everyone to add their voices to the cause. The site also provides information about the best plant-based alternatives and where to find them.

While making great strides in the incremental improvement of conditions on factory farms and in the promotion of plant-based proteins, animal advocates have made only modest efforts to promote the growth of truly high-welfare agricultural systems that can take market share away from factory farms. For this reason, Farm Forward focuses much of our effort helping to establish a model, post-factory poultry farm as a key step in reinventing the industry. To accomplish this goal, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) awarded Farm Forward a grant of $150,000 to launch our innovative 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.

Because only heritage poultry can be produced wholly outside of the industrial system, we’re working to protect heritage poultry by enhancing the ability of heritage producers to effectively communicate their products’ unique welfare and taste properties to consumers. Currently, farmers raising heritage poultry have very limited tools for differentiating their products from non-heritage imitations (slightly slower-growing birds colored to appear “rustic” but with profound welfare problems), which has in turn discouraged serious outside investment in heritage operations. To help solve this problem, we are currently developing “Certified Heritage” branding and intellectual property for use by all legitimate heritage producers. We are also evaluating strategies for discouraging companies from using the term “heritage” to describe non-heritage poultry products. We believe that this work will help alert consumers to the benefits of heritage poultry while making the heritage movement more inviting to investors.

Bringing Attention to Genetic Welfare

Another key part of our work on behalf of farmed birds is our efforts to put a spotlight on poultry welfare by influencing the largest and most powerful animal protection groups to flex their political muscle not only for companion animals but for the billions of chickens raised for meat. Nearly all chickens and turkeys raised in the U.S. suffer from genetic problems that interfere with everyday activities like flying, perching, and even walking because industry has used powerful new techniques of genetic manipulation to breed mutant birds that grow unnaturally fast. Because this genetically-induced suffering is so extreme and has been so overlooked, Farm Forward is especially focused on getting groups to concentrate on the welfare problems associated with genetics.

To raise awareness about this important issue, we helped guide and provide support to the oldest animal protection group in the Western hemisphere, the 2.5 million member strong ASPCA, to launch their “Truth About Chicken” campaign, which informs the public about the need to address the genetic health of chickens raised for meat. And beginning in early 2015, Farm Forward began consulting with the ASPCA to revise and help submit for publication an academic paper on the financial costs and welfare benefits of adopting the ASPCA’s platform of better husbandry practices and healthier genetics for broiler chickens. The paper will be submitted for publication in 2016.

Throughout our efforts to strengthen welfare certifications’ regard for the genetic health of poultry (more on that below), there has been a perennial need for additional demonstrations of the relationship between reduced poultry welfare and genetically accelerated growth and laying rates. As part of our work to provide additional evidence of this relationship, we have designed a study comparing the welfare and productivity of fast- and slow-growing hybrid chickens to that of standard-bred (heritage) chickens. We are currently in negotiations with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to undertake the project and hope to begin the study next spring.

By working strategically and cooperatively with the largest groups, Farm Forward leverages each donation we receive in a unique way; one dollar donated to Farm Forward may shape how thousands of dollars are spent in the larger movement against factory farming.

Thought Leadership and Civic Engagement

Another part of our mission at Farm Forward is the promotion of informed and vibrant discussions about factory farming that have the capacity to inspire generations of future leaders. To this end, in 2015, we held our fourth annual series of “Virtual Classroom Visits,” where author Jonathan Safran Foer met with high school and college students all over the world to discuss animal and food ethics, including many of the themes from his best-selling book Eating Animals. Over the past four years, more than 11,000 students have taken part in this exciting program. The response from teachers and students has been tremendous and we continue to work with the network of teachers and professors that have joined these visits to develop additional curriculum materials utilizing Foer’s Eating Animals.

In 2011, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman coined the term “ag-gag”1 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. So far, more than 20,000 supporters answered our call by signing the Stop Ag-Gag petition, and we reached hundreds of thousands more with a series of targeted online advertisements. Seven states have adopted ag-gag laws since 1990, but since 2013, thanks to public pressure, more than ten additional laws have been defeated. In 2015, 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.

Although we’ve made significant strides against ag-gag over the past two years, we need to stay on high alert for similar legislation to be introduced in 2016 and beyond. With backing from industry giants like Monsanto, our work has just begun!

Changing Culture

Legislation is crucial to ending factory farming, but legislation only becomes possible as people begin to think differently about animals and differently about food and farming. For this reason, Farm Forward gives special attention to working with culture makers like writers and movie directors who can strike at the deeper roots that have led to factory farming, affecting change in slower but more powerful and enduring ways. In 2014, we’ve worked hard to help turn Eating Animals into a documentary that could reach many times more people than the book. Scheduled for completion in Summer 2016, Eating Animals 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, is directing the film.

Changing culture also means changing the way we use technology. For decades, America’s technological expertise in food production has been squandered developing factory farming or mitigating its problems. Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs is using big tech to imagine a more humane and sustainable future for food. Farm Forward is especially proud to promote the work of companies using technology to create “cleaner food” with plants that replicate animal products. Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat are two companies Farm Forward has spotlighted. Backed by prominent individuals like Bill Gates, PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, and Twitter founder Biz Stone, these companies are taking plant-based proteins and turning them into humane and sustainable versions of products that typically contain animal proteins. Hampton Creek is separating the chicken from the egg, and Beyond Meat is taking the chicken out of, well, chicken. These companies made huge strides in 2014, and as more resources are put into research and development for finding creative ways to reduce our meat consumption, who knows how much further we can go in finding alternatives to factory farming? We’re certain that these innovations to food production will be integral to changing the way our nation eats and farms.

Improving Farmed Animal Welfare Certification

In the summer of 2014, we launched BuyingMayo.com to raise awareness about a widespread but little-known form of cruelty within the egg industry: the killing of male chicks who are deemed worthless for egg production. And our supporters responded. In just three months, almost half a million people watched our videos, signed our petition, and made phone calls in support of our campaign. As a result, Unilever, maker of Best Foods and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, has promised to seek alternatives to killing male chicks for its products—a first for a global brand. In 2015 we continued our collaboration with Unilever as they work toward a more humane supply chain.

Another pillar of future progress to transform the way America eats and farms is better animal welfare certification. Farm Forward continues to play a central role in animal welfare certification by helping Global Animal Partnership (GAP) as it expands its signature 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. The 5-Step program has quietly become the largest animal welfare certification in America, overseeing the welfare practices of more than 290 million animals.2 Through our seat on the multi-stakeholder GAP board, Farm Forward continues to work with GAP leadership to expand its programs and to press for greater rigor and transparency in its animal welfare standards. 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. GAP’s standards, and the work of other leading certifying bodies such as the “gold standard” Animal Welfare Approved program of the non-profit A Greener World, are crucial in the fight against factory farming and need more support to reach their full potential.

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.

In New Jersey, US Senator Cory Booker recently worked with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) to draft legislation that would define the word “humane” for meat and poultry (but not egg) products. As part of this process, Farm Forward participated in discussions with AWI and other animal organizations to determine what level of welfare, as well as which welfare certification programs, should form the basis of that definition. The group concluded that the definition should fall somewhere between Global Animal Partnership’s Step 3 and Step 4. If legislation were passed that reflected this standard, this would mean that GAP Steps 1 through 3, American Humane Certified, and very likely Certified Humane could not be marketed as “humane.” While the likelihood of such legislation passing is very small, this effort is still critical both because of what it is—a US Senator championing food animal welfare—and, perhaps even more importantly, because the mere threat of the government’s preventing welfare certifications from describing themselves as “humane” because of lax standards puts pressure on those certifications to ratchet up welfare in order to meet rising consumer expectations.

You

Our base of supporters—all of you!—represents a new kind of advocate. You don’t look away from the uncomfortable aspects of creating a humane and sustainable food system. And just as importantly, you don’t ignore the obvious: that as long as factory farms continue to raise 99 percent of America’s farm animals3 eating as few animals as possible (or none at all) is a legitimate and powerful way to withdraw support from factory farming. This fearless willingness to get in the trenches with high-welfare farmers and slaughterhouse operators, while also acknowledging the validity of arguments for plant-based diets, is what sets Farm Forward and its supporters apart. This willingness matters.

Farm Forward will continue to push the envelope and innovate until factory farming is behind us. Factory farming is a recent mistake. With your help, we’re going to correct it. That matters to everyone.

Please join the Farm Forward mailing list to receive updates and important information about how you can get involved. If you’d like Farm Forward to continue our work changing the way America eats and farms, please consider making a contribution today. Every donation makes a difference.

Take Action Read Next

  1. Mark Bittman, “Who Protects the Animals,” The New York Times, April 26, 2011, available here.
  2. From Global Animal Partnership’s website (accessed Nov. 26, 2015).
  3. Farm Forward calculation based on U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2002 Census of Agriculture, June 2004; and ibid.

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