A Decade Of Fighting Factory Farms: A Review From HSUS
In this article, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) looks back on farm animal welfare progress for calves, hens, and pigs in the U.S. in the past 10 years. Specifically, they review strategies that have helped end some intensive confinement practices used in the meat, egg, and dairy industries.
In addition to reviewing these successful initiatives and breakthroughs, the HSUS discusses some effective animal welfare campaign strategies they have observed and participated in over the years.
The Legacy Of Henry Spira
Belgian-American animal rights advocate Henry Spira—perhaps one of the most effective animal advocates of the 20th century—paved the way for multiple successful animal welfare campaigns that have occurred over the last decade.
Spira enhanced the movement’s strategies by focusing on specific and noticeably problematic practices, such as unnecessary and painful experimentation on cats and rabbits, and exposed these practices to the public through the media. Spira understood that a company’s success depends, at least in part, on having a humane brand image, and he used this understanding to protect animals.
Inspired by Spira’s approach, the HSUS chose to focus on a select few intensive confinement practices that the public would easily understand, namely gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages. Striking a healthy balance between intensive desk research—ensuring that all work was firmly grounded in science—and applying direct action and advocacy proved to be a successful approach for the HSUS.
Undercover investigations have proved to be a powerful and successful method for exposing animal cruelty and heightening the public’s compassion for farm animals. For example, a 2007 video documenting the inhumane treatment of dairy cows at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company in California led to widespread press coverage and an unprecedented arrest of slaughterhouse employees. (The slaughterhouse was eventually forced into bankruptcy due to resulting litigation and settlement costs.) The HSUS, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing conducted more than 50 similar investigations in the U.S. and Canada between 2001 and 2017, thus bolstering their public image and raising the consciousness of the general public.
Following the HSUS’ corporate outreach campaigns aimed at large pork and egg buyers, major companies soon announced pledges to phase out gestation crates and battery cages. Among them was McDonald’s, which made the pledge in 2012, followed by nearly 60 other major U.S. companies. A few years later, in 2015, McDonald’s led the way by pledging to transition to 100-percent cage-free eggs in both its U.S. and Canadian supply chains within 10 years. Other major companies soon followed suit.
A rising tide of corporate social responsibility and the demand for ethical and sustainable corporate policies no doubt helped facilitate these improvements and the success of animal welfare campaigns that the HSUS engaged in.
The 2006 Arizona gestation crate ballot initiative, Proposition 204 (“The Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act”), essentially called for a ban on the tethering and confinement of pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal. The initiative passed in a landslide vote. The following year, the American Veal Association decided to move the entire U.S. veal industry to group housing.
In 2008, the HSUS and other organizations enjoyed another victory with the passage of California’s Proposition 2, which prohibits the tethering and confinement of sows, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens. The legislation has secured more living space for millions of animals now and in the years to come.
As stated by the authors, this victory “remains one of the most important advancements for farm animals in the history of U.S. animal protection work, easing the way for subsequent public and corporate policy and standards setting work.”
In the past decade, the HSUS and other animal rights organizations have driven the change toward ending the intensive confinement of farm animals, targeting the most egregious practices first and foremost. The work of the HSUS in the last decade shows that effective change for animals is possible through undercover investigations, corporate engagement, and legislative work. All of these tactics can increase public awareness and corporate accountability concerning environmental, health, and animal ethics issues.