Brigitte Gothière and Johanne Mielcarek are the Director of corporate campaigns and Director at L214, respectively. They spoke with ACE Research Associates Kieran Greig and Ashwin Acharya on July 24, 2017. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be L214’s biggest accomplishments in the past year?
In the past years, L214 investigated several slaughterhouses, reaching a large audience and generating a lot of national media coverage. For example, we were invited to participate in TV discussions on the conditions for farm animals in France. The publications also led to a skyrocketing of our membership numbers: while we only had about 5,000 members two years ago (before the slaughterhouse campaign was started), we now count 28,000 members. The campaign has also led to legal changes; as a result of our investigations in 2016, all mammal slaughterhouses are now officially controlled by the government, and the results were made public. Politically, a parliamentary inquiry committee on slaughterhouses was launched and worked from July 2016 until the end of the year. This led to further investigations into slaughterhouses and increased public attention, as the media followed all of the committee’s hearings. Stakeholders from civil society—including politicians, representatives from NGOs, and representatives from the meat industry—were involved in the process. The committee’s work also led to a legal proposal for strengthening the rules that apply to slaughter. Overall, the committee’s launch was one of the biggest events following a L214 campaign.
Another success would be the results achieved through our cage-free campaign. Though L214 has campaigned against cages from our beginning almost eight years ago, we implemented significant changes during the last year. L214 started cooperating with organizations from other countries, including The Humane League and other members of the Open Wing Alliance. Sharing knowledge, skills, and tactics with these groups enabled L214 to improve its strategy regarding the cage-free campaign. We also hired staff exclusively for this campaign, something we had not been able to do before (due to funding constraints). These two factors combined helped us to achieve major commitments from the industry: before 2016, only one retailer had implemented a cage-free policy; but by March 2017, all major retailers were publicly committed to it. Of those, only one has a partial commitment in place, while the other commitments include all eggs sold. For two retailers they include egg ingredients in processed food as well.
L214 has also made progress on our vegan outreach campaigns. We continued the VegOresto campaign, which encourages restaurants to include a vegan option in their menus. So far, more than 800 restaurants have signed up to the charter and offer vegan alternatives for all courses, from starters to desserts.
While VegOresto targets restaurants, the Vegan Pratique campaign is aimed at individuals. In the French public, many myths about veganism persist—and leaving animal products off the table is often considered unachievable. Against this background, a website offers useful advice such as recipes and nutrition facts for people interested in going vegan. We recently launched a Vegan Challenge, where subscribers receive a daily email with helpful information for 21 days. Though it was only started one month ago, more than 10,000 people have already subscribed to the program. Additionally, the Vegan Pratique website itself attracts more visitors than L214’s main website (except when new investigations are published).
Could you speak more on how you measure the outcomes of L214’s most important programs?
It is hard to directly measure the impact slaughterhouse investigations have. However, the fact that the meat industry mentions L214 in its communications indicates some success. An investigation on Panzani, for example, can be shown to have negatively influenced the company’s reputation. The same is true for a recent pig farm investigation that was specifically targeted at a company in good standing. With the emergence of L214, the meat industry in France seems to view the animal movement as a threat for the first time. In 2013, they started to take the movement into account in their prospective studies. Although it is not possible to calculate the number of animals affected by the investigation campaigns, the meat industry seems to think that L214 has had an impact and that, thanks to us, an increasing number of customers have become more critical.
For the cage-free campaign, success is measured by the number of companies that commit to only using eggs from cage-free farms. In the beginning, L214 did not target the largest companies but rather focused on more achievable goals. It has since shifted to targeting the leaders in each sector first. While all retail companies are committed to a cage-free policy, several of the big players from other sectors have signed up as well. In the foodservice sector, the two largest companies in France were successfully targeted, as well as the leading restaurant chain. Measuring the number of animals affected by these changes is difficult in the case of eggs used in processed foods, while the retailer’s commitments regarding shell eggs (for which conversion is more straightforward) is estimated to impact eight million chickens. Another outcome of the campaign is a road map published by the egg industry for transitioning to cage-free farms—which did not exist before. Seven months ago, the egg federation published their plan to become 50% cage-free by 2022. However, in light of the recent commitments from retailers, this is not enough; and the egg industry will now probably review its plans for 2025.
The cage-free campaign also seems to deliver results more quickly than before. The same day L214 published an investigation into an egg farm supplying Panzani, the company declared its commitment to a cage-free policy. Another example is Domino’s Pizza, which reacted to the start of an escalating campaign by immediately agreeing to a free-range policy. The latter is particularly remarkable, because Domino’s has a reputation of being reluctant to concede to animal welfare activists. France is one of the few countries in the world where Domino’s is committed to only using eggs from cage-free farms.
Measuring outcomes is more straightforward for the vegan outreach campaigns. For VegOresto, success is quantified by the number of restaurants that signed up. L214 also makes sure they comply with their commitments. Furthermore, the campaign incorporates volunteer activists (“ambassadors”) who challenge local restaurants to prepare an exclusively vegan dinner for one night. L214 promotes the event to make sure that participation is satisfactory. After the event, two out of three restaurants kept offering the vegan menu permanently. One measure for the Vegan Pratique campaign is the number of people who sign up for the 21-day newsletter. At the end of that period, subscribers are also sent a survey to determine how they perceived the initiative and what impact it had on them. Since the program was only started recently, the survey has not produced any results yet.
What do you consider to be L214’s major strengths?
Investigations are by far L214’s major strength. We are the animal protection organization in France that carries out most of the investigations within the meat industry. An investigation into chick and duckling hatcheries, for instance, raised attention about the killing of male chicks in the egg industry and female ducklings for the production of foie gras, which led to the government funding a project for in-ovo sex selection.
Another strength is our vision of animal rights as a collective question, rather than an individual issue. Consequently, we include everyone in our communications—even farmers and the meat industry—and we make sure not to blame individual people, including workers who can be seen mistreating animals in video footage from investigations. As a consequence of L214’s inclusivity, our views and ideas, even though they may be radical, find support in the general public. This strength helps to mobilize our very responsive followers on social media and has led to animal questions being an issue during this year’s parliamentary and Presidential elections.
What do you consider to be L214’s major weaknesses at this stage?
Above all, L214 has found it difficult to achieve legal changes. Thus, the legal goals of our campaigns are usually the most difficult ones to accomplish.
Furthermore, it is hard to measure the impact of certain campaigns, such as slaughterhouse investigations. We are able to track individual responses, media coverage, and how many new Facebook followers or new members we get, as well as legal changes the campaign generates. However, the effect on meat consumption is completely unclear. That is why L214 will start a survey to measure the impact of these campaigns on citizens and their consumption of animals.
L214 is also not represented on university campuses. However, we have plans to change that later this year.
A few years ago, L214 could have mentioned many more weaknesses, but the organization learned a lot through the meetings with The Humane League and was able to improve its investigations and media communication.
What are L214’s one-year goals and overarching goals?
L214 wants to continue working on our current campaigns. Within the cage-free campaign, we managed to get public commitments from all retailers as well as the largest food service companies. The next step, which we already started working on, is to target restaurant chains and producers of processed foods. We hope that within a year most of the companies in these sectors will commit themselves to a cage-free policy.
Due to the efficiency of corporate outreach campaigns and following past successes in that area, L214 will launch a campaign to improve the welfare of broiler chickens. We chose this issue because of the large number of animals involved and because of the fruitful cooperation we had with the Open Wing Alliance. Most groups in the Alliance are in favor of continuing to work together to achieve more results.
We also want to strengthen our vegan outreach campaigns in the coming months. The VegOresto project helped us gain experience in reaching out to individual restaurants, but we want to achieve better results by focusing on restaurant chains. Six chains already participate in the VegOresto campaign, but L214 wants to redirect our efforts to target the largest franchises in France.
Apart from continuing and expanding the organization’s current campaigns, L214 wants to start working towards institutional changes in food policy. A French law makes animal products mandatory in public schools and universities and L214 is going to challenge that law. Apart from making more vegan options available, L214 also wants to reduce the amount of animal products served in such institutions.
In August, L214 will hire a senior education specialist for school outreach and develop a department for humane education. In the past, the organization has received requests for interventions in schools and universities but has not been able to satisfy the growing demand. The new department will also aim at correcting a bias within the French education system, where the meat industry already provides information to these institutions.
What is L214’s approximate annual spending?
During the last few years, L214 has seen a significant rise in donations.
Our expenses for 2016 were around EUR 1.9 million. This number includes about EUR 700,000 “litigation money” or money we are legally obliged to keep until the court investigation procedure is over. The actual expenses thus amounts to EUR 1.2 million, the most part of which is spent as salaries to L214’s employees.
How would L214 use additional funding?
This has been a point of discussion within the organization, because we submitted a funding proposal to a foundation recently. If that materializes, the money from that foundation will be used for the broiler campaign mentioned above. If we got more funding than anticipated, we would use it to hire more staff for that campaign, including coordinators. We would also increase the campaign’s communication budget—which is currently set at a minimum—in order to improve the media and public impact.
Additional funding would also enable us to launch a campaign on fish, which is not possible this year given the current budget. L214 has been discussing such a project for a long time, but decided to prioritize more achievable goals—even though the number of animals affected is highest in the fish sector. Also, as Mercy For Animals and Animal Equality have demonstrated, investigations can have a large impact on how people think about fish.
As a next step, L214 would raise its employees’ wages. Originally, we were paid the legal minimum wage in France, but salaries have been raised this year. In the long term, L214 aims to pay its employees the median wage. The organization considers investments in people as a strength. Despite the low wages, the turnover rate has been low because the organization employs very dedicated activists. However, considering its growth, L214 needs to hire specialists for very specific tasks.
What recent changes, particularly improvements on existing programs or elimination of less successful programs, has L214 made?
Though these changes are not very recent, L214 has reframed some of our campaigns, such as the foie gras initiative. L214 has been campaigning against foie gras since our beginning and we even trace our origin to a grassroot campaign called Stop Gavage. Since then, we have been active every year during the festive season, although media attention has been lower in recent years due to the repetition. We therefore decided to make significant changes—such as targeting specific companies.
The cage-free campaign has undergone a shift of focus as well. For years, it had been run as a political campaign to ban cages, without yielding many successes. Therefore, L214 decided to redirect it to target the companies directly. Our recent commitments confirm the rationale that focusing on markets can lead to faster results than advocating for legal action. With cage-free policies in place, L214 is thinking about resuming our campaign for a legal ban.