Josh Balk is the vice president of the Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection (HSUS FAP). He spoke with ACE Research Associate Jamie Spurgeon on July 16, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
What would you consider to be HSUS FAP’s three biggest accomplishments from the past year?
This year, we announced the most in-depth plant-based policies in the history of our movement. We developed these policies with three of the world’s largest food service companies: Compass Group, Aramark, and Sodexo. To give a sense of the size of these companies, we can compare them to other food service companies in the United States. We recently worked with the company Creative Dining, for example, which is in the top 20 largest food service companies, and they have about 100 accounts (i.e. schools, universities, hospitals, and other institutions that they serve). In contrast, Compass Group has about 10,000 accounts. Our work with these three large companies has been extensive. With Sodexo, we spent a month at their headquarters working with their dining and culinary leadership team on plant-based initiatives. During that month, we created 200 entirely plant-based recipes that will begin to circulate throughout their operations. Given the scale of Sodexo’s operations, these recipes have the potential to serve hundreds of thousands of people every day. As one example with Aramark, it has an account with Arizona State University (ASU), the largest university in the United States. In just one day, about 80,000 people purchase food on the ASU campus, and they will now be exposed to our new plant-based menu items and their dining staff will have in-depth plant-based culinary training options. Our goals with shifting dining operations to focus on plant-based meals is to make them delicious enough to attract everyday meat eaters and to market them in a way that encourages meat eaters to order them.
As well as plant-based culinary training, menu development, marketing strategies, and recipe creations with these companies, we have also been working on plant-based dining concepts. Where dining halls often have dining stations specializing in food from distinct cuisines, we have begun to develop dining stations that are entirely plant-based. In some instances, we have even been able to develop entire plant-based dining halls featuring subtypes of plant-based options to fulfill the dietary needs and preferences of all customers. Sodexo will be launching these dining concepts this year, and we created a very similar plant-based dining concept with Compass Group called ‘Rooted.’ This is a section of an existing dining hall which will now become entirely plant-based. Here at FAP, we created the concept, developed the menu, organized the recipes, and came up with the named ‘Rooted.’ When we pitched it to Compass Group, they were very responsive and they’ve been launching it at numerous accounts ever since.
Another project we have been working on, this one specifically with Aramark, is the design and implementation of training sessions in plant-based culinary methods. We have visited Aramark staff numerous times, at both their headquarters in Philadelphia and their regional locations across the United States, to train their staff in plant-based cooking, plant-based menu development, and marketing.
Another component of our work to reduce the number of animals raised and killed for food is helping startups in the plant-based and clean-meat fields get funding. Our team at FAP has been responsible for getting roughly an astonishing $200 million to startups working with plant-based and clean meat. We believe it may be the most amount of money ever invested in plant-based and clean meat stemming from the work of an NGO in history. We feel very strongly that this type of work will be game changers for animals and revolutionize efforts to shift the world away from raising animals for food.
Corporate reform division
This year, we worked with almost 100 companies to enact in-depth animal welfare policies. We have developed these policies with other effective animal advocacy organizations. Among the companies that we’ve reached so far are many of the largest fast food chains in the United States. We recently launched a major, seven-figure campaign against McDonald’s in an attempt to enact a policy of this kind. We put together the largest television advertisement campaign against a company in one city in the history of the animal advocacy movement, and maybe even the largest television advertisement campaign of its kind, ever. As a result of the campaign, we also got an exclusive in the Chicago Tribune. McDonald’s, meanwhile, had to create a new call center just to respond to all the calls they were receiving as a result of the campaign.
We also worked with TGI Fridays to add the Beyond Burger to their menu, and with White Castle to add the Impossible Burger to their menu. Going forward, we plan to work with other companies to make similar menu changes. We hope we will be making announcements shortly about other companies adding more of these plant-based options to their menus.
This year, we have killed many ag-gag and right-to-farm bills. If passed, ag-gag bills would make it criminal for animal organizations like the HSUS to perform undercover investigations. Some of them are written so strictly that they criminalize the simple act of taking a photograph of a farm from the other side of the street. The most extreme versions of ag-gag bills make it illegal for any media outlet to even publish a photograph like this. In this scenario, media outlets would be in criminal violation of the law just by showing images of factory farms. Given that bills like these are most often introduced in the most rural states where factory farms are a major part of the economy, it is not easy to successfully oppose them. Even still, the Humane Society leads the national campaign against ag-gag bills, and we win more times than we lose. We are proud of our team’s hard work to stop these bills from becoming law.
Right-to-farm bills, if passed, could prevent legislation against standard factory farming practices. For example, the passing of a right-to-farm bill might mean that we cannot legally ban the practice of caging egg-laying hens, veal calves, or mother pigs. Our team has been working hard to fight these bills and make sure that they don’t make it into law, even in the toughest states around the country. West Virginia, for example, is a notoriously difficult state for animal welfare advocates, and yet we have been able to kill right-to-farm bills there.
We are currently working on stopping the King amendment to the Farm Bill. If it passes into law, this amendment would wipe out farm animal laws across the United States. It is currently in the House version of the Farm Bill, but we have successfully worked to ensure that it’s not in the Senate version of the Farm Bill. Whether or not the amendment will be included in the final Farm Bill will be decided in conference committee, and I am cautiously optimistic that we have conducted an effective enough campaign to ensure that it doesn’t make it to the final version.
Despite the necessity of all of this defensive legal work, it is difficult to measure the impact of preventing harmful bills or amendments from being passed. We also work on the offensive side in our legislative division, which leads to more measurable results. For example, we recently passed a law in Rhode Island to ban the confinement of egg-laying hens in cages. This was the first time in American history that a state has banned the caged confinement of egg-laying hens when there wasn’t an opportunity to conduct a ballot measure. Without a ballot measure, we had to work through the legislature, sometimes is a more difficult process. Those with agricultural interest in Rhode Island and national agribusiness interests fought us tooth and nail for years, and we only just last week passed the ban into law. In California, we are currently waging Proposition 12. If successful in the November election, Proposition 12 will be the most far-reaching law for farm animals in world history. The success of Proposition 12 would ban not only the confinement of calves, pigs, and hens in cages, but also the sale of eggs, pork, and veal from caged animals. This would mean that regardless of where an animal product is produced it cannot be legally sold in California if it was produced by an animal confined in a veal crate, gestation crate, or hen cage. It is also worth noting that Proposition 12 would be the first law to cover the production of liquid eggs. Despite constituting about a third of American egg production, or about 100 million chickens nationwide, liquid eggs have never before been covered in legislation. So, if passed, Proposition 12 would break new ground in this sense as well. We will face a lot of opposition, as the big agribusiness interests are uniting against us, but we have already gotten the ballot and the California Democratic Party endorsement, and we’ll find out in the next few months if we win.
How does HSUS FAP measure outcomes in their main program areas?
It is easiest to measure outcomes in our legislative division because of the nature of the work, where we either win or lose. We can mostly track our effectiveness in this area on a kind of scorecard of wins and losses. In our offensive legal work, though, we can be a bit more innovative because we’re able to draft the bill or initiative ourselves. We try to use the most impactful language possible and make each bill or initiative more effective and wide-reaching than the last. Looking back on our work since 2002, we can see our progress from banning gestation crates in Florida, a state that has virtually no production, to where we now are in California, which is the world’s fifth largest economy. We use a data-driven approach to determining what kind of language will be most effective, collecting in-depth polling information to figure out how to make our language strict enough to have an effect while also resonating with the average voter. So far, we have won every ballot, which seems like a good indicator that our process is effective.
In our corporate reform division, we aim to bring as many companies on board with our policies as we can, and we can simply track these companies in a list. In addition, we also try to make sure that our policies are being implemented by tracking the actual change stemming from these policies on the ground. We track the progress made by companies that adopt our policy changes until the implementation is complete. It is worth noting that we most recently have focused on broiler chickens in these policy changes, given that these are the most-used land animal in the world.
In our plant-based division, measuring effectiveness is a bit more complicated. Here, we work with individual institutions on a microcosm level to see what our work with major food service companies looks like on the ground. We ask these institutions to review how much meat they served up until the introduction of our plant-based products, and then ask them to report whether that amount has changed, and if so, by how much. To use the example of ASU again, the amount of meat they purchased did go down after we started working with Aramark. As far as we are aware, they had never recorded a decrease like this before. In fact, the amount of meat they were serving was actually increasing, likely due to the growing student body and the corresponding rise in demand for meat products. So, the decrease we have seen is evidence of a significant impact.
What would you consider to be HSUS FAP’s greatest strengths?
Every division within FAP is working on historic efforts. As we’ve seen, the plant-based division is working with the three largest food services companies in the world; the corporate reform division is pushing the most comprehensive broiler chicken policies of all time and waging the largest campaigns our movement has ever done; and the legislative division is attempting to kill the worst bill for farmed animals in U.S. history and to pass the most far-reaching law for farmed animals in world history.
What would you consider to be HSUS FAP’s greatest weaknesses?
We do face a lot of agribusiness opposition. While this isn’t an inherent weakness on the part of our organization, we do tend to draw the attention of agribusiness more than any other group and probably more than all other groups combined. Agribusiness puts millions of dollars against us, which can’t be said about other organizations. This is happening to us in much the same way that health experts trying to reduce smoking and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) trying to prevent drunk driving were met with CCF counter-campaigns seeking to discredit them, using funds from the tobacco and liquor industries respectively. In some ways, the opposition we face is a badge of honor because it indicates that the HSUS is the biggest threat facing agribusiness, but it is also a practical challenge that we need to overcome.
What are HSUS FAP’s main goals for the coming year? Have your long-term plans changed since we last spoke?
A lot of our goals and long-term plans, particularly in the legislative division, will be determined by whether or not we win Proposition 12 in California later this year. If we do win, we’ll determine the next legislative priorities and continue down the path of criminalizing the cage confinement of farm animals.
In the corporate reform division, we want to get all major companies to adopt our broiler chicken policy. So far, we are thrilled to have close to 100 companies on board, but there are still many big companies that have yet to join. No major grocery chain, other than Whole Foods, has done it. Many fast food chains have not done it either, including major chicken users like McDonald’s, KFC, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A. For those companies who have already adopted the broiler chicken policy, we want to now get more plant-based products on their menus. We have a good track record of doing this, and at our most recent annual animal welfare roundtable meeting, we specifically discussed plant-based proteins. Since then, a lot of companies have been in touch with us about next steps in bringing these products onto their menus and seeing which ones will be the best fit.
In the plant-based division, we are looking to expand our work further around the United States and then globally as well. About six weeks ago, we partnered with ProVeg in Germany on an event to teach organizations around the world how to do the work that we’re doing now in the United States, bringing plant-based options into food service companies. We are eager to collaborate with like-minded organizations around the world and share the strategies that have worked well for us.
Do you have an official strategic plan for HSUS FAP? If so, how do you go about revising it? Is the board involved?
The board is actively involved in big decisions, such as decisions to launch ballot measures. And in fact, every time that we have proposed a ballot measure, the board has agreed to go ahead with it. The board also agreed to the in-depth work we’ve been doing in the plant-based division. For the HSUS, which has been around since the 1950s, the creation of a division devoted entirely to plant-based work was a big advancement. Our team is now really strong in plant-based food service work, and we have about two-thirds of our staff focused in this area. So the board has been very agreeable in terms of exploring new avenues and opening up new areas of work.
How does the work of HSUS FAP fit into the overall animal advocacy movement? Are there important ways that you support or are supported by other groups?
HSUS leads legislation efforts on the national scale, as there isn’t another group that works very much on legislative issues. In the case of Proposition 12, for example, we put in close to $2 million. We’ve seen the effectiveness of our legislation efforts since Proposition 2 in 2008, which changed the landscape in terms of cages for egg-laying hens and gestation crates for pigs. We also lead the way in terms of stopping harmful legislation. If it weren’t for the work of HSUS, I would guess that it would be close to a 100% chance that the King amendment would be passed into law. If that were to happen, all of the farm animal laws across the country, including those pertaining to shark finning, horse meat farming, puppy mills–farming of animals that are outside of what we typically think of as farmed animals. All of this is not to say that we do our work alone, as we do benefit from the help of other organizations. But we do certainly lead the charge in legislative work.
We are also the only organization doing in-depth plant-based work in the food service industry. We have a group of professional chefs from the food service industry specializing in plant-based products who work with us in this area, which I don’t think can be said of any other group.
When it comes to corporate animal welfare work, we do collaborate with and rely on the work of other groups. There is a great coalition of groups who are effective organizers, wonderful campaigners, and excellent teammates in our collective journey. For the almost 100 policies I’ve been discussing today that have been introduced into companies to improve animal welfare, I fully believe that it’s been a team effort and we are proud to be on that team.
What is the maximum amount of funding that HSUS FAP could effectively use in the next year?
Our work on ballot measures means that there is really no limit to the amount of funding that we could use. When we were working on Proposition 2 in California in 2008, we had $10 million against us. I don’t know what that figure will be this year as we’re working on Proposition 12, but it’s possible that it will be just as much or more. If we put our political work with the ballot measure aside, we have an annual budget that is roughly $4 million. Our team can operate and do really good work with that amount, but it is true that we could always use the flexibility of more. With $2 million more, for example, we could do a lot more in our plant-based work. This kind of funding could be used to hire more chefs, for example, working with our food industry partners. Politico recently ran a story about plant-based meat and included an admission from the meat industry that plant-based meat is the biggest threat to their existence, so any money that we could pour into that would not go to waste.
Did you set a fundraising goal for the last year? If so, did you meet it?
Our fundraising goal was roughly $4 million, and we did reach that goal last year.
Do you have any expectation that your funding situation going forward will differ significantly from the last couple of years?
At the moment, I don’t know how many donors who would regularly give to our team will instead donate to the upcoming ballot measure. Although we run the ballot measure, the measure itself is entirely separate from our team. Because a nonprofit can’t take the lead in getting money for a political campaign, we had to create a separate entity known as Prevent Cruelty California, and this is where all donations to the ballot measure are directed. We just recently received a $1 million donation to the ballot measure, which would have otherwise gone to our team. Because of the historic nature of Proposition 12, I’m happy to have donations going to the ballot measure, but our team’s budget can definitely be hurt during ballot measure seasons like this one.
Are there any decisions that you’ve made recently at HSUS FAP that you haven’t been able to follow through on?
No, we’ve been able to follow through on all of our plans and projects. There haven’t been any major roadblocks and we are moving forward.
Have you made any changes to improve programs over the last year? Have you ended programs that weren’t working successfully?
We are waging our legislative campaigns more effectively now than we did before. For example, we used to take out full-page advertisements on ag-gag and right-to-farm bills, but we found that they were just not very effective. We’ve now shifted our focus away from that strategy and toward more effective means of promotion, such as targeted Facebook posts in districts where we need to get people to make calls to their legislatures. We’ve also started putting money into phone banking operations to get more calls in to legislatures when we need to. In our plant-based division, we used to focus on individual accounts, like universities or schools. While we still do work with individual locations like this, we’ve switched our main focus over to the headquarters of big food service companies and we’ve found that to be really effective. In the corporate reform and animal welfare side of things, we used to travel around the United States giving presentations on topics like gestation crates and battery cages. We would bring a whole team including our animal scientist and go over and over these issues, but we found that the total cost, including travel, hotels, food, and all other necessities for the team, was just way too high. So while we haven’t completely stopped doing in-person work, we do much less of it now and we conduct most of our work with corporations over the phone.
What new piece of evidence would most change HSUS FAP’s approach to helping animals?
I would love to see in-depth studies on how to market plant-based meat. This doesn’t seem to have been done yet, and we’ve been itching for someone to do it. No one knows, for example, what to call a veggie chicken. Some people just call it ‘veggie chicken,’ but there are lots of other potential names like ‘soy chicken,’ ‘plant-based chicken,’ ‘chick’n,’ and so on. So if there were some research done to give us a data-driven guide for talking about and marketing plant-based meat, that will really help us in our work with the food service industry.
How much time do you allocate to the professional development of staff?
We pay for management training that occurs outside of the organization through a professional development firm called RedShift. Training occurs in two-day sessions, and these sessions are attended by all seven of our managers. In addition to manager trainings, we have also held one-day sessions with RedShift for everyone on the team for the last two years in a row. Internally at HSUS, there is a several-day additional management training for all managers including those on our team at FAP. Also at HSUS, there is continual training which occurs about once a month for several hours, covering wellness habits like meditation and common workplace issues. We have a mentorship program at HSUS where newer staff are paired with staff who have been with us for a longer time. On our team at FAP specifically, I encourage managers to have calls with their staff every week to monitor daily activities, but also to promote growth and maximize effectiveness.
How do you integrate and encourage diversity practices within your recruitment and hiring process?
We do have people from a number of different backgrounds on our team. It is worth noting that the vast majority of our team is made up of women, which is common in the animal advocacy movement but perhaps even more pronounced than usual on our team. Our HR department works to ensure that when we send out job applications, they go to outlets that are likely to be read by people from a number of different backgrounds. One of our team members who is Hispanic focuses his work almost entirely on people from the Hispanic community, based out of Miami and travelling around to Hispanic regions around the world doing media work.
Do you regularly interview staff or conduct surveys to learn about staff morale and work?
We have about 30 people on our team, and I recently interviewed each of them on this subject. Each interview was at least an hour, and some interviews went longer, up to an hour and a half or two hours. I’m happy to have done it, and there are actually some changes that I’ll be making on the team as a result of these interviews. For those directly reporting to me, I speak with them almost every single weekday about daily matters and we do a more in-depth check-in about once every two weeks. I’ve asked these people to then do the same thing with their staff. So everyone on our team talks to their supervisor at least once every two weeks to see how things are going beyond simply the daily minutia. I would say that the longer talks, like the ones I just had with all 30 people, happen about three times per year.