The following is a summary of a conversation that took place on March 14, 2014 as part of our comprehensive investigation of the Farm Animal Protection Campaign. Paul Shapiro spoke with Jon Bockman, ACE’s Executive Director.
The two primary goals of the HSUS Farm Animal Protection Campaign are combating the most extreme confinement practices and abuses in the animal agribusiness system and reducing total demand for animal products. Regarding combating the extreme confinement practices, they conduct efforts to end gestation crates for pigs, battery cages for hens, veal cages for calves, and tail docking of dairy cows. They also work to eliminate force feeding for foie gras. Regarding reducing consumption, the goal is to tangibly reduce demand as much as possible. While leafleting and ads are great, looking at this campaign similarly to the campaigns against gestation crates, HSUS goes to institutional buyers of meat to reduce demand for meat by persuading them to implement Meatless Mondays or other meat reduction programs.
1 year goals
In the coming year, they hope to make progress on eliminating gestation crates from Walmart’s pork supply chain and banning gestation crates in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut and tail docking of dairy cows in Colorado and tentatively in Wisconsin. They will also be doing a lot of work related to the implementation of Prop 2 and AB1437 in California. Six states are suing California to nullify the provisions that require animal welfare standards for eggs sold in California regardless of where the eggs were produced, so work remains to be done.
HSUS recently played an influential role in banning veal crates in Kentucky.
They worked with the LA Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, to eliminate meat from its menus on Mondays. They serve 650,000 meals every weekday. The director of dining has now become a great ally and does events with HSUS that help other directors of dining with their meat reduction programs. Another large district they’ve had success in is San Diego.
Funding last year
The amount of funding that HSUS has is often greater than what other groups have, but Farm Animal Protection is just one program within HSUS and has a small fraction of its total budget. With greater funding, they could have people all over the country working with directors of dining. In the lobbying world, animal protection opponents are very present – they lobby Congress, state legislatures, and even major retailers. They aren’t at the food service level of school districts and hospital cafeterias, even though those places are buying a lot of meat. In the immediate term, HSUS could use 20 more people around the country working with directors of dining to implement meat reduction programs. That would help to come a little bit closer to leveling the playing field against multi-billion dollar industries.
How funds donated to the Farm Animal Protection Division affect its overall budget depends on how any donation restriction is worded. If they were going to start a drive to hire new people for the meat reduction program and people were giving to that, it would all be additive. In fact, any money restricted to the institutional meat reduction program would be additive.
It happens regularly that people contribute to specific projects. One supporter recently gave a sizable donation for the purpose of creating and marketing a new anti-gestation crate video. They wouldn’t have made the video without the donation, but because of the donation they have made the video and are now marketing it.
Future funding situation
Paul says it is very hard to predict what their funding situation will be like in the future with any certainty. For instance, the gestation crate campaign started because one donor made a seven-figure gift specific to that issue. That transformed the future of the gestation crate issue, and it couldn’t have been predicted.
Additional marginal funds
If the Farm Animal Protection division received $10k, $50k, or $100k in additional marginal funding, there are several possibilities for how they would use it. They might hire additional undercover investigators, or do ads in food service director, restaurant industry, or supermarket industry publications. They might use it toward Food Forward events. (These are monthly events in different regions of the country. They bring food service directors from that region for a day long seminar with cooking demos and talks from other directors of dining and HSUS about how to implement meat reduction programs. They’re not cheap, but give access to a lot of influencers at once.)
Paul says it’s hard to tell which of these would be most helpful and should take highest priority. They would probably want to do a series of things that could be really good, not just one thing.
A lot of what the Farm Animal Protection division does is driven at least partly by the interests of individual donors. When deciding what new campaigns to pursue, Paul tries to influence the decision towards institutional outreach. However, sometimes other things like killing ag-gag bills have to take priority, because the stakes are so high if those bills pass.
No other organization with comparable political influence
Part of why HSUS focuses on ag-gag bills is that there isn’t another comparably politically potent organization working on behalf of farmed animals in the US. HSUS has a special obligation to lead these fights in the legislative arena not only because HSUS conducts undercover investigations, but also because they are the only animal group that can have success. They hope that situation will change by other groups becoming more powerful, because it isn’t good for there to be only one organization dominant on the political agenda for animals. Undercover investigations are very valuable to the animal movement’s success, and HSUS is well-poised to help combat the threat that they face.
The ASPCA is starting to do more of this type of work. They’re not likely to do anything on meat reduction, but are increasingly focusing on growth rates of individual broiler chickens and have split some costs for lobbyists on the ag-gag fight with HSUS. They are pursuing battery cage legislation in Rhode Island with HSUS and Farm Sanctuary. They are getting more involved and HSUS hopes they will be successful.
Measuring impact and outcomes
Some outcomes are very easy to measure, like the number of ag-gag bills that are defeated, the number of laws banning inhumane farming practices that are enacted, or the number of companies getting rid of gestation crates or battery cage eggs. It’s harder to measure outcomes of activities like Paul’s segment on CNN Headline News every 5 or so weeks, which has about 300,000 viewers per segment who see factory farming footage. That’s the type of footage that groups pay to get people to watch, but it’s hard to measure the impact on viewers – or similarly the impact of news stories – about HSUS’s work. It seems effective because the media attention has such a big reach. Similarly, HSUS publishes dozens of pro-meat reduction op-eds in college newspapers annually. The impact of these are hard to measure.
Success of recent programs
The institutional meat reduction program and the anti-gestation crate campaign have been the most successful recent programs. They’ve had dramatic results. The gestation crate campaign has been significantly more successful in the corporate sphere than in the legislative sphere. In addition to having banned gestation crates in nine states, they have also implemented policies with over 60 major pork buyers, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Quizno’s, and Campbell’s Soup.
Signs that programs need change
Oftentimes, HSUS doesn’t receive negative attention from the mainstream press. If many places refused to work with HSUS on their programs, that would be a bad sign. More likely than that would be that HSUS contemplated a new avenue that would be more effective than their current programs; it seems likely that they, like everyone, are not doing things maximally effectively and that there is room for continuous improvement, which is what they should be striving for.
For example, Food Forward is a very new program; they used to just meet with one director of dining at a time, which was still enormously efficient because of how much purchasing each director does. But by bringing a couple of dozen directors together at once can exponentially increase their impact. They’ve been doing this for less than half of a year.
With institutional meat reduction, a lot of how to proceed is by feel. One thing they’re thinking about is how to reach the largest school districts, like LA. With smaller school districts that might be serving 3-5,000 meals per day, they need to decide whether to go one-by-one or to just do seminars like Food Forward. But even 5,000 meals per day is a big reduction in demand for meat, so right now it still seems like a worthwhile activity.
Less effective programs
Food Forward is a good example of a way that they increased the effectiveness of a program that had room for improvement.
The way to win the gestation crate issue is to help Walmart implement a gestation crate policy, and so far HSUS has not succeeded in that. One step that should be helpful is that their supplier Tyson Foods has reversed their position on gestation crates, due to a massive HSUS campaign involving investigations, litigation, shareholder advocacy, meeting with institutional investors, and more.
Every employee is a key leader; right now there are 11 employees of the Farm Animal Protection division. Hopefully, they will add more employees soon.
They have very low turnover. Several people have been there for 5-9 years (since the beginning of the campaign). People have been added mostly in new positions.
They train new staff with standard procedures, including reading about the history of the campaign, going through an HSUS orientation and also a Farm Animal Protection orientation. There’s also ongoing development – for example, people give talks to the rest of the campaign team, and use subsequent critiques to help improve their work. Or, people give talks about things that have helped them personally to become more effective.
They’re happy to talk about what they’re doing when people ask. They publish a timeline of some campaign highlights online.
HSUS doesn’t create any lists of failures in particular, but a lot of their activities are public and therefore can’t be hidden if they fail. For instance, legislative campaigns are extremely public by nature. They’ve had failed anti-gestation crate bills in many places – New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, and Delaware. One of the reasons they succeed so often is that they attempt a lot of campaigns that don’t succeed. Paul quotes Wayne Gretsky as saying “You miss every shot you don’t take.”
Paul has personal conversations about what works and what doesn’t with other animal advocates a lot. One more formal way that HSUS shares information is through an annual meeting with a few groups that frequently collaborate and short weekly calls (mostly about legislation) with the same groups.