Statements on "Certified Humane" Whole Foods Investigation (Jan. 8, 2015)

Brian Burns (Press Coordinator and Investigator)

Bio:  Brian leads the DxE press team to achieve incredible results, including national coverage with the New York Times, CNN, and Fox News.  Brian has lectured at Northwestern and Berkeley on implementing social science in animal rights activism, and he collaborates with scholars at NYU and Berkeley to measure progress on our campaigns. He currently studies math and physics at UC Berkeley, and plans to continue his studies in mathematics at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2015. 

Statement: Whole Foods, as Fortune Magazine reports, is taking over America. Despite its public image, it is a corporate giant worth over 17 billion dollars, and is the second most valuable publicly traded grocery chain in the US. Whole Foods kills over an estimated 100 million animals a year for around $2.4 billion in profit. 

This success is based off of extreme deception. People care about animals: and Whole Foods seeks to turn that care into profit. In 2012, their SEC regulatory filings identified “Conscionables” – people who shop at Whole Foods for perceived ethical and social value – as their largest customer base. And its recently announced “Values Matter” Ad campaign is explicitly meant to capitalize on public concern for animals and the environment. But Whole Foods fails to meet its grandiose promises. The Global Animal Partnership, the supposedly separate nonprofit entity which trains Whole Foods’ animal welfare auditors, is in fact funded almost entirely by the company – 93% of its funds, for example, coming from Whole Foods in 2013. And the standards they enforce do little to protect animals: mutilation such as castrating baby pigs, for example, is entirely permitted.

More insidious than GAP, however, is Certified Humane. The label, run by nonprofit Humane Farm Animal Care, has the public endorsement of over 60 animal rights organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA. They claim to “improve the lives of farm animals” with “precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Birds are filthy and cramped on Certified Humane egg facilities, with only one square foot of space required per hen. According to intentionally vague standards, fecal contamination of birds feathers and skin must not be “excessive”, but is otherwise tolerated. And on these farms, conditions are so horrendous that Certified Humane has even devoted a four-page section of its standards to “Managing cannibalism in laying hen flocks”.

Why then, would major animal advocacy organizations support such horrific animal abuse? Because there is an incestuous relationship between major animal advocacy organizations and animal agriculture itself. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, for example, sits on the board of the Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal advocacy group in the US, while HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle sits on the board of Whole Foods’ Global Animal Partnership. By working together to sell tortured animals’ lives as “humane”, Whole Foods and The Humane Society of the United States are committing moral fraud on the public. You’ve heard of whitewashing or greenwashing. This is humanewashing. 

All of these factors, including Whole Foods’ meteoric rise based on public deception, horrendous animal welfare standards at Certified Humane and Whole Foods, and the failure of major animal rights groups to challenge big players in so-called “humane” animal agriculture, led us to investigate what was behind closed doors at Petaluma Farms, a "Certified Humane", certified organic Whole Foods supplier. And what we found was shocking. Wayne Hsiung will now discuss the investigation.

Wayne Hsiung (Campaign Director, Co-founder, and Legal Counsel)

Bio:  Formerly a corporate lawyer, professor of law at Northwestern, and social scientist at the University of Chicago and MIT, Wayne has a unique blend of academic, professional, and activist experience. He has presented at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and the National Animal Rights Conference and has nearly two decades of experience as an organizer in campaigns for human and animal rights. Wayne has served as lead organizer for over a dozen grassroots AR campaigns (including the groundbreaking Earthlings March of August 2013), led teams of anti-poverty activists in the low-income housing projects of Chicago, represented Fortune 500 companies, and published in top journals with co-authors such as Harvard’s Cass Sunstein. His book The Arc of the Moral Universe is due out in 2015.

Statement: Whole Foods talks about five steps of animal welfare. We found five steps of animal cruelty: crowding, stress, filth, disease, and, finally, mutilation and death.

Animals were cramped so tightly that they were sometimes literally piled on top of one another. They were exhibiting severe signs of stress including loss of feathers, rashes, and self-mutilation. They were afflicted by all manner of disease, including severe upper respiratory infections and digestive ailments so bad that some birds were covered with their own excrement. Finally, countless birds suffered from severe injury -- including beak mutilation and severe limb injuries -- and were on the brink of death. Indeed, the facility's own records indicate that hundreds of birds die in the facility every week. 

As Brian mentioned, this facility was Certified Humane and certified organic. While there were significant deviations from that standard, it's important to emphasize that the standard itself is meaningless and arbitrary. For example, it expressly recommends stretching the bird's necks until they snap as a "humane" form of euthanasia. There is nothing humane about snapping an animal's neck, and the fact that such brutality is deemed humane shows us the central problem: namely, that this industry is inherently violent. 

But perhaps the most troubling thing about this investigation, as someone who has worked with birds as a volunteer rehabber for over 10 years, is that it utterly destroys the bird's personalities. Each individual hen has unique feelings and preferences that are suppressed by the concentration camp like conditions. And what I am most proud of in this investigation is the fact that we had the opportunity to rescue a small handful of animals and give them the happy lives they deserved. Mei Hua was suffering from head trauma, dehydration, and starvation when we found her. The vet we took her to said that she had been wasting away for weeks, and had lost two thirds of her weight. Imagine a full grown man wasted away to just 50 pounds. But after a few weeks of emergency care, she is able to walk, to play, and yes even to form relationships with other hens and human beings. 

This vision of a world where we treat all animals with the same decency that we ask for ourselves -- and not Whole Foods' violent lies -- is what we should be striving for. And with the announcement of the DxE Open Rescue Network, we will be promoting the rescue of hens from these facilities across the entire world. 

Priya Sawhney (International Coordinator and Investigator)

Bio: A national figure on racism and animal rights, Priya formerly worked for The Tenderloin Housing Clinic, one of the most prominent human rights organizations in the Bay Area, and has led DxE’s groundbreaking international campaigns. She is also founder of Animal Liberationists of Color, which empowers people of color for animal rights, and consulted for major animal rights groups, including PETA, on inclusion of low-income populations and communities of color.

Statement: As Brian mentioned, DxE is a completely volunteer, grassroots network of animal rights activists. We have a presence in 95 cities in 20 countries, and we'll be deploying that network in response to the horrendous violence we witnessed at this Whole Foods supplier in two ways. 

First, we are launching a new international campaign that we are calling #UntilEveryAnimalIsFree. We will be deploying creative nonviolent direct action at Whole Foods and other establishments that profit off the abuse of animals. Our goal is to provoke dialogue, mobilize the public for animal rights, and eventually effect long term shifts in our institutions and culture. In that spirit, we are unapologetic in demanding that Whole Foods and other corporations not only stop their deceptive practices but completely take animals off their tables and shelves.

Second, we are launching the international open rescue network. This network will train and support activists across the world in exposing the violence inherent to the use of non-human animals and rescuing those same animals from abusive conditions. Our hope is to trigger waves of grassroots investigations and rescue at agricultural facilities across the country and world, focusing especially on facilities that claim to be treating animals well.