Viewing entries tagged
Whole Foods

Bars and Bricks

Bars and Bricks

By Assaf Pashut


As I stood holding a sign in front of Whole Foods Blossom Hill last Sunday, I couldn't help but recall my initial resistance to this campaign when it was pitched almost two years ago. “The target is Whole Foods?” I questioned emphatically. “Not a good idea! I can see the headlines now: 'Vegans protest most vegan-friendly food chain on the planet.'”

Like Assaf-version-2013, many vegans criticize DxE's focus on seemingly progressive corporations like Whole Foods and Chipotle. It feels counterintuitive to confront the same entities that bring us tofu burritos and vegan cookies. This concern is so pervasive that it warrants addressing thoroughly. 

DxE's latest exposé exemplifies that “humane” labels—and corporations proudly sponsoring them— speak empty words; however, let's assume that Chipotle and Whole Foods actually source their animal products from saint-like farms where animals live on green pastures prior to being killed and eaten. Would this justify the violence? As animal activists, we strive not to replace factory farms with greener pastures, but to liberate animals from exploitation altogether.

So how do we change an industry that is innately enmeshed in violence against nonhuman animals? If DxE tries to tackle every single mom-and-pop shop selling animal products, we'll burn out before lunch. If we protest fast food chains, it'd be like trying to convince a boxer to use pillows instead of fists – their audience isn't there for gentle kindness, and neither are they. To manifest visible change, we must target the bar-setters: the leaders of the industry who capitalize most from a false image of nonviolence, a.k.a. “humane meat.” They are the ones in the ring using pillows, but covertly packing them with nails.

But, DxE, why are you punishing vegan-friendly Whole Foods?

'Vegan-friendly' and 'vegan' are not the same. Falafel is vegan. A place that includes falafel on its menu is vegan-friendly. Companies are vegan-friendly because it's profitable long-term (a good sign for our movement), not because it's ethically sound. In fact, publicly traded corporations are bound by law to make choices that are most profitable for their stock-owning constituents.

Applying pressure on companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods yields results--like this.

Applying pressure on companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods yields results--like this.

More importantly, this campaign is not meant to punish anyone, but rather to effectively bring the animal rights debate to every home in the world. When DxE rallies hundreds or thousands of activists around the country to voice their opposition to the humane hoax, we are putting pressure on companies to raise the bar. This pressure is good pressure, and encourages decisions like this. If we targeted places like McDonald's, this would maybe mean slightly wider cages. For establishments like Whole Foods, in contrast, this means eliminating the pretense that killing is kindness.

Wait, DxE, what if they punish vegans and remove vegan items from their stores? Where will I get my Newman-O's?

Don't worry; your vegan treats are safe and sound. If they're not, then our model corporations aren't so progressive after all and more activists will realize this. Society has raised the bar, and Whole Foods and Chipotle rode the wave and capitalized on it. Now it's time to remove the bars completely and set free the animals we so love.

How The New York Times’ Exposé of the Meat Research Center is Deceiving Readers… and Hurting Animals

How The New York Times’ Exposé of the Meat Research Center is Deceiving Readers… and Hurting Animals

The Times condemned the abandonment of a lamb in the pasture but failed to point out the millions of other baby animals are killed, mutilated, and forcibly taken from their mothers as standard practice in the industry. 

The Times condemned the abandonment of a lamb in the pasture but failed to point out the millions of other baby animals are killed, mutilated, and forcibly taken from their mothers as standard practice in the industry. 

DxE’s lead investigator explains how the Times’ grossly misleading reporting reinforces three myths about animal agriculture.

by Wayne Hsiung

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about a little known government program in Nebraska -- the Meat Animal Research Center --  with horrifying stories of abuse, including baby animals starved or crushed, animals subjected to genital mutilation, and countless other animals suffering from diseases such as mastitis. The article quickly became one of the most shared on the Times’ site, and the world collectively gasped at the animal cruelty exposed by the Times.

So why did I -- as someone who has spent the better part of 15 years fighting for the animals we use for food often at the very places where they are being held captive or killed -- find myself shaking my head, laughing, or even crying out in outrage while reading the piece? It was not just because the article (and its Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss) demonstrated a startling ignorance of animal agriculture, though that ignorance was aptly shown.  No, I found myself reacting so negatively because the article’s focus on an obscure research center served to mask the far more insidious systemic problem: namely, that violence against animals is everywhere, including at the Times’ favorite grocer (and advertiser) Whole Foods. Indeed, the Times’ shockingly sloppy reporting on the issue propagates three dangerous myths.

Myth #1: Premature death is an unusual problem in animal agriculture. Slaughter, in turn, is humane and well regulated.

The Times writes that its investigation has shown that animals at the Meat Research Center are “subjected to illness, pain and premature death.” It uses a number of powerful stories to illustrate this point -- including a little lamb who was sick and left to starve in a grassy field -- and mentions that “calves have been dying at high rates since 1984, and the easy care lambs for 10 years.” In contrast, the Times writes, “[t]he center’s parent agency, the Agriculture Department, strictly polices the treatment of animals at slaughterhouses and private laboratories.” The reader is left with the impression that, if not for the insidious Meat Research Center, animals would have the opportunity to live their lives out peacefully! (Indeed, even at the Center, it appears the problem of “premature death” has only existed since 1984.)

Left unspoken: all animals in the agricultural system are victims of “premature death.” Chickens are killed at six weeks. Pigs at six months. Cows at 1.5 years. Hens such as Mei Hua, who we rescued from an egg farm, are killed at around 2 years. In all cases, the animals are still juveniles when their lives are ended -- both chronologically and in terms of physical and psychological characteristics. Moreover, the “strict” policing of slaughterhouses that the Times article describes is in fact an industry-run charade. Nearly two thirds of slaughterhouses systematically fail to properly stun animals, leaving them screaming in pain and terror as their bodies are torn to pieces on the slaughter line. And the minimal requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act -- which does not cover poultry -- are hardly even enforced. Investigators have relayed stories of showing up at facilities they are legally obligated to inspect… and simply being refused access to the facility. This is the natural result, of course, when the Department of Agriculture is a revolving door for industry executives.

Contrary to the Times' reporting, stories of distressed animals left to die -- such as Mei Hua pictured here -- are routine in all of animal agriculture. 

None of this even begins to address the millions of animals who die from starvation, disease, or sheer neglect even before they get to slaughter. Anyone who (unlike the Times reporters) had actually been to an animal farm would recognize this, as the “premature death” toll is quite apparent from the corpses littered everywhere on the premises. The hen we rescued from a Whole Foods farm, Mei Hua, would have been another such victim if we had not arrived on the scene and rushed her to emergency medical care.

Myth #2: Mutilation, confinement, and other abusive practices are unusual in animal production.

The Times similarly recounts horrific stories of abuse at the Meat Research Center, including disease, mutilation, and confinement.  “A single, treatable malady — mastitis, a painful infection of the udder — has killed more than 625,” the writer explains. “[P]regnant ewes were injected with so much of the male hormone testosterone that it began to deform their babies’ genitals, making urination difficult… An animal manager, Devin M. Gandy, complained in 2012 that swine were kept in pens so small, 4 feet by 4 feet, that they appeared to violate basic rules on animal care.” Perhaps the most terrifying example of abuse is the story of a “young cow, a teenager” who was tied down and subjected to repeated sexual assault by “six bulls.”

The Times, once again, makes it seem as if all of these practices are unusual forms of abuse. (After all, there would be no “story” otherwise.) In fact, the exact practices condemned by the Times are routine practices in animal agriculture, including on so-called humane farms. For example:

-          While the author condemns the death of 625 cows from mastitis (a painful infection of the udders caused by overmilking), out of 580,000 animals housed by the facility since 1985, hundreds of thousands of dairy cows die from the exact condition every year, including on “humane farms.” Indeed, the annual death/cull rate from the condition -- which some reports have found to be as high as one third of the entire herd annually -- is so high that all dairy cows (even those who have no immediate medical emergency) are slaughtered at around five years. Their bodies are too broken for them to go on. 

-          The Times expresses horror at “deformed genitals” but fails to acknowledge that male pigs and cows go through genital mutilation -- castration without anesthetic -- as routine practice on all farms. Once again, this is allowed by every “humane” certification standard, including Certified Humane, GAP, and Animal Welfare Approved, which have all been enthusiastically recommended by the Times’ writers in prior articles. 

-          The Times decries the extreme confinement of pigs at the research center but fails to point out that Whole Foods supplier Niman Ranch, which loves to brag about how its pigs are raised “outdoors or in deeply-bedded pens,” permits animals to be raised in as little as one third of the space (5 square feet compared to 16 square feet) allotted for the pigs by the research center. (Imagine a 200 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub. This is the reality of Whole Foods' "humane" farms.) 

Graphic footage of recto-vaginal assault, which millions of cows suffer through on farms across the world. 

-          Finally, while the Times recounts with horror the story of a “teenager” who is subjected to repeated sexual assault, it completely ignores the fact that recto-vaginal assault, in which a man violently inserts his arm into a young cow's anus and vagina simultaneously, is the standard method of insemination for all 9 million dairy cows in this country. You can see for yourself (WARNING: GRAPHIC LINK) the fear and pain this practice causes the animals. (The farmer in the video, which was industry-produced, himself acknowledges the fear the animal feels as she is about to be violated.) 

If even more horrific practices are standard practice for the entire industry, why is the Times focusing its ire on an obscure research center that no one has ever heard of?

Well, that brings us to the next myth:

Myth #3: Industry is making rapid progress in improving animal welfare.

I previously noted that the Times has a dual interest in promoting the myth of humane animal agriculture. First, it knows what its readers want to hear. In the increasingly polarized, audience-driven world of news media (Fox News, etc.), this creates a strong incentive to distort facts to serve the readers’ pre-existing worldview. None of the Times’ readers want to hear about the cruelty inherent to eating animals, so the Times ignores it completely. Second, the Times has a massive financial stake in maintaining advertising from the fastest-growing and most media savvy corporations in the world, i.e. humanewashers such as Chipotle and Whole Foods.

It should come as little surprise to those of us who have observed the Times’ shameful reporting on animal issues, then, that it bends over backwards to defend the prominent name brands of animal agriculture:

Last January, Tyson Foods told its suppliers to start using pain medicine when they castrate or remove the tails of pigs, and to stop putting pigs in pens so small they cannot move. Whole Foods and some other supermarkets are refusing to buy fresh meat from sources that do not meet their standards for animal welfare.

Sounds great, right? Except there are some disturbing holes. The reference to Tyson, for example, fails to point out that the letter sent to suppliers (a direct response to an undercover video showcasing horrific abuse of pigs) did not impose any actual requirements. It merely “encouraged” and “supported” such changes, which, of course, the entire industry has been doing for the past 10,000 years. (When was the last time an industry rep admitted that he supported abuse?) Whole Foods, in turn, is described as “refusing to buy” from sources that fail to meet their standards, but the Times fails to point out that 93% of the funding for the “independent” Global Animal Partnership -- the source of Whole Foods’ standards -- is, you guessed it, provided by Whole Foods itself. The one and only time Whole Foods’ standards have actually been independently scrutinized -- by DxE’s recent investigation -- exposed the moral and factual fraud embedded in Whole Foods’ entire humane meat mythology. And yet, far from “refusing to buy,” the company doubled down on its supplier, a farm run by a man who has publicly stated that he does not believe in the existence of “happy chickens.”

Images from the research center, such as the above, show far better conditions than even so-called "humane" farms. So why does the Times make the abuses within seem like unusual cruelties? 

Indeed, by any objective measure, the Meat Research Center is doing far better than the Tysons and Whole Foods of the world. For example, while the institute is condemned for having insufficient veterinary staff for the 30,000 or so animals on site, animals in agricultural facilities never receive any veterinary care at all. Moreover, while the institute absolutely is involved in shameful neglect of animals -- abandoning some to die from predator attacks or inclement weather -- the green pastures at the center are light years better than the images we took from a “certified humane” Whole Foods farm, where the animals were cramped in such filthy, disease-ridden conditions that we had to hold our breath every time we went in. And while the Times rightly accuses the institute of emphasizing profit over pain -- citing internal documents where pain is mentioned 2 times and profit over 100 --- the mere acknowledgment that animals are feeling creatures is better than the Whole Foods farmer who disturbingly believes that chickens cannot feel pain at all.

What, exactly, is going on? Why would the Times ignore the mountain for the molehill?

There are three possible explanations. .

The first and most charitable explanation is that the reporter and editors are simply ignorant. While the Times is the gold standard for journalism, our recent experience with the Times shows that its reporters are surprisingly sloppy -- misquoting, making clear factual errors, and otherwise stumbling in the face of press deadlines.

The second explanation is the one that I offered previously: that the Times is bowing to financial pressure and incentives. It’s worth noting that this bias need not be insidious or even intentional. Ample psychological research shows that people go out of their way to believe things that serve their self interest. So, for example, if a Whole Foods CEO were to make a call to the Times’ publisher, explaining why allegations against the company were false, the publisher would be inclined to believe his story. After all, millions of dollars might be at stake in this belief. In contrast, the Meat Research Center is an obscure institute that has no advertising dollars. Indeed, attacking the “unnatural” practices at the center will very likely push people to seek out “natural” alternatives at Whole Foods and Chipotle -- the Times’ partners in crime.

Given the stranglehold of industry and tradition over public dialogue, independent media is vital to creating a more honest look at animal industry. 

The third and most likely explanation, however, is the most terrifying. Perhaps the reporter did actually make a good faith effort at due diligence. And perhaps the Times isn't unduly influenced by financial pressure. Instead, perhaps they have so normalized the violence against animals in agriculture that they can’t even see it as violence. The distinctive feature of this investigation, after all, is not the violence -- far more gruesome practices are routine in animal farming -- but rather that it’s occurring in the context of “experiments.” Follow-up coverage of the Times’ story (see, e.g., here and here) seems to also emphasize this point. The logical and moral distinction between torturing animals for science, on the one hand, or gustatory pleasure, on the other, is of course completely arbitrary. But even the typical New York Times reporter (or reader) may not be willing to acknowledge this, since it might implicate their own behavior.

What's the moral of the story? The Times' incredible efforts to ignore or even disguise violence that's happening right in front of their eyes shows us that we can’t just show people the violence. (They’ve already seen it, and are quick to dismiss it so long as it’s “normal.”) We have to make our own media, and craft our own stories -- through facebook, youtube, twitter, and every other platform we have -- in a way that interprets the violence as, well, violence. We have to empower critical voices with less bias and more knowledge, such as James McWilliams’ The Daily Pitchfork. And above all, instead of relying on Big Media alone, we have to inspire people on the ground to be change agents in their own communities. Big Media will eventually come around, but only if we force the issue onto the table and point out the absurdities in the entire system. And that is precisely why we at DxE take nonviolent direct action

Did The New York Times Cover Up Whole Foods's Fraud?

Did The New York Times Cover Up Whole Foods's Fraud?

by Wayne Hsiung

Basic failures in the Times's coverage of DxE's investigation -- including fabricated quotes -- should lead us to question reliance on Big Media. 

When deciding where to pitch our investigation, we faced a question: do we go with Big Media publications that have a history of defending Whole Foods, and extensive ties with the company? Or do we shoot for a smaller outlet that might be more sympathetic to our message? Our press advisors resoundingly recommended the former route, as the reach and prestige of a flagship outlet such as The New York Times would be a huge victory for our network -- and for the message that we are trying to get out.

But there were a number of problems with the Times’s coverage by Sabrina Tavernise and Stephanie Strom, which prominent food writer James McWilliams described as "deeply skewed," that deserve a response. Indeed, there was a basic failure of the journalistic process, including refusal to consider incriminating documents, blatant misquotes, and massive over-representation of industry perspectives, that should remind us that, while Big Media gives us an opening, it’s up to us to deliver a truthful message.

The Times made, or amplified, flatly false factual statements, and used fabricated quotes to do so.

The industry’s main contention is that the video is not representative of the general conditions in the farm -- and, by extension, other humane suppliers. Steve Mahrt, for example, claims in the article that only “three chickens” were found in distress. The Times quotes Marht on this approvingly, linking within the quote (something I have never seen before in over 20 years reading the Times) to a propaganda video (link now dead) from the farm showing fraudulently idyllic conditions.

Mr. Mahrt said the video produced by Direct Action Everywhere “isn’t anywhere indicative of our operation — they had to go through 15 barns off and on over a year to find three chickens they could use to make their point in this video.”

The Times then moves on to me for a response.

For his part, Mr. Hsiung said Direct Action Everywhere had found dozens of chickens in poor condition but had highlighted only a few in the video.

The reader is left to puzzle. If we found dozens of hens in poor condition, why did we highlight “only a few” in the video? Our work -- and the challenge to Whole Foods -- is immediately discredited.

Contrary to the Times's reporting, the first few seconds of our video demonstrate dozens of hens in crowded, filthy conditions. 

Of course, if you’ve seen our video, you’re probably laughing. Indeed, this was the incredulous reaction of a (conservative, non-animal-loving) professor of law at the University of Chicago I shared the coverage with: The New York Times’s focus on the issue was ridiculous given that far more than three animals are shown in the video’s first 30 seconds. Moreover, we provided the Times with dozens of photos of sick and distressed animals, and documents from the farm itself proving that far more animals were dying every single day. (I suppose in the Times’s world, a brutal death is not a “poor condition?”)

But here’s the problem: the article didn’t initially link to the video (or even provide a photo). Brian Burns and I badgered the Times all day, but it wasn’t until almost a full day after the article was posted -- and all the viewers had already passed through the site -- that the link was finally included in the article.

That’s right. In coverage of an investigatory video exposing animal cruelty, the Times refused to post the video of the investigation, but did post (embedded within a direct quote) the response video by a known industry shill.

What in heaven’s name is going on?

It gets worse, though. Suppose the Times just felt the need to quote “both sides” and made an inadvertent error in failing to include the video initially. At least they gave us a chance to respond, right? And I got the chance to explain our video?

Wrong. Because the quote attributed to me -- that we highlighted only a few hens in the video -- was fabricated. Indeed, the Times sent me that exact statement, asking if it was accurate, and I rejected it. I wrote in response:

We personally witnessed hundreds of animals in extreme distress over the course of the investigation. (By implication, thousands more were similarly afflicted.) And all of the animals were suffering from the crowding and poor conditions inside the facility, even if they were not suffering from an immediate medical emergency. 

The reporter wrote back “thanks wayne” as if to confirm the correction… but somehow the original misquote -- saying that we highlighted “only a few” -- ended up in the final article. Unbelievable.

Another line of reasoning used by industry to argue that our footage was not representative was that the footage was not from the “organic” barns. But as anyone who has a passing understanding of industry certification would know -- and as we explained to the Times -- organic has nothing to do with certified humane status, and no welfare requirements beyond giving animals “access” to the outdoors. Michael Pollan (who unlike the Times called our investigation a “black eye” for industry) has pointed out that “access” can be something as simple as a tiny window through which the animals never even pass. And in this case, the farm had a permanent exemption to even this trivial requirement because of the alleged threat of avian flu. In short, the organic designation has no relevance to any of the abusive conditions we found. We further pointed out to the Times that there was absolutely no external distinction drawn between organic and non-organic barns, and that we visited most of the barns on the facility -- and drew footage from virtually all of our visits for the video. The Times failed to include any of this in their story.

The Times never bothered to check whether the eggs were being marketed as "certified humane." 

Finally, industry claimed that the barn at issue was not the one that was “certified humane.” Here, the Times’s failure was most astonishing. Because the industry rep herself -- Adele Douglass -- conceded that the certification had lapsed and no audit had actually been performed (due to staffing issues). But the Times not only accepted Douglass’s line of reasoning without question, despite its transparent absurdity (For heaven’s sake, how can they complain that it was “a different barn” when they hadn’t even done an audit?), but failed to point out that the products continued to be sold as “certified humane.” All it would have taken to verify this was a 5 minute trip to Whole Foods. But it was 5 minutes that the Times simply could not afford (perhaps literally, as I’ll discuss below) when it comes to questioning their -- and their readers’ -- favorite grocery giant.

The Times failed to scrutinize any claims made by Whole Foods. Indeed, it barely mentioned the company at all.

Whole Foods, by all measures, is the biggest player in this drama. In revenue, it is probably thousands of times larger than even the massive Petaluma Farms entity, and its brand and reputation -- and not some unknown farmer or standard -- are what drive people to consume “humane” animal products. Fortune Magazine has said that Whole Foods, not Petaluma Farms or Certified Humane, is taking over America.

Yet the article completely ignores Whole Foods -- making the company seem like an incidental buyer of the farm’s eggs (along with Organic Valley) -- and utterly fails to scrutinize any of the marketing claims (“Raised with Care,” “Cage Free,” and “Certified Humane”) that fill Whole Foods’s stores. Instead, the only treatment given the company in the article is this:

"Other than doing some personal research and going online to see what different certification labels require, it gets tricky for consumers — and for us, too,” said A. C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods.
Whole Foods, which also sells Petaluma’s Rock Island, Uncle Eddie’s and Judy’s brands, has just begun giving suppliers its own set of required humane standards for laying hens. As part of that process, a Whole Foods executive toured Petaluma Farms in February, but did not see anything resembling what was shown in the video, Mr. Gallo said.

When I saw this, I could hardly believe what I was reading. The Times, which bashed our investigation’s accuracy (ignoring supporting documentation -- and their own eyes -- in the process), simply accepted Whole Foods’ statement that it was “tricky” to determine what various certifications mean and quickly moved on to explain that the company was beginning to move to “its own” standard for laying hens. Problem resolved!

As someone who worked as reporter myself for almost 10 years, including at CNN’s DC bureau, I can say this was a basic failure of journalistic integrity. Additional questions should have been asked. When did the Whole Foods executive visit the farm? What expertise do they have in assessing hen welfare? Was the visit announced or not announced? Heck, did the “executive” even go into a barn? (In my experience representing executives at Fortune 500 companies as a corporate lawyer, not too many would be comfortable sifting through the filth of a farm.)

The Times understandably hit us with a barrage of skeptical questions -- all of which were adequately answered (even if our answers and evidence were ignored) -- but did not even bother asking Whole Foods a single one.

Worse yet, even if Whole Foods simply was suffering from confusion over the “tricky” situation, as its own president admitted to the Times, what basis does the company then have for saying so confidently that its animals are raised with compassion and care? The Times’s story frames the “tricky” certification standards as a problem for Whole Foods but fails to point out that Whole Foods is the 800 pound gorilla driving the entire “humane certification” enterprise, making farmers like Mahrt fearfully quiver in the process. Whole Foods’s failure in this single instance should have been an opening for the Times to question the grocer -- and the entire industry’s -- reputation for rigorous standards, transparency, and ethical behavior. Instead, the piece was a clever defense of the industry -- deflecting concerns to a single player (Mahrt) and ignoring the systemic concern.

We made this point to the Times reporters over and over and over again. And yet not even a word of it was mentioned in the article, which brings us to the final problem.

The Times ignored our voice, and literally gave over 10 times more play to the industry voices despite the fact that our investigation triggered this coverage.

You would think that, in coverage of an investigation of cruelty, the Times would want to include something from, well, the actual investigators. But not only did the Times refuse to post our video, they also, despite many hours of interviews and communication over a month-long period, failed to quote us at all, beyond a four word slogan (“five steps of cruelty”). In contrast, they included over a hundred words from industry (and, once again, links embedded into the direct quotes to purportedly justify industry claims!). Indeed, the disproportionate coverage of industry perspectives makes the piece read less like investigative reporting and more like a press release from industry. What the heck is going on?

My best guess is that the Times did not like what we had to say. We emphasized throughout our investigation that our findings problematized the entire notion that animals could be “ethically used.” (“You’re not going to succeed at that,” the reporter said to me. I wondered what basis she had for interjecting that opinion into what should have been an objective interview.) We made absolutely clear that our investigation targeted the “best of the best” -- a farm that was certified by a standard supported by The Humane Society of the United States -- to show that this was not a problem of a single farm, or even a single grocer, but an entire system. But the Times flatly failed to make that connection, perhaps to protect is liberal, urban, meat-eating readers from the harsh truth of even so-called humane agriculture: It’s not food. It’s violence.

But there is a more cynical interpretation of these events. Subscription revenues have dropped in the past decade, with the onset of the internet revolution, and even flagship papers such as the Times are forced to rely on advertising to survive. The Times, which reported a $9 million loss last quarter, needs Whole Foods’s advertising dollars. We know Whole Foods is spending an unknown amount of its $20 million Values Matter advertising campaign with the Times. (The Times’s upper-middle-class readers are exactly the folks Whole Foods is targeting with their ads.) We know that even half of that advertising budget -- small by Whole Foods’s standards -- would transform the Times’ third quarter loss to a gain.  We know the Times, like other traditional media outlets, is in a fight to the death for financial survival. Is it surprising, then, that the Times ultimately takes the grocery giant’s side?

Never mind that we documented to the Times, using federal tax records, that 93% of the Whole Foods supposedly “independent” standards are funded by the company itself. Never mind that Whole Foods, unlike us, has a clear incentive to lie to the public -- and no regulatory apparatus to stop them in their lies. Never mind that Direct Action Everywhere is filled with people who have devoted their lives to public service -- not profit -- and have studied, worked at, and published at some of the most credible research institutions on the planet, including Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and MIT.

All of that doesn’t matter in the desperate struggle to defend Whole Foods.

But the real victim here is not just the Times’s advertising revenues. It’s journalistic integrity, public consciousness, and above all, the animals’ lives.



Why Farm Country Hates Whole Foods (Radio Interview)

Why Farm Country Hates Whole Foods (Radio Interview)

By Wayne Hsiung

The imaging on Whole Foods's cartons shows green pastures. Google Earth reveals the truth: a massive industrial facility. Note the huge latrine pit in the top left (and compare it in size to the semi trucks in the bottom right). 

We went on a radio show in Sonoma County (home of the Whole Foods farm) expecting hostility... but instead got incredible support. The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, the paper local to the farm, also gave us surprisingly good front-page treatment. What exactly is going on? 

One way to explain it is that press in farm country has less of an interest in defending Whole Foods. The company makes its money in the urban metropolises of the world -- not rural, farm country -- and it spends most of its advertising dollars there, too. That may affect coverage in urban areas. James McWilliams recently took the New York Times to task, for example, for its biased coverage of our investigation. (I'll give my take on that blowup in a future blog post.) One can't help but wonder: How much is the Times's coverage being influenced by Whole Foods's just-announced $20 million advertising campaign

The other key point here is that the press in farm country already knows what our investigation reveals: the company is a fraud. When you drive through farm country, and see the massive industrial sheds instead of the idyllic mythology that Whole Foods portrays to the public, it's impossible to fall for the company's lies. My friend Jon Spear pointed out one vivid example -- the horrible smell of excrement that fills the air near a so-called "cage-free," "organic," "certified humane" facility. Indeed, the very facility we investigated has a latrine pit that is probably larger than a few football fields, and the smell from it is stiflingly bad. (Even the latrine pit, however, cannot compare to the smell from inside one of these facilities. As our videographer pointed out, it's so bad that we wore breathing masks... and still had trouble breathing.) 

There are two lessons to be taken from this. First, don't underestimate farm country. Those who are direct witnesses to the horrendous violence (including environmental violence) done by industrial agriculture are often the first to decry corporate lies. Second, concern over abuse of animals truly is everywhere. Steve Jaxon was as concerned with violence against animals (you hear him audibly gasp a few times as I'm describing what's happening to animals) as he was with corporate fraud. And he is channeling exactly what his listeners feel. Indeed, that is his job. And his reaction to our investigation should give us hope for the world. 


On the Importance of Open Rescue: Four Reasons to Get Serious about Liberation

On the Importance of Open Rescue: Four Reasons to Get Serious about Liberation

by Wayne Hsiung

Mei Hua never knew her mother.

From the moment she entered this world, she was on her own – pressed up against masses of strangers in a desperate struggle for survival. Less than half of them would live through the first few days. They were killed in gruesome fashion – stomped to death, buried alive, or torn to pieces in an industrial grinder.  

But in many ways, those who survived (like Mei) had it worse. Confined to a dark, filthy shed with barely enough room to move, forced to stand and sleep in her own excrement, suffering from all manner of injury and disease, and denied even the most basic freedoms (e.g. the right to look up into the sky), Mei’s life was a nightmare. Perhaps it was an ironic kindness, then, when one of her masters struck the back of her head and left her to die in a pile of filth. Delirious from head trauma, trampled by the other prisoners, and wasting away from dehydration and starvation, she lay there for untold days, surviving only by desperately feeding on the filth that surrounded her. 

No one bothered to help her. No one offered her a word of kindness. No one even remembered that she existed. If DxE investigators had not arrived on the scene, she would have died within hours. 

But to the industry that held her captive, that’s all fine and good. Because, according to them, Mei’s life was “Certified Humane.”

Mei’s tragic story is merely one example of a bigger problem. 

Powerful corporations have tricked us into thinking that animals can be “used” with compassion. They know that concern for animals is growing, as science, ethics, and empathy are pushing us toward a new frontier of social justice: species. The New York Times' Frank Bruni writes that there is a “broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase ‘animal welfare.’ An era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us.” Vested interests, however, want to stop this new era from coming into being. So they respond as all corrupt institutions do.

They lie.

This is “humanewashing” -- a systematic effort to disguise brutal violence against animals as responsible or compassionate. And its growth is astonishing. Every week, a new article comes out in outlets such as The New York Times about the industry’s attempts to “lure the sensitive carnivore.” The fastest-growing restaurant in the world – Chipotle Mexican Grill – doubled its sales of pork after switching to a so-called humane supplier. And Fortune Magazine writes that humanewashing champion Whole Foods is taking over the country. A dizzying array of industry-funded standards (AHA, HFAC, GAP, AWA) has sprung up to feed this rising juggernaut of animal industry. But through it all, one thing has been dreadfully missing: the truth.

Providing a window into the world of animal abuse is Reason #1 for open investigation and rescue.

The industry’s greatest weapons are ignorance and complacency. Open rescue allows us to disarm those terrible weapons – and the fraudulent marketing that supports them -- with the power of truth. We have seen with our own eyes what happens behind closed doors, and what we have seen is far from humane.

But confronting corporate lies with the truth is just one aspect of the power of open rescue. There are three other reasons open rescue is vital at this crucial juncture in our movement’s history.

Reason #2: Undercover investigations – in which an activist obtains employment and secretly takes footage of a facility – face serious obstacles.

A close friend of mine worked as an undercover investigator for a major animal rights group. He shared with me the terrible difficulties of the job. Not only was he forced to participate in grievous acts of violence, but the footage he took was never good enough. “You need to get something more graphic. You need to do better.” was the constant refrain. And it got to the point that he began to seriously question the nature of his job. “Am I an activist, or am I part of the system?”

My friend’s experience illustrates three obstacles to the dominant undercover investigation model of activism pursued by large AR organizations.

An image from an undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals. 

Legal. The rise of Ag-Gag laws (which often make lying to an employer a criminal act) will increasingly make undercover investigations difficult to undertake.

Financial. An undercover investigation costs tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and requires clumsy hidden cameras that are difficult to use even by the most skilled handler. This is one of the reasons that only large well-funded animal rights groups undertake such investigations. Grassroots activists simply can’t afford to.

Ethical. Undercover investigations generally require an activist to participate in the horrific abuse of animals. That is not only ethically problematic for the animals but leaves activists psychologically traumatized by the experience.

These obstacles are particularly stark when we seek to open a window into “humane” facilities. Funded by the multinational giants that have the most to lose from exposure – Whole Foods, Chipotle, and their ilk – such facilities are especially careful in hiring employees. Unless you fit race, gender, and nationality stereotypes, and have connections to current or previous employees, you simply will not be hired. Working at a humane animal farm might very well be the hardest-to-get minimum wage job in the country.

Open rescue cuts through all of these obstacles and gets to the truth. It overcomes legal barriers through civil disobedience. It cuts down on time and financial costs by allowing anyone with big heart and a smart phone to transform into a whistleblower. And it saves us from having to put both animals and activists through the trauma of a violent system.

Reason #3: Open rescue is a powerful statement of our opposition to an oppressive system.

Tales of the Underground Railroad were legendary in the 1800s. An elaborate program of shepherds, conductors, and stations guided fugitive slaves on their path to liberation. Risking severe punishment, and traveling only in the dead of night, activists escorted slaves on a hazardous journey to freedom in the North. They lived under floorboards and in barns, had elaborate code names and secret paths, and traveled lightly, and in small groups (often with only 1-3 slaves), to avoid detection. And though the number of slaves freed by the Underground Railroad was actually quite small -- the most famous conductor, Harriet Tubman, rescued 70 families and friends -- the paranoia triggered by the railroad had far broader consequences. Notably, anger over the Underground Railroad in the South drove the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled Northern states to cooperate with slavecatchers in returning slaves to their owners. The North’s resistance to compliance with the draconian act, in turn, was instrumental to triggering secession by the South, the eruption of the Civil War, and eventually the end of chattel slavery. 

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad pushed the public towards abolition. 

Open rescue, if framed strategically, can serve a similar function for animal rights. It takes the liberation of animals directly into our own hands, and, by going in with our faces proudly uncovered, we dare the industry to try our actions in the court of public opinion. It creates viral stories that mobilize people to anti-speciesist sentiment throughout the country. And it inspires strong action from activists across the world (Patty Mark’s original open rescues have spawned countless organizations and actions in at least 3 continents, including some of the most effective organizations in animal rights, e.g. Animal Equality in Spain), unifying both moderates and radicals under the banner of direct action. Even Peter Singer, who is notable for his strong opposition to illegal tactics, has spoken in support of open investigation and rescue.  

Reason #4: Open rescue saves animals, and tells their individual stories.

When I started out as an activist almost over 15 years ago, I thought showing people the horrible violence was enough to change them. I had changed, after all, after being exposed to Meet Your Meat. Surely, the rest of the world could change in the same way. So I set out to do just that. I handed out nearly a hundred thousand vegan leaflets, and showed tens of thousands of people Meet Your Meat. And I waited for the vegan testimonials to trickle in. “I’m saving lives,” I told myself.

It didn’t happen. In fact, the vegan society at my college actually declined in size in that same time period. And I was left to puzzle over the results. While we have given an entire talk on the subject, one insight, based on work by ethicists and psychologists studying the moral emotions, was key. All of the information I was showing was depersonalized. It showed animals in nameless hordes, and as vessels of violence, and not as living, breathing beings with feelings and a family. It didn’t tell their story.

This, unfortunately, is one of the limitations of undercover investigations. We obtain a glimpse into the violence of the system, but learn nothing more about the victims of that violence because all we have is a glimpse. Open rescue completely changes that. We can meet individual animals like Mei, and see them rescued from torment. We can see them heal, strengthen, and even flourish, and use their examples as a vision for the way the world ought to be. We can, in short, tell their stories.

Storytelling is one of Direct Action Everywhere’s organizing principles for a reason. Stories inspire people in a way that dry information cannot. And the stories that come from open rescue are so much more powerful, and real, than almost anything else we can do. Lincoln is reported to have told the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a terrifying story of human slavery, that her little book started the Civil War. We need to tell just as inspiring stories. And we can only do that with open rescue.


In the weeks and months to come, you will hear many more stories of open rescue. Most of them will be about the animals whose lives were saved (and, sadly, some will be of those who were left behind). But you will also hear the stories of research, planning, and execution -- stories that explain how the open rescue was done.

Our goal is to take open rescue across the country and world. If we truly believe what we say we believe -- that our lives are no more valuable than theirs -- then it’s time for our movement to show that with our actions. That does not mean that every person can or should directly participate in an open rescue. Such investigations, if done properly, take months of effort, huge time commitments, and (though far cheaper than conventional investigations) thousands of dollars. If done poorly, they can lead to serious legal consequences, wasted resources, or, worst of all, harm to animals. But even if all of us cannot do open rescue, all of us can be part of a network that rescues animals from places of violence. Like all forms of nonviolent direct action, open rescue can only be born from a powerful community.

If the result of our action is just a temporary media blip, we will have failed in our duty to the animals. Mei, Sephy, and others will have been saved. But so many others were left behind. We cannot let their stories be forgotten. And that is why, today, we announce DxE’s newest community project, the Open Rescue Network, and its four principal goals:

- To openly rescue animals from places of violence.
- To train and support others in doing the same.
- To document the violence inherent to animal slavery.
- To tell the stories of those who were saved.

Until Every Animal is Free. 

Why Target Whole Foods

DxE investigators find shocking mistreatment of animals at a "humane" Whole Foods supplier.... and attempt to rescue a little hen named Mei from the brink of death.

Why Target Whole Foods?

By Brian Burns

There are many reasons to target Whole Foods, from its horrendous violence towards animals to its incredible growth based on fraud. Here are some big reasons why the company is one the animal rights movement should protest, followed by some questions we are often asked about the campaign.

1. It’s massive. 

Despite its public image, Whole Foods is the second-largest grocery store in the US valued at $17 billion, more than double that of other industry giants such as Safeway. On top of its gargantuan size, it has announced long-term plans to quadruple its stores while most comparable chains have seen zero to negative growth. But this rapid expansion has come at the cost of countless lives: analysts have reported to us that the company profits from approximately $2.4 billion in meat sales and hundreds of millions of animals killed annually, with the sales accelerating every year.

Whole Foods is not a progressive mom-and-pop shop. It's a corporate machine - one whose engine runs on stolen lives.

Whole Foods says they respected him. Yet they mutilate and deface his body, then hang him mockingly in their store.

Whole Foods says they respected him. Yet they mutilate and deface his body, then hang him mockingly in their store.

2. The company lies about caring for animals.  

Whole Foods says its animals are “Raised with Care” with strict animal welfare standards developed by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) – for example, laying hens are able to “move around freely, exercise and flap their wings”. What they don’t say is that GAP is almost entirely funded by Whole Foods (almost 95% of its budget coming from the company in recent reports). GAP allows mutilation, including castration of baby pigs and the slicing of hens’ beaks at almost all of its farms.

Worse yet, they are committing not just factual - but also moral - fraud. They are feeding the public the false idea that somehow, you can care for animals and kill them too. And tragically, the public is eating it up.

Whole Foods says “Values Matter” – but more importantly, truth matters. And DxE has concrete evidence of Whole Foods’ fraud with a first-of-its-kind investigation of a “Humane Certified” Whole Foods farm.



3. It preys on people’s concern for animals. 

People care about animals, and Whole foods seeks to commodify that care and sell it for profit. In 2012 regulatory filings, Whole Foods categorized these people – their largest customer base – as “Conscionables”, or “customers [who] connect with us on a deeper level because of our shared values.” With its recently announced $20 million PR campaign “Values Matter”, the company explicitly stated that its profits depend on deceiving consumers, particularly the “Conscionables”, with a false image of a progressive company that cares for animals, despite all evidence to the contrary. 

Its recent "Values Matter" campaign even contains bizarre and offensive advertisements proclaiming "PICK A CHICKEN, COOK A CHICKEN, KNOW YOUR CHICKEN", and "CHOOSE A FISH, COOK A FISH, SAVE A FISH" - as if, by eating animals killed by Whole Foods, you are  actually saving them from death.


4. It’s insidiously influencing our culture.

The public’s view of our food system is evolving due to growing awareness of factory farming and repeated undercover investigations at the worst-of-the-worst” facilities. But despite the fact that 99% of all animal products come from factory farms, most people believe that most animals are treated humanely, and that the industry is changing for the better. This is no coincidence. Companies like Whole Foods are actively shaping the public’s view of animal agriculture with false marketing. Examples include “Know what Kind of Life your Dinner Lived” and “A Hearty Helping of Animal Compassion with Every Order [of meat]”. 

5. It’s buying our movement. 

By any measure [Whole Foods] is a remarkable company…I’ve known John for many years, and he serves on the board of The Humane Society of the United States. We also serve together on the board of the Global Animal Partnership.
— Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States

Despite its horrible record of animal abuse, some of the most prominent figures and groups in the movement, including Peter Singer, publicly thanked Whole Foods for its compassion towards animals. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey even sits on the board of the largest animal protection group in the country! This is an invasion of the movement snatchers. And we can't let them succeed. Because if they do, they will have bought out our movement's greatest strengths: our integrity and our soul.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are you calling for a boycott of the company?

No. The number of vegans – let alone animal rights activists – is very small in relative to Whole Foods’ enormous customer base, so a purely economic boycott would have little significance. We can amplify our message drastically, however, by taking direct action against the company with public protest – especially against a company as famous as Whole Foods. Boycott if you can, but more importantly, direct your anger at Whole Foods with more than your wallet by joining the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign.

What about vegan options?

Keep in mind the stories of Mei and Sephy, both of whom were rescued from dire conditions and horrendous violence at the hands of Whole Foods. Given this company’s track record of animal abuse, it should be a target of the animal rights movement, and they know it. Offering vegan options is a well-documented strategy of quelling animal rights dissent. But we will not be duped by Whole Foods throwing a few vegan items our way.

Moreover, public protest is the best way to encourage Whole Foods to continue offering vegan options. Companies do not act like people – they will do what is best for PR and profits. With a pressure campaign directed against the company’s exploitation of animals, Whole Foods will scramble to do whatever it can to placate the public, including offering more vegan options and even improving its miserable animal welfare standards.

What about their animal welfare standards?

Whole Foods’ animal welfare standards are a marketing ploy at best. Despite claiming to protect animals, their “5-Step” animal welfare standards allow severe mutilation of newborn creatures, including castration of baby pigs and slicing of chicks’ beaks, all without painkillers. The “Certified Humane” label often touted at Whole Foods’ meat counter is equally meaningless, giving “cage-free” birds only one square foot of space to move, and allowing the burning of animals’ flesh while still fully conscious. 

Why do you not talk about veganism?

Direct Action Everywhere strongly endorses veganism as a rejection of speciesism but chooses to frame our advocacy in terms of the rights and lives of animals rather than the dietary convenience of humans. Framing is extremely important when convincing people to change both their thoughts and behavior. And the dietary framing of animal rights has, thus far, failed: despite massive efforts by large organizations at “vegan conversion,” the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the US has not budged, even a little (according to Gallup, “Vegetarianism in the U.S. remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing nor waning in popularity”). We need the public to think of animal rights as a social justice issue like any other, not a consumer fad.

In addition, it is clear the animal rights movement needs activists, not consumers. In order to change the massive system of animal exploitation, we need mass political action far more powerful than a diffused boycott. The standard vegan narrative, unfortunately, has created a world of isolated vegans who are often afraid to speak up strongly for animal rights. DxE seeks to create the opposite: a global network of tightly connected activists who are able to both inspire each other to act boldly, and to create activists out of ordinary people – setting a wildfire of protest around the world. 

Why protest inside?

The goal of the Truth Matters: It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign is to change the public’s idea of meat from food to a product of violence against sensitive creatures. Consequently, we go inside of restaurants and grocery stores, where animals’ bodies are routinely served and eviscerated, since it is in these places that extreme violence against animals is normal. The conflict and backlash that come with challenging these violent norms, contrary to common belief, serves the movement positively by drawing attention to the issue and starting a substantive discussion of animal rights. For more information on going inside, see here.