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Stories to Inspire, July: Rest in Peace, Mei Hua

Rest in Peace, Mei Hua


As she lay dying in my arms, Mei Hua lifted her head, stared intently into my face, and ever-so-gently pecked away my tears. When she closed her eyes that time, she never opened them again.

Mei was utterly unlike anyone I’ve ever known. Although I knew her for barely a year, she integrated herself so fully into my life that it seemed impossible that she would ever leave.

But she did leave -- almost a year to the date that she arrived. Her departure was as shocking as it was sudden. One week she was comforting a little white hen who was recovering from surgery; the next week, she was diagnosed with cancer. We ran test after test, hoping for another outcome but each one only further confirmed the grim diagnosis.

I’d hoped for a few more weeks -- maybe even months -- with Mei, but it was not to be. Within days, Mei’s food stopped digesting and her body grew frail. The subcutaneous fluids we administered pooled under her skin and failed to absorb, as her organs shut down.

It seems unfair that such a beautiful life was taken so soon, but that is the price of animal agriculture: Mei was never meant to live more than 18 months. As a hen born and bred to churn out obscene numbers of eggs, she was slated for death at just one tenth the lifespan of her wild counterparts.

Indeed, when she first arrived here, Mei was as close to death as one can possibly be. She could not lift her head; she could not drink on her own. She was covered with filth, and her body was cold and nearly stiff as a corpse. The only indication of life was a blinking eye and a slowly rising chest.

Although veterinarians thought otherwise, we knew she had a chance and that she, like all animals, wanted to live. We wrapped her battered body in warm blankets and laid her on a heating pad. We dribbled Pedialyte into her beak and administered subcutaneous fluids. We stayed up all night with her, ready to give her nourishment if needed, or comfort if her body gave out.

Over the next few days, Mei slowly came back to life. The first time she raised her head, we all held our breaths. When she dipped her beak into the bowl of water on her own, we breathed a sigh of relief. The day she took her first tentative steps, our hearts sang.

Slowly but surely, Mei’s life returned to her. It was not long before she was strolling throughout the house with a calm sense of purpose. It turned out that Mei had a sweet tooth. Her favorite snacks were sweet corn and watermelon, and she was even known to dip into a bowl of soy ice cream to satisfy her sugar fix.

But Mei remained scarred by her past. She had trouble flying up to perches, waiting each night to be carried up to her perching spot and each morning to be carried down. In this she was infinitely patient and calm, a perfect lady always.

Something else remained in Mei from the egg industry: cancer.  Like all domesticated chickens, Mei was genetically selected to lay eggs far in excess of what any bird would naturally lay. And as with 90 percent of all industry hens, the resultant ovarian cancer killed her at just a fraction of a normal hen’s lifespan. It didn’t matter that Mei Mei had never lived in a cage; her breeding made her a prisoner in her own, disease-ravaged body.

A part of me feels thankful that Mei lived so fully for one year, but the other part of me is consumed with a grief, not only for the loss of my beautiful friend, but also for the callous disregard for life that caused her -- and causes so many like her -- to die prematurely.

Mei cheated death once and managed to squeeze out another year out of life, but she deserved more -- as do all animals. It is the task of our generation to find a way to give them that.


Want to hear more about Mei? Check out our rescue video below. 

What Is Whole Foods Hiding? Portland activists detained by police, banned from all stores

What is Whole Foods Hiding? Portland activists detained by police, banned from all stores

By Ana Hurwitz


Mei Hua was barely clinging to life when she was rescued.

She is a hen whose name means "beautiful flower.” At the time of her rescue, Mei suffered traumatic head injuries, could not stand on her own two feet, was struggling to breathe, paralyzed from fear and helplessness, and only survived by eating the excrement that covered her while she was locked inside of a Whole Foods farm. Because of what she has endured, Mei has slowly had to relearn how to eat and how to walk.

This Whole Foods farm is a "humane" (humane-certified) farm where all chickens are "cage-free." It enjoys the approval of animal welfare non-profits like the Humane Society and ASPCA.

"Humane" is a word often understood as synonymous with compassionate. Yet the truth is that the living conditions on Whole Foods's "humane" farms, if inflicted unto any of us or our loved ones, would be considered crimes against humanity.

Animal abuse is not uncommon among humane farms, as a recent investigation into a Los Angeles Foster Farms shows. Whole Foods's animal welfare certification permits the slicing off of hens' beaks with hot razors as the company makes billions of dollars from selling murdered animal bodies— bodies of animals like Mei, who just want to live— and calling it compassion.

Earlier this year, an open investigation by the international animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere revealed the horrific conditions in which animals used by Whole Foods are forced to live. The investigation was part of a targeted campaign called "It's Not Food, It's Violence," which aims to expose to the public the realities of (so-called) humane farming.

Since the campaign started, an entire activist chapter in New Haven, Connecticut has been banned from all Whole Foods stores. Sixteen nonviolent demonstrators in Glastonbury, Connecticut were banned. Activists in Tucson, Arizona were served with citations and banned. Several people have been arrested for leafleting.

Now two activists in Portland, Oregon were detained by police, threatened with arrest as well as possible criminal charges, and banned from all Whole Foods stores. Portland activists were also banned from all Safeway stores just days later, for speaking out against animal abuse (Safeway has a similar “humane” animal welfare certification program).

Police were called at a Whole Foods market in Portland after animal rights activists staged a nonviolent protest inside the store with a message of animal liberation, carrying bullhorns and disseminating vegan leaflets. The Day of Action was coordinated with at least forty-four cities across the world. One activist declared, "We are all animals!" as another held a photograph of a (“veal”) calf on a farm and said: "It is time we live our ethics! It is time we widen our circle of compassion!"

So, what is Whole Foods hiding? These places are supposedly open to the public. Yet Whole Foods is clearly willing to use the police as its own armed security force, to protect its profits from the ways this campaign is exposing the blood on their hands. But for all of its guns and money, this international campaign is armed with something even stronger: the truth.


Ana Hurwitz is an organizer with Direct Action Everywhere Portland. She is a Jewish white and visibly disabled woman. She has been active with various revolutionary organizations and is a volunteer with Food Not Bombs in Portland, Oregon. Formerly, she was an organizer with an animal liberation group in Portland, contributor to Sister Species Solidarity, and and an anti-domestic violence and sex worker advocate. 

Why are we afraid of radical change?

A DxE investigation in January showed us the truth of cage-free eggs, suffering and death, but also presented a radical path forward: openly rescuing animals from violence. 

Why are we afraid of radical change?

Bill Maher’s problem is not hypocrisy or ignorance. It’s something deeper: a fear of the radical.   

by Wayne Hsiung

Earlier this week, comedian and talking head Bill Maher wrote in The New York Times that Costco needed to free its hens… by switching to “cage free” facilities. Those of us who have actually seen so-called cage free facilities were dismayed by the idea that some people would read Maher and get the idea that cage-free means “free.” In fact, cage-free facilities have the same confinement, abuse, and mutilation of battery cage facilities. (And add a host of new problems, too.) The mortality rates are often even higher than battery facilities, as the hens attack and cannibalize one another in the disgusting concentration camp conditions.

In today’s New York Times, my co-organizer Priya Sawhney brought Maher’s – and the public’s – attention to the horrible conditions in even “cage free” facilities. Priya’s letter makes the point that if our concern is over abuse, shouldn’t we be ending animal agriculture entirely, rather than making a minor modification (with uncertain benefits) to a system of mass violence?

Radical change is within our reach, but only if we are ready to openly defend it. 

Radical change is within our reach, but only if we are ready to openly defend it. 

But there’s a broader phenomenon at work here. Maher and others are not uninformed or hypocritical. They legitimately seek to end abuse, and that is a laudable sentiment. But they are also highly influenced by their social environment – including the environment within the animal rights movement – that goes out of its way to accommodate to conventional norms, including norms relating to the use of animals. We are told that enslaving and killing animals is “normal” and that we therefore can’t challenge this violence too aggressively. Rather, we should calmly present information to the public – and celebrities such as Maher – and happily slide down the slippery slope to animal rights.

The problem is that societies don’t change because we’re educational or nice. And individual people do not change because of information or rational argument. (A recent study shows this is true of even moral philosophers. A whopping 60% of them say that eating animals is wrong, many times the rate in the population at large. Yet their behaviors are shockingly no different than the public at large.) They change, first and foremost, because the norms around them change.

And how do we get these norms to change? Advocates so often say to us that we can’t push too far, or ask for too much, because the only way to achieve success is to get our foot in the door. But this directly contradicts decades of research into social movements showing the power of disruption and confrontation to generate attention and shift social norms. On everything from women’s right to vote to environmental protection, the biggest and most fundamental change has been caused by radical moral and political movements. (Don’t believe me? Listen to Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel.)

The trick, of course, is that the “early adopters” of such a strategy face humiliation and embarrassment precisely because of their supposed radicalism. Cambridge Professor Thomas Taylor laughed at Mary Wollstonecraft when she suggested the radical idea of women’s equality. The British ridiculed Gandhi for daring to push the radical concept of self-determination. And people laugh today at the radical divestment movement growing on university campuses (even Harvard!) to extricate our economy from fossil fuels. But the laughter and pushback were not reasons to stop. To the contrary, they were reasons the movement absolutely needed to push on because, in the face of such laughter, if they didn’t keep pushing, who would?

The moral of the story? We should be encouraged by statements such as Maher’s. They are a sign that our movement is on the cusp of a breakthrough. But the way for us to achieve that breakthrough is not to sit back and rest on our laurels. We need to keep pressing society – keep pressing figures such as Maher – to take us down the path, not to bigger cages or better deaths, but a radically different world. One where every animal is safe, happy, and free.

The Dark Side of "Happy Eggs"

Hen Harbor 's Pear Pear pictured below is sick and septic from eggs rotting inside of her. The Happy Hen Company wants you to believe that their "girls" are happily exploited on their farms. But we know this is not true. Because behind the humane marketing is the dark side of the egg industry.

Hen Harbor's Pear Pear pictured below is sick and septic from eggs rotting inside of her. The Happy Hen Company wants you to believe that their "girls" are happily exploited on their farms. But we know this is not true. Because behind the humane marketing is the dark side of the egg industry.

The Dark Side of “Happy Eggs”

by Priya Sawhney

Moments before Sia passed away in my hands, I watched Hen Harbor’s operator Ariana demonstrate the painful process of draining fluid from a sick hen’s abdomen. Sia was sick from the broken eggs rotting inside her abdomen. Despite our efforts, Sia’s fragile body gave out. Fluttering in panic, Sia let her small head fall over, and her delicate body fell lifeless into my hands.

Ariana took Sia and embraced her with tears running down her face. As she does with every sick animal at Hen Harbor, Ariana had already spent thousands of dollars and countless hours on Sia’s veterinary care hoping against the odds that she could escape the fate that takes the lives of nearly all hens bred to lay eggs.

Why did Sia have to die? Because of speciesism. Because of the idea that it is okay to exploit someone and turn her body into an egg-producing machine for profit. Because of the idea that just as long as these hens live on “happy farms” and live in “large open spaces,” that it is okay to subject them to lives of slavery and exploitation, despite the devastating effects on their little bodies.

This is exactly the idea that The Happy Egg Company is marketing to the world. On its website, the operators claim that “their girls” are free to roam outdoors and lead happy lives. It even launched a deceptively-titled Hendependence Campaign to tout its ideas about hen welfare. But it’s a lie we shouldn’t buy.

Earlier this year, DxE released our investigation of a “certified humane” Whole Foods facility -- where we found suffering, mutilation, disease, and misery. As one of the investigators of the farm, I can tell you that there was nothing humane about this farm. Despite all its labels and claims of being “humane,” all the birds in there were no different from Sia. They all wanted to live but instead knew nothing but lives of darkness, confinement -- and, ultimately, painful, early deaths.

The Happy Egg Company proudly talks its being an “American Humane Certified egg producer.” Which means…nothing. A recent investigation by Mercy for Animals showcases the fraud of the label by exposing an “American Humane Certified” slaughterhouse.

I visit Hen Harbor often. I look forward to seeing the faces of the happy hens who have escaped the horror faced by billions of animals raised for food production. Despite the sense of peace and calm at Hen Harbor, I know there is a dark side to the lifesaving work done there. Ariana wakes up in fear daily that she may have to bury someone’s body. Despite the fact that most of the sanctuary’s hens will eventually die like Sia, Ariana fights for their lives in the same way a mother would fight for her child. Despite financial struggles and the grim fact that there will always be sick hens, Ariana spends thousands of dollars and countless hours every month getting all of Hen Harbor’s residents the necessary veterinary care. Even today, Ariana is caring for Pear Pear, a sick hen who is septic from eggs rotting inside of her.

As animal rights activists, we have a duty to challenge the fraudulent and meaningless “humane” labels with a powerful message of Animal Liberation, with a powerful message that all animals have an equal right to be safe, happy, and free.

When Sia died, she didn’t care whether the farm she came from was certified “humane” or if she had been allowed access to the outdoors. All she wanted was to live a life free from harm -- including the terrible condition bred into her that took her life prematurely. The egg industry stole her life -- a fact that all the fraudulent “happy hen” marketing in the world cannot hide.

We cannot let profit-seeking companies like The Happy Egg Company co-opt our words. Words we use to demonstrate our love for animals are being used by such companies to lure people into buying violence. But we will stand this no more. By taking nonviolent direct action to demand the end of violence against animals, we will stop speciesism.

Stories to Inspire, May: Ellie

Stories to Inspire, May: Ellie

By Zoe Rosenberg and Saryta Rodriguez


Update: On Friday, August 21, 2015, Ellie died of egg yolk peritonitis, a condition that is common among egg-laying hens. It is caused by a rupture of thin-shelled or otherwise malformed eggs, and due to the sheer volume of eggs hens are forced to produce by animal agriculture, hens often lack sufficient calcium with which to create consistently strong eggshells. Rest in peace, Ellie, and special thanks to Zoe for providing Ellie with a happy life for her final few months on Earth.


Dear Readers,

I am very excited to present to you today the first of a new series we are launching at The Liberationist called Stories to Inspire. Once a month or so, we hope to introduce you to a nonhuman individual whose life was spared thanks to intervention by compassionate humans like you.

This is Ellie’s story, as told by Zoe Rosenberg, a phenomenal activist who founded Happy Hen Chicken Rescue in San Luis Obispo, California when she was just eleven years old.  Enjoy!


Ellie roaming around, enjoying her new freedom.

Ellie roaming around, enjoying her new freedom.

Ellie was saved from an egg farm. She was imprisoned in a battery cage and exploited for her eggs. When her production declined, she was going to be gassed to death. People intended to come into her barn, pull her from her cage, and shove her into a gas chamber. Instead, she was lifted out of the cage by kind hands and placed in a crate. She was taken to Happy Hen Chicken Rescue, where she would be safe, happy, and free.

Poor Ellie in the ICU.

Poor Ellie in the ICU.



Ellie was weak. The farm had cut her nerve-filled beak so short that she couldn't even eat. She was starved. She could not walk or even stand. Her bones were weak from over-production— she needed so much calcium to produce an egg a day that her body was taking it from her bones and muscles. We had to give her wet food so she could eat, along with calcium supplements. She was in our chicken ICU for about eight weeks.

Today, Ellie is happy and healthy. She roams around the sanctuary during the day, and sleeps in a cozy barn at night. Ellie enjoys digging in the dirt, taking dust bathes, and laying in the sun— all things that were denied her at the farm. She has made lots of friends and never wanders too far from her flock.

Although Ellie prefers to be left alone, she has learned that we aren't going to harm her and doesn't run away. She trusts us and always looks forward to her fresh produce.

To help hens like Ellie you can make a life-saving donation, sponsor Ellie or one of her friends, or volunteer at Happy Hen Chicken Rescue. For more information visit

Ellie has taught me to keep moving forward even when life seems hard. If you just keep going you may just find safety, freedom, and happiness.

Ellie hanging out in the shade at Happy Hen.

Ellie hanging out in the shade at Happy Hen.

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

Appropriation and Animal Rights: The Intersectional Activist

Appropriation and Animal Rights: The Intersectional Activist

By Christopher-Sebastian McJetters

A very valid concern that arises among intersectional animal rights activists is how to be sensitive to the needs of multiple groups without dismissing or appropriating their struggles. How do we build communities by starting respectful dialogues that recognize analogous injustices? I don’t have all of the answers myself. Fortunately, I’ve spent many years being a poor ally so that you don’t have to!

Here are eight tips I learned about having discussions that draw provocative parallels:

Christopher-Sebastian McJetters

Christopher-Sebastian McJetters

1.)    Do NOT compare two groups. Whether discussing sexism and racism or humans and animals, remember that you're constructing similarities between LIKE SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION. Stay in the right conversation. Comparing two groups isn’t even useful, because marginalized communities have dramatically different needs. So stick to the structural issues that are similar, and let people grow their empathy based on their understanding of how they’ve been impacted by the same type of discrimination as someone else.

2.)    Present the information, but don't argue the case. Sharing information is distinctly different from pushing an agenda. If you present information that has a clear, direct message, it speaks for itself without you really having to do the heavy lifting. There's a difference between presenting connections that link systems of oppression and appropriating one struggle to further the goals of another.

3.)    Restrict your role to being the messenger. The best way to avoid appropriating a group’s struggle is to not do it at all. Really, you don’t need to; instead, amplify the voices of people from that marginalized community who are raising awareness about speciesism themselves. Preaching from a place of privilege about things you don’t understand is wrong. Instead, share what you learned from discussions started by people who have had those experiences. For example, I'm not a woman; but I frequently research the voices of vegan feminists who recognize why issues like female reproductive rights make speciesism a feminist issue.

4.)    Listen to objections with an open mind. If someone from another group tells you that something hurts them, acknowledge them. If you've made a mistake, seek to understand why this discussion is painful for them. Listen.

5.)    Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you share information. This is as much about you learning as it is about your audience learning. Get input from the communities involved. Hear them.

6.)    Be authentic. It’s no secret that there are plenty of racists, homo antagonists, and sexist people in animal rights; but those agendas are obvious. For instance, many PETA campaigns clearly do not care about other marginalized communities because they employ fat shaming, sexism, and shockingly even speciesism to convey an ultimately incoherent message. Conversely, I see activists who discuss ALL oppression: police brutality against black and brown bodies, awareness of reproductive rights, eliminating homo antagonism, the need to call out racist slurs against Chinese communities. The sincere intersectional advocate is usually apparent—and if you're an honest, authentic voice who speaks with conviction, it will be noticed. 

7.)    Stay focused. Direct the discussion to concentrate on how speciesism (or whatever compared injustice) hurts the people in that community. The funny thing about oppression is that it hurts everyone. Speciesism disenfranchises people of color, women, the homeless, people with disabilities, and more! Remember, your goal isn't to fetishize the people from that community or to objectify them. So don’t speak for them or make yourself a martyr on their behalf. Your goal is to help everyone involved--human and nonhuman. Identifying how speciesism further marginalizes both groups gives us an opportunity to elevate everyone.

8.)  Own mistakes. If you f*ck up, you f*ck up. We've all done it—and we’re all going to continue to do it. As much as I use my privilege to support women, I'm still a man who benefits from male privilege. As often as I speak up for people with disabilities, I still recognize that I regularly perpetuate ableism unconsciously. Just OWN it when you do. Accountability goes a long way to legitimizing your authenticity. Apologize. Learn from your mistake, and move on. You're not perfect, and pretending to be will only get you into bigger trouble.

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.