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Face-to-Face with a Pig Killer

Face-to-Face with a Pig Killer

By Michael Goldberg


Following Perdue’s purchase of Niman Ranch, and McDonald’s move to “cage-free,” it’s time for us to ask: what does “humane” actually mean?

With his thinning white hair and black Polo-style short-sleeved shirt with a Niman Ranch “Raised With Care” logo over his heart, Paul Willis looks like a kindly grandfather. This soft-spoken man certainly isn’t my idea of a pig killer.

But that’s exactly what he is.

Willis, a high-profile spokesman for the “humane meat” movement, co-founded and manages the Niman Ranch Pork Company, a division of Niman Ranch.

This week it was announced that Perdue Farms, the third biggest U.S. factory farm company raising chickens, has purchased Niman Ranch.

In addition to running the Niman Ranch Pork Company, in years past Willis has raised between 2500-to-3000 pigs a year on his Willis Free Range Pig Farm in Thornton, Iowa, two hours north of Des Moines. He still raises 100s of pigs each year.

At about six months of age, Willis’s pigs are driven to the Sioux-Preme Packing Company, a slaughterhouse in Sioux Center, Iowa, where they are gassed and their throats slit.

Willis is responsible for the deaths of far more pigs than the ones he raises on his own farm.The Niman Ranch Pork Company is a network of over 500 farms that provide a total of over 150,000 pigs each year, who are slaughtered and sold under the Niman Ranch brand. The company’s reputation is based on raising pigs in what is alleged to be a humane way, and its operation is considered the gold standard for compassionate animal agriculture. Companies whose success is based on their “compassion” and “values,” including Chipotle Mexican Grill and Whole Foods, are supplied by Niman Ranch.

False advertising. About seventy-five percent of Niman pigs are raised indoors, according to a Niman spokesman, and yet this is the photo that appears on their website.

False advertising. About seventy-five percent of Niman pigs are raised indoors, according to a Niman spokesman, and yet this is the photo that appears on their website.

Willis, who refers to the dead body parts of pigs that Niman sells as “product,” told the New York Times in early 2014 that Niman oversees the raising and killing of about half of the pigs in America that are considered pasture-raised, or “humanely” raised, though most of those pigs are actually raised indoors.

Though in his early seventies, Willis has become the poster boy for Niman Ranch, the human face of a system that doesn’t value the lives of nonhuman animals. He’s the subject of an eight-minute video created and funded by Chipotle, one of Niman’s biggest customers.

The video tells a folksy story about Willis growing up on the farm in Thornton, and shows him wearing denim overalls, petting pigs who are hanging out in a large pasture, and letting his granddaughter’s chickens out of a barn. Willis has been favorably written up in numerous publications, including Fast Company, and has been quoted in both the New York Times and the New Yorker.

In the video, Willis speaks of himself as an “activist” fighting the good fight against factory farming. It’s a good story, and it’s helped assuage the guilt of upscale meat eaters who think they have a humane alternative to the violence that goes on at factory farms.

We do the best we can with raising the animals as humanely as we can,” Willis said while hanging out at a Berkeley, CA butcher shop, Magnani's Poultry, one afternoon in early June. Willis was there to promote Niman Ranch “product,” and the event was billed as “Demo and Q&A.”

I was there with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). We wanted to question Willis about Niman farming protocol, which is, in fact, anything but humane. But even if they did raise the pigs with care, there is nothing humane about killing an animal that wants to live. There were about 30 of us, and at least a half-dozen DxE members fired off questions at Willis for about 15 minutes before he abruptly ended the conversation.

DxE fights for animal liberation and against speciesism, which is similar to racism and sexism. Only where racism and sexism describe privileged humans discrimination against humans of color or the female sex, speciesism describes humans discriminating against other species.

Just as there is no moral justification for racism or sexism, there is no moral justification for speciesism. There is no moral justification for humans to exploit and torture and kill animals because they “like the taste of meat,” as more than one carnist has said. Yet that’s what humans do. More than nine billion land animals are killed each year in the U.S. alone for food. It’s mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

“I’ve always raised outdoor pigs, pasture pigs. Ok?” Willis continued. “Factory farming started coming in on us big time [in the early ’90s]. I wanted no part of that.”

Willis’s words are misleading. While he may actually raise his own pigs outdoors when the weather allows, most Niman pigs live their entire short six-month lives inside warehouse-style buildings with as little as 14 square feet allotted per pig – equivalent to the footprint of a small desk and approximately the size of a gestation crate, which are now illegal in California.

David Marin of Tendergrass Farms wrote in a June 11, 2013 post on the “Mark’s Daily Apple” blog that he considered raising pigs for Niman before founding Tendergrass. He changed his mind when he learned from a Niman “field representative” that “only a small percentage of Niman Ranch pigs are actually raised on pasture. In the whole east coast region he [the Niman rep] said that there are virtually no pasture-based Niman producers.

Paul Willis on his farm in Thornton, Iowa.

Paul Willis on his farm in Thornton, Iowa.

“In preparation for this blog post,” Marin continued, “I sent him [the Niman rep] an email this week to make sure that this was still true. He confirmed just yesterday that by his estimate well over 75% of Niman Ranch pig farms utilize warehouse-style buildings with straw for bedding, referred to [on the Niman website] as ‘deeply bedded barns.’”

Willis talks quietly and calmly. While conversing with him he never raised his voice, though when challenged about the morality of killing pigs and calling it humane meat, he seemed to become agitated. At one point in the Q&A he skirted the issue of whether there is a difference between a plant and an animal.

Me: You’re saying a carrot is no different than a pig?

Willis: It’s a living thing.

Me: Mr. Willis, you don’t really believe there’s no difference between a carrot and a pig, do you?

Willis: What I believe is we eat living things. Whether it’s a plant or an animal. Some people prefer to eat just plant material, some people have a more varied diet and they eat animals and plants.

F: You’re not equating an animal life to a plant life?

Willis: I’m just saying people eat different things.

Thanks to numerous undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughter houses by PETA, Mercy For Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and others, films such as “Food, Inc.” and “Speciesism” and books like John Robbin’s “Diet For A New America,” many people have learned about the cruelty that goes on at the factory farms where most land animals are raised for food. A 2015 Gallup Poll showed the vast majority of Americans believe that the welfare of farmed animals deserves considerable protection, with almost a third claiming animals warrant as much protection as humans.

However, the public doesn’t yet know of the cruelty inherent in raising animals at so-called ‘humane’ farms, and there is an upscale market for ‘humane meat’ sold by companies such as Niman Ranch.

This is why DxE investigated a humane-certified farm last year that supplies Whole Foods with eggs. That investigation, the first of its kind, produced a video documenting horrendous conditions at Petaluma Farms in Northern California. DxE has mounted on-going campaigns, protesting at Chipotle restaurants and Whole Foods grocery stores – companies whose success is based on perpetuating the humane lie.

A fourth generation farmer, Willis grew up on the Thornton farm. For Willis, raising animals for food has always been what psychologist and author Melanie Joy calls “normal, natural and necessary.” Those are the “Three Ns” of Carnism, “the invisible belief system, or ideology,” Joy writes, “that conditions people to eat certain animals.” Most Americans are carnists, and have chosen this ideology without even realizing that they have made a choice.

After conversing with Willis at the butcher shop, my sense was that he knows there’s something wrong with killing pigs. He told us “my contention is, if people raised dogs the way factory farm animals are raised, there would be an outrage.”

There would also be an outrage if dogs were raised the way pigs are raised at Niman-approved farms. More importantly, there should be an outrage over the fact that they’re killed, given that pigs, like dogs, are sentient beings.

DxE’s Brian Burns confronts Willis in butcher shop.

DxE’s Brian Burns confronts Willis in butcher shop.

DxE’s Brian Burns, who was standing in front of the butcher shop display window, behind which lay numerous cuts of dead meat, confronted Willis: “How about a Niman Ranch dog farm? You’d make a lot of money…”

Willis turned to face Burns. “Are you advocating this?”

“What I’m saying is you’re advocating this,” Burns said.

“No, I’m not advocating this at all,” Willis said.

“What if we were to take baby dogs, [make them live in] five square feet of space for their whole lives [it ranges from five square feet to 14 square feet depending on the weight of the pig], castrate them two weeks after they are born as you do [with pigs], shove metal rings in their noses…,” Burns said. “Just as you do with pigs [sows], and at the end of six months, even though dogs can live 15 years, just like pigs, why not kill them? You can make a lot of money. And I see no difference between what you’re doing [with the pigs you raise] and the idea I’m proposing right now.”

Losing his cool briefly, Willis said, “Well, I’m not doing this. I’m not interested in doing this. I don’t advocate this. You’re comparing one species with another.”

There it was: speciesism, alive and well at Magnani's Poultry, coming out of Niman Ranch poster boy Paul Willis’s mouth.

Paul Willis served in the Peace Corps in Nigeria for three years after graduating with a BA in psychology from the University of Iowa in 1966. As Willis tells it, by the early Nineties, factory farming, with its economies of scale and cheap but grossly inhumane ways of raising pigs, was driving him and other smalltime Iowa farmers out of business. So he contacted Niman Ranch founder Bill Niman in 1994 and after Niman tasted Willis’s pig corpses, Niman wanted to do business with Willis. In 1998, Willis and Niman created the Niman Ranch Pork Company, a network of farms that raise pigs according to Niman’s ‘humane’ protocol.

The Niman Ranch Pork Company is half owned by Niman Ranch, and half owned by the farmers in the network. Niman supplies pieces of dead pigs, in Willis’s words, “product,” to upscale restaurants including Chez Panisse in Berkeley, grocery stores including Whole Foods, the Ritz Carlton hotel chain, Dodger Stadium, the Google campus, and Chipotle.

In July 2006, Chicago-based Natural Food Holdings, owner of the Sioux-Preme slaughterhouse, purchased a major stake in Niman Ranch, which was losing money at the time, and was nearly $3 million in debt; a new management team was put in place, according to San Francisco Business Times. The following year, 2007, Bill Niman left Niman Ranch after fighting with the new owners over changes in how Niman animals are treated.

Bill Niman and his family.

Bill Niman and his family.

“I left Niman Ranch because it fell into the hands of conventional meat and marketing guys, as opposed to ranching guys,” Bill Niman told Business Insider in 2014. “You can't really ferret out how [the cattle] are being raised [now].”

In 2009 Natural Food Holdings took over Niman Ranch. At the time Natural Food Holdings was a subsidiary of billion-plus dollar Hilco Global, one of the largest distressed investment and advisory companies in the world. Two years later, in late 2011, Hilco sold National Food Holdings to the private equity company, LNK Partners.

In early 2014, the Nebraska newspaper Kearney Hub reported that the Niman Ranch Pork Company “generates $200 million annually.”

Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms since 1991, is the new owner of Niman Ranch.

Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms since 1991, is the new owner of Niman Ranch.

In mid-August of this year, The Street reported that there were multiple companies interested in purchasing Natural Food Holdings, after Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel purchased Bridgewater, N.J.-based Applegate for $775 million, more than double that companies annual revenue of $340 million. This week (early September 2015), Perdue Farms purchased Natural Food Holdings, including Niman Ranch and the Sioux-Preme Packing Company, from LNK for an undisclosed price. Perdue Farms has $6 billion in annual revenue.

While Paul Willis is willingly used by Niman to portray its operation as a downhome family farm (along with the images on the Niman website and other marketing), Niman Ranch is now owned by one of the biggest factory farms in the country. Since Niman became part of Natural Food Holdings six years ago, it’s also been under the corporate umbrella of a company that makes money murdering as many 4000 pigs a day at its own slaughterhouse.

Pigs in a holding pen at Sioux-Preme Packing Co. who will soon be killed.

Pigs in a holding pen at Sioux-Preme Packing Co. who will soon be killed.

Perdue was accused in two lawsuits (one in 2010, the other in 2013) filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) of false advertising. HSUS claimed that Perdue was using the phrase “humanely raised” on it’s Harvestland chicken packaging labels even though the chickens were from factory farms. "Perdue has simply slapped 'humanely raised' stickers on its factory farmed products, hoping consumers won't know the difference," an HSUS lawyer said in 2010. Last October HSUS agreed to drop the lawsuits and Perdue agreed to remove “humanely raised” from the labels, although they ”vigorously” denied HSUS’s claims. In December 2014 this video showing how Perdue Chickens are raised was released by Compassion in World Farming, an animal welfare organization.

At Perdue-contracted farms chickens are packed into dark sheds.

At Perdue-contracted farms chickens are packed into dark sheds.

This year, Niman Ranch client Whole Foods is spending $15 million to $20 million on its “Values Matter” campaign in which they bizarrely proclaim: “PICK A CHICKEN, COOK A CHICKEN, KNOW YOUR CHICKEN,” and “CHOOSE A FISH, COOK A FISH, SAVE A FISH.”  In June of this year, PETA filed a false advertisement complaint against Whole Foods for claiming to be selling “humane meat,” and wrapping the meat it sells in paper printed with the slogan, “Thanks for Caring about Animals.” Chipotle Mexican Grill has had great success with its own “humane meat” campaign, in which it has marketed itself as “Pro-Chicken” and said that the animals it murders and sells were “raised with care.”

During the past year groups of DxE activists, sometimes numbering over 100 people, have entered Whole Foods stores around the country (and in Europe too), lining up in the meat department, speaking out against the “humane lie,” and chanting “It’s not food, it’s violence!” DxE has also mounted a national campaign against Chipotle.

DxE speak out at Magnani's Poultry in Berkeley, CA.

DxE speak out at Magnani's Poultry in Berkeley, CA.

Along with DxE, other animal rights activists including writer James McWilliams, a professor at Texas State University who contributes to the New York Times Op/Ed page, don’t believe there is such a thing as “humane meat.”

Examples of why the pigs that become Niman’s “humane meat” aren’t humanely raised:

Niman pigs are castrated within two weeks of birth with no anesthesia, a painful procedure. In European countries including Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Germany anesthesia or pain killers are now used when the pigs are castrated, and a handful of countries have voluntarily agreed to end all surgical castration of pigs by 2018, according to Compassion in World Farming, an animal welfare organization.

As previously mentioned, about 75% of Niman pigs live their cut-short lives indoors with about as much room as the footprint of a small desk.

Although a pig can live as long as 20 years, Niman pigs are killed at six months.

Niman protocol allows for nose rings to be inserted through the septums of sows’ noses without anesthesia. This is excruciating for the pigs and numerous animal welfare groups oppose it. The nose rings are both physically and psychologically distressing. Nose rings prevent pigs from doing one of their favorite things: rooting around in the dirt.

On the Willis Free Range Pig Farm in Thornton, Iowa, Willis himself has maintained 200-to-300 nose-ringed sows, according to a 2008 report from Compassion In World Farming.

In his 2015 book, “The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision To Eat Animals,” James McWilliams wrote that there now exists “academic research showing nose ringing to be a serious welfare violation,” and, he continued, “…there’s no doubt about the impact of nose rings on pigs: it causes them pain every time they put their snout to the ground.” He quotes the RSPCA: “As well as pain when the ring is inserted … this practice leads to chronic pain.”

In fact, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), which McWilliams calls a “comparatively rigorous welfare label," prohibits nose ringing. Niman Ranch is no longer certified by AWA. Instead, it is certified by Global Animal Partnership (GAP), a questionable industry organization whose board includes Willis and Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey, and whose funding is mostly provided by Whole Foods.

GAP has a “5-Step Program.” Farms must meet the minimum “step one” standards to be certified. During an interview on Katy Keiffer’s “What Doesn’t Kill You’ internet radio show in mid-2013, Willis admitted that Niman farms do not meet step four or five certification.  

“The very highest steps are non-castration and slaughter on the farm and things like that,” Willis told Keiffer. “Now for us that’s not going to happen, it’s not practical. Most of our farmers fall into steps one, two and three.”

And of course there is no way to humanely slaughter an animal. Niman pigs are trucked to the Sioux-Preme Packing Company – itself a harrowing experience for animals who, until then, have typically never been in a truck – where they are gassed in a process known as CO2 stunning, and then their throats are slit.

It takes as long as 45 seconds after the gas is released for the pigs to pass out. And during that time some pigs panic. Animal expert Temple Grandin has observed pigs that, on first contact with the gas, “reared up and violently attempted to escape.” Grandin has written that this is “not acceptable.”

Paul Willis during Q&A in butcher shop with DxE activists.

Paul Willis during Q&A in butcher shop with DxE activists.

In the butcher shop, I said as much to Willis and he responded, “Well if you have better ideas about the slaughter process and everything, please let me know.”

A DxE activist said to Willis,  “There’s no way to kindly, compassionately, exploit anybody, confine anybody, put metal rings through their noses…”

“I encourage you to pursue your options, whatever they might be,” Willis said.

“It’s not about our options,” she said. “It’s about their lives. These animals have the right to live their lives.”

“What we’re trying to do is do right by the animals that are raised for food,” Willis said.

“There is no correct moral ethical kind way to confine, exploit and murder somebody,” she said. “You’re claiming you can do something you despise about factory farms in a way that’s kind and compassionate. Can you do the wrong thing in a nice way?”

“Ummm,” Willis said. “I guess I don’t know the answer to that question.”

“How can you not know the answer to that question?” she said. “Your entire marketing depends on you knowing the answer to that question.” 

To see full transcript click here


Michael Goldberg is a former Rolling Stone Senior Writer. He is an animal rights activist and a member of DxE. His first novel, True Love Scars, was published in 2014; his second, The Flowers Lied, will be published in October. His wife Leslie Goldberg, also a DxE member, blogs about animal rights at

BoJack Horseman Confronts the Humane Myth Head-On

BoJack Horseman Confronts the Humane Myth Head-On

By Saryta Rodriguez


The Netflix original series, BoJack Horseman, often brings to mind animal liberation, at least from my perspective. I was intrigued and, at times, horrified from the very beginning of the show (though I remained, and still remain, a loyal fan) by how personified animals nevertheless are exploited for human purposes. For instance, an early episode in Season One shows a personified cow working as a waitress at a restaurant, and when someone requests milk, she squeezes the contents of her own udder into a glass. In another episode, the same waitress shoves a plate at a diner and bitterly grumbles, “Here’s your STEAK.” (Side note: This scene in particular begged the question to me, So are the cows in this society chosen at random to become steak, or are there separate cows destined from birth to become steak while others live freely in society?)

After a long and anxious wait, fans of the show were finally given a second season just last week, which I devoured. SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post has to do with Season 2, Episode 5, “Chickens.”

The episode begins with a personified chicken giving a video tour of his “humane” farm. He first shows us a black-and-white photograph of a decrepit building and talks about how factory farms pump their chickens full of hormones and keep them cooped up in cages.

Enslaved hens attempting to play foosball while the proud "humane" farmer pontificates on his own awesomeness.

Enslaved hens attempting to play foosball while the proud "humane" farmer pontificates on his own awesomeness.

“Now, as a chicken, this concerns me. Here at Gentle Farms, we treat our livestock differently. Lush fields, plenty of dignity, and foosball! The chickens here have wonderful lives before we harvest them, so you can eat them.”

Later in this episode, BoJack’s roommate, Todd, encounters a genetically modified hen who has escaped from a factory farm. I noted immediately that this chicken, unlike other nonhuman animals personified on the show (such as the proprietor of Gentle Farms), is more chicken-like—and, even for a chicken, odd and somewhat lacking in intelligence—than human. This serves as an indication that she is functioning improperly due to genetic modification. Check.

Todd, BoJack, Diane (the ghostwriter of BoJack’s autobiography, which was published at the end of Season 1), and Kelsey’s daughter Irving (Kelsey being the director of BoJack’s dream movie project, Secretariat) resolve to take the hen, who Todd names Becca, to Gentle Farms, as the police are hot on her trail. There, the proprietor goes on about how amazing the farm is: “We have 20 acres of pasture, where our chickens have hours of free play.” The proprietor’s child thanks BoJack et. al. for rescuing the hen from “a terrible life at a factory farm.”

Then, the moment of truth: Todd expresses concern that the factory farm will try to get her back, to which the proprietor replies, “Oh, don’t you worry about your friend. That chicken belongs to us now.” He then proceeds to pump a shot-gun.

Farmer is a bit too eager to take in Todd's "rescued" feathered friend...

Farmer is a bit too eager to take in Todd's "rescued" feathered friend...

Both the language employed—not she lives here now, not she’s safe here now, but she belongs to us now—and the gun indicate the basic logical fallacies of the Humane Myth. The myth rests on the false premises that a) nonhuman animals belong to us and b) their lives can be taken whenever we want, for whatever reason we want, as long as those lives were pleasant prior to the act of murder with which they were ended.

Later, a horrified Todd persuades the group to rescue the hen from Gentle Farms—in other words, at least in the context of this episode, all of the main characters become liberationists. When searching frantically for Becca in a barn full of hens, Todd finally says, "I found her! This is Becca!"--to which Diane replies, "No, Todd, don't you get it?! They're ALL Becca!" The barn door is then flung open, and all chickens save Becca run away.

Ultimately, after the group is arrested and then released due to BoJack's celebrity, Irving asks whether anything they did made a difference, given that Becca was only rescued because BoJack happened to know Drew Barrymore (who "adopts"--purchases-- Becca from Gentle Barn). Diane asserts that yes, a difference was made--in spite of the following image of a Chicken 4 Dayz fast "food" place doing tons of business. I would have to agree, given that not only was Becca saved but also, presumably, the many hens who ran away when Diane opened the door to the barn.

If this isn’t evidence that our issue is on the table, that the moment is ripe, and that the truth will out, I truly don’t know what is. As Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show, the tide is changing. The Humane Myth is being challenged increasingly across media, moving beyond animal liberation outlets to mainstream news (both left-leaning like The New York Times and Huffington Post and even right-leaning, such as Glenn Beck in the Fall of 2014) and entertainment. Direct action works, and we will keep engaging in it until every animal is free.

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.

Would Whole Foods Kill My Family?

Would Whole Foods Kill My Family?

By Lisa Zorn


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This is Frost. 

I met Frost in 2003.  We had just adopted our first rabbit, Fury, and we thought he needed a friend. We naively assumed that we could just find one for him, so we stopped at a fair and encountered a man with stacks of cages—multiple sections to a cage, each section the size of a rabbit. The rabbits inside the cages couldn’t move. It was upsetting; but we asked him what he was doing with them and if we could have one. He said he was selling them to someone there and sure, we could have one for $5.  (Note: Please adopt from shelters or rescues like SaveABunny.  I was ignorant in 2003.)  He took out a few and we looked at their teeth, then went home with Frost: a little tortoiseshell Netherland Dwarf with the letters ‘A39’ tattooed in her ear.

I don’t know what happened to the others, but it was probably something terrible. Frost came from a bad place.

On the car ride home, I held Frost in a towel, and she didn’t move much.  She must have been terrified.  When we got home, we introduced her to Fury, and he loved her at first sight (or sniff).  (Side note: rabbits can be very picky about other rabbits, so this is no little thing.)  Once Frost realized she was safe, everything changed.

Frost loved to gaze out of windows at the outside world.

Frost loved to gaze out of windows at the outside world.

Frost was an adventurous rabbit.  She was the opposite of Fury—she liked to leap before considering, to hurl her body through time and space and worry about the consequences afterwards.  She was the kind of rabbit who would bump into walls in her enthusiasm; who would chew a hole through the screen door to the balcony and go exploring; who would climb the shelves I put up for her so she could gaze out the window at the world.

Frost told us, in no uncertain terms, that being caged at night was completely unacceptable.  She would rattle the cage bars all night long; so we got rid of the cage. Frost loved all greens, especially broccoli.  Frost loved Fury (and Fury loved her).  Eventually, Frost grew to love me too, sitting next to me in bed at the crack of dawn and demanding that I pet her by pushing her head underneath my hand whenever I started to fall asleep.

Frost was a Netherland Dwarf, which is a tiny breed of rabbit with a blunt nose and little ears; they are typically bred for show and for the pet trade (and sometimes used as food for snakes).  The blunt nose of the Netherland Dwarf means they often have teeth problems (rabbit’s teeth constantly grow, and need to be worn down by chewing on hay), and Frost eventually developed a tooth infection.  We had several of her teeth pulled; but the infection kept spreading, and none of the antibiotics we tried worked.  Eventually we decided to euthanize Frost because she was in so much pain, and she couldn’t eat anything on her own.  My heart broke that day, and I will always miss her and always love her.

We gave her the best life we could, and she was happy.  In return, she and Fury transformed me. They taught me the meaning of unconditional love.  They woke me up; I realized that everyone is Frost—that every cow, every chicken, every turkey, every pig, every fish…They are Frost in the ways that matter: in their desire for bodily autonomy; in their feelings of joy and fear and love.

That’s why when Whole Foods started selling the flesh of rabbits last year, it felt to me like a punch in the gut. Not because rabbits deserve to live more than any of the other animals slaughtered by Whole Foods, but because rabbit meat is a fairly small market in the U.S, and Whole Foods is a large grocery chain with a lot of influence. This step just made the world a lot worse for rabbits. Already, rabbits tread a sort of middle ground; though many of us love them as family members, they are also exploited by almost every industry: fur, meat, medical and cosmetic testing.  The battle for personhood is often in the foreground for rabbits, and those of us who have rabbit companions are often at the receiving end of “jokes” about violence against our loved ones.

When rabbit advocates contacted Whole Foods expressing our dismay about the decision to start selling rabbit meat, Whole Foods routinely responded by saying:

Whole Foods being "sensitive to the companion animal issue," using the words reminiscent of children's books to sell violence towards our companions.

Whole Foods being "sensitive to the companion animal issue," using the words reminiscent of children's books to sell violence towards our companions.

“Whole Foods Market is sensitive to the companion animal issue and we understand this product won’t appeal to everyone. However, for those customers who have been asking us to carry rabbit, it’s our job to make sure we offer the highest-quality product from responsible sources. A number of shoppers have been asking Whole Foods Market to carry rabbit for years but conventional raising practices do not meet our rigorous animal welfare standards. To meet our customers’ requests for rabbit we needed our own set of animal welfare standards, and these rabbit welfare standards are a direct result of a rigorous four-year process to address the welfare issues in rabbit production. As we have done in the past, our hope is that our high standards will be a model for industry change.”

Rama , a well-loved New Zealand White rabbit at SaveABunny.

Rama, a well-loved New Zealand White rabbit at SaveABunny.

Whole Foods is breeding and killing New Zealand White rabbits, a domestic breed of rabbit that many of us know and love as companions.  Whole Foods suppliers take rabbits from their families and kill them at eight weeks of age, when they are barely weaned babies.  Spayed and neutered house rabbits typically live for 8-12 years.  Digging further into the “rigorous animal welfare standards” provided by Whole Foods, one finds: “Stocking density must not exceed 2lbs/square foot.”  This means that an eight-pound adult New Zealand rabbit could be housed his whole life in a 2-foot by 2-foot space. A mother and her eight babies could be housed in a 2 1/8-foot square space. These “rigorous animal welfare standards” are actually just routine.  Further, the standards make points about keeping the rabbits in groups but doesn’t require it for males or females.  Whole Foods sources their rabbits from Iowa and Missouri, both of which have passed ag-gag laws.

None of this really matters, though, because even if Whole Foods kept rabbit families intact, even if Whole Foods gave them lots of room to run and jump and play and binky (that’s the rabbit happy dance), even if Whole Foods gave them strawberry treats every night and workers gave them good morning kisses, it would not be ok. At the end of the day, a young rabbit is taken from her family and her throat is cut. She will never love or be loved again, just so Whole Foods can make a buck.

That is why I will speak up against the violence that Whole Foods perpetrates, that Whole Foods expands, that Whole Food promotes beneath a veneer of feel-good marketing.  I will fight for Frost, and all of her sisters and brothers, and all of beautiful beings exploited and killed by Whole Foods Market.  Until every animal is free.

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 Chipotle Hurts Pigs...By Not Selling Them

How Chipotle Hurts Pigs...By Not Selling Them

By Glenn Alexander

Chipotle has stopped serving pig parts for the time being.  Must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily...

Chipotle has stopped serving pig parts for the time being.  Must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily...

Following Chipotle’s recent announcement that it will be offering free burritos to customers who try their vegan option, the restaurant chain has also announced that it is, until further notice, discontinuing its sale of “pork” due to its suppliers’ failures to meet Chipotle’s standards of animal welfare.  This has been met by cheers of praise from some animal-lovers, who thank the company for its apparent willingness to sacrifice profit for the sake of ethical values. 

Are Chipotle’s motives really that straightforward?  Unfortunately, it is rarely that simple— and this is no exception.  Chipotle’s “pork” boycott and free burritos are nothing but clever and deceptive PR stunts by a profit-hungry corporation.

First, let’s look at short-term profit.  It’s unlikely that the company will lose much money from taking a single item off of its menu, especially if the removal is temporary.  Any consumer coming to the chain hoping for “pork” will, in all likelihood, choose to buy another menu item instead— which will probably be animal-based. Moreover, the increased attention brought on by these two recent press hits will result in more people patronizing the company in the immediate future. Chipotle’s profit margin remains intact.

The real insidiousness behind Chipotle’s stunt is in the company’s pursuit of long-term profit.  It is no coincidence that Chipotle’s announcements took place very soon after it stopped being the main target of Direct Action Everywhere’s national “It’s Not Food; It’s Violence” campaign.  After all, one of the company’s main profit sources is its ethical, wholesome image, and DxE’s campaign was based around challenging that very image.  It only makes sense, then, that after such a campaign has ended, the company would do what it could to quell any and all consumer doubts about its commitment to treating animals with care. 

Chipotle has convinced the public that it has found and ethical and responsible way to exploit and kill animals.  It has found a consumer base that wants to make a positive difference in the world, and provided it with the comforting lie that all consumers need to do to make good on their moral duties is buy the dead bodies and stolen products of animals who have been, in Chipotle’s words, responsibly raised.”  Cornering that consumer base, especially given increased public concern for the treatment of animals on farms, stands to gain the company an incalculable amount of money.

Crucially, the success of Chipotle’s strategy does not depend on its actually treating animals with respect, but rather on convincing the public that it treats animals with respect.  As an open investigation of a "certified humane" reveals, even the so called best farms involve unconscionable animal suffering.  And, as many consumers know deep down, but willfully ignore, all “food animals” are slaughtered and slaughter is inherently violent.

In this illusory win-win relationship, the animals lose – even the pigs Chipotle refuses to sell.  The unchallenged spread of this humane lie gives ethically minded consumers a comforting retreat when the exploitation of animals is discussed.

“It’s not that we use animals that’s the problem; it’s how we use them.”

These lies guarantee that when Chipotle inevitably does bring pigs back onto the menu, people will buy them with clear consciences.  They guarantee long-term profit for whatever “pork” producers Chipotle chooses to buy from, thus ensuring the continued suffering and violent deaths of the pigs on those farms.  Most problematically, the myth of humane animal exploitation implicitly justifies the continued existence of all animal exploitation, and all of the suffering that comes with it, under the fraudulent guise that it can be reformed.

It cannot. There is nothing humane about slaughter. There is nothing compassionate about captivity. There is nothing ethical about animal agriculture. If you care about animals, don't look for the right way to do the wrong thing. Instead, join the ever-growing global movement for animal liberation: the right of every animal to be safe, happy, and free from human exploitation and violence.

Making real change for animals starts with you.

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