For those of you unfamiliar with Compassion in World Farming, take a few minutes to read about their work to protect animals in the food industry. This nonprofit has worked with Walmart and McDonald’s to implement cage-free policies, created compelling videos (like the one below) to reach millions of people, and used Change.org to inspire consumers to take action online.
I had a chance to talk with Nina Farley, Head of Public Engagement for Compassion in World Farming USA about their goals and the role online organizing plays into their approach.
Here’s the interview. Leave a comment if you have follow-up questions.
Pulin: What is your organization's mission and how does Change.org help you achieve it?
Nina: Compassion in World Farming’s mission is to end factory farming. We aim to reform our broken food and farming system by replacing it with a more humane, fair, and sustainable one.
Change.org makes it plain to see the mounting public demand to end factory farming practices. Thanks to Change.org, we’re able to validate the consumer demand for better treatment of farm animals in a tangible way, through petition signatures. The Change.org staff expertise on engaging consumers, maintaining relevancy and activity of petitions, and inspiring responses from food businesses has been instrumental in affecting positive change for farm animals.
Pulin: Why is there so much attention on cage-free eggs right now? What progress has been made in the US?
Nina: The cage-free egg movement has been a whirlwind that began with McDonald’s commitment in late 2015, after working with Compassion and other animal advocacy groups. When an industry leader like McDonald’s, who sources over 2 billion eggs in North America, decides to make a change in their supply chain, it’s only a matter of time before competitors follow suit.
We quickly saw major companies like Panera, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Taco Bell, and Kroger make similar cage-free commitments. Publix just recently announced a 100% cage-free egg commitment following a Change.org petition by Compassion and one of our supporters Andy Williams.
With Publix now on board, ALL of the top 25 US grocers have committed to going cage-free within ten years or less. There is a lot more work to be done, but this cements that one of the worst-of-the-worst factory farming practices will soon be a thing of the past.
Pulin: There's been some international progress in this area recently from companies like Tesco and Sodexo. Can you talk about how consumer voices play a role in these most recent changes?
Nina: With cage-free petitions on Change.org regularly garnering over 100,000 signatures from compassionate shoppers, maintaining the status-quo is just not an option for food companies whose customers demand better. The impact of each consumer’s voice cannot be understated, as evident by food businesses’ press releases.
When McDonald’s committed to switch to 100% cage-free eggs, they cited “customer expectations” as a driving force behind their decision. Similarly, Publix noted “meeting consumer demand,” Taco Bell cited “listening and responding to our customers,” and Trader Joe’s named “valuable customer feedback” as influencers in their cage-free announcements.
The movement is now spreading internationally with companies like Tesco, Sodexo, and Asda going cage-free. Rachel Dreskin, US Head of Food Business at Compassion says, "Sodexo's global commitment to go cage-free shows that the cage-free movement is not limited to the US. Keeping animals in cages will never be accepted by consumers in the US, or anywhere else across the globe."
The consumer voice has created a market shift in what’s acceptable for laying hens, and we look forward to more companies following suit worldwide.
Pulin: You worked with one of your members, Andy Williams, to petition Publix to adopt a cage-free policy. That recently won. Tell us about what steps you took to leverage the Change.org petition into a victory?
Nina: At its core, the Publix petition was an honest plea from a father and loyal customer with local and family ties to Publix. His simple request for Publix to listen to customers really resonated with a lot of their shoppers.
When the first 25,000 signatures failed to achieve the desired result, we asked the signees to try calling Publix headquarters, or hand a flyer to their local Publix store manager. One week and 86,000 signatures later with still no progress, we asked supporters to politely reach out to Publix on social media.
When another month went by with no change, we let Publix know that Andy would be visiting their headquarters, and asked those who signed the petition to make a phone call to tell Publix to meet with him. True to our word, we joined Andy in hand-delivering over 110,000 signed petitions to Publix HQ. Local Fox13 News was on the scene. With so much activity both on and outside of the Change.org platform, the petition’s appeal for a cage-free Publix became harder to deny.
Pulin: This is clearly a large movement. How do other organizations support these campaigns and work with you to maximize the impact?
Nina: In the farm animal advocacy movement, our collective efforts come down to one shared goal: improving the lives of animals. There is plenty of room for a variety of strategies to help establish animal welfare as a priority in food companies’ supply chain policies. When we launched our cage-free Publix campaign on Change.org, the Humane Society of the United States followed up by placing full-page ads in major newspapers in states with Publix stores. Similarly, Mercy for Animals created a video of children urging Publix to go cage-free, and asked volunteers to leaflet at their local Publix.
Pulin: What else does Compassion in World Farming have coming up in 2016?
Nina: While 2015 was arguably the year of the laying hen, Compassion is dedicated to making 2016 the year of the chicken (that is, chickens raised for meat). Chickens make up 95% of all factory farmed animals, and face some of the worst conditions.
Years of selective breeding has resulted in chickens that grow so big, so quickly their legs can barely support their own weight. We believe there is a better way, so we’re calling on food businesses to offer chickens slower-growing genetics, more space, natural light, and enrichment such as perches.
We’re thrilled to have already seen some progress. Whole Foods Market through Global Animal Partnership has committed to switch entirely to slow-growing chicken breeds within 8 years, as well as requiring more space, natural light, and enrichment.
This will dramatically improve the lives of 277 million birds a year. Perdue, the 3rd largest chicken company in the US, recently published a first of its kind animal welfare policy committing to doubling the rate of birds’ activity within 3 years, potentially through slower-growth genetics, and requiring windows for natural light in all new chicken houses.
We look forward to continued progress for chickens and all farm animals in the rest of 2016.
Looking for more advice on how to run a successful campaign? Check out our petition guide.
Pulin Modi is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org