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NonprofitI'm David Coman-Hidy, Executive Director of The Humane League. We've worked to get more than 100 major food companies to switch to using cage-free eggs. We just launched our campaign to reform the poultry industry. AMA!

Sep 28th 2016 by davidcomanhidy • 16 Questions • 3381 Points

Hello Reddit! My name is David Coman-Hidy, and I'm the Executive Director of The Humane League. We're an animal protection nonprofit that organizes people around the world. THL has been named a 'top charity' by Animal Charity Evaluators for the last four rating periods.

We've had a lot of success fighting to end battery cages (cruel confinement for egg laying hens) and we've just launched our first campaign to reform the poultry industry: http://www.agonyataramark.com/

We would like to see Aramark publicly announce a broiler chicken welfare policy which includes, at a minimum, the following four basic welfare points:

  1. Commit to exclusively purchasing a specific breed - the breed of which Aramark would state publicly - that addresses the concerns related to fast growth, with a phase-in over the next four years.

  2. Commit to giving chickens more room by reducing maximum stocking density to 6lbs per square foot, with a phase-in over the next two years.

  3. Commit to installing environmental enrichments in line with Global Animal Partnership's enrichment standards throughout 100% of chicken housing, with a phase-in over the next two years.

  4. Move away from fully conscious live shackling and switch to some form of controlled atmosphere killing, with a phase-in of eight years.

AMA!

[proof] http://imgur.com/a/HjlWn

Q:

How have ag-gag laws impacted the work that you do?

A:

For those who don't know: ag-gag laws are a pernicious group of bills that attempt to stop undercover whistleblowers and investigators from revealing the cruelty on factory farms.

THL doesn't do investigations ourselves, but the entire movement depends on these exposes to show the public what is going on behind closed doors. Any effort that makes it more difficult to obtain that footage is bad for animals.

The silver lining is that ag-gag laws have been a total PR disaster for factory farms. I guess it doesn't look good when you're actively trying to make it illegal for people to see what it is you're up to.


Q:

Does the Humane League want to see factory farming, and the consumption of animals come to and end, or just make the lives of the animals better before they are killed?

A:

Our mission is to reduce animal suffering, so the short answer to your question is that we're in favor of any change that moves in that direction (whether it's a reduced number of animals being raised on factory farms or improved conditions).

We work on both fronts, trying to reduce demand and to reduce the harm done to the animals who are being raised.

It's my personal hope that advances in technology (plant-based/in-vitro meats, for example) will replace factory farming.


Q:

Are you personally vegetarian / vegan? Is it common in your organisation?

A:

Yes! I've personally been vegan for about seven years and vegetarian for some years before that.


Q:

Any plans to stop the maceration of live male chicks?

A:

Yes! In fact, we've already negotiated an end to this practice in the US: http://blog.thehumaneleague.com/victory-united-egg-producers-announces-elimination-of-chick-culling-by-2020


Q:

Why have you chosen to target Aramark?

A:

Aramark is one of the largest foodservice companies in the world, and they say that they are committed to being part of the solution for changing the way that chickens are treated. We're targeting them because a commitment will impact a huge number (many millions) of animals and because their clients, many of them college students, oppose the way chickens are treated in their supply chain.

We saw foodservice at the forefront of the change for egg-laying hens, and we're planning on history repeating itself here.


Q:

Some people simply don't care about anything other than price, can these methods lead to the same competitive pricing we currently have in the market?

A:

While it's true some people may only care about price, the vast majority of people care quite a bit about animal welfare. Even when there is a marginal increase in cost, like with cage-free eggs, citizens have passed ballot initiatives to ban cages every time it has been up for vote (as it looks like they will shortly in Massachusetts).


Q:

So I'm a fan of cruelty free food, but how often are claims of "cage free" just used as marketing buzzwords like "all-natural." Is packing thousands of chickens into a small tent really that much better than into cages? Not trying to be a downer, just kind of cynical about "cage free." Please correct me

A:

Thanks for the question. It's true that cage-free hens are still factory farmed and that they suffer quite a bit, too. That said, they are much better off than the hens who are crammed into battery cages for their entire lives.

For individual consumers, reducing egg consumption overall is the best way to spare egg-laying hens from misery. When it comes to changing institutions, though, we decided to push for cage-free as a way to do the most good for the largest number of animals.


Q:

What has caused your interest in animal cruelty?

A:

To be honest, I didn't see myself as a big animal lover growing up. In high school I was very inspired by the writings of Peter Singer, and after reading Animal Liberation I was convinced that factory farming was one of the great moral dilemmas of our time. So for me my animal advocacy started as an attempt to reduce the most suffering rather than as an expression of a long-held affinity for animals. Over the last few years, especially thanks to the two cats who I live with, Olive and Basil, I have developed a much more emotional connection to the cause, too.


Q:

I love the work you guys do, especially your recent victory in getting United Egg Producers to end chick culling. I honestly believe it's one of the biggest victories for animal welfare in decades. Which brings me to my question: How do we break down the stereotypes surrounding animal welfare and those who advocate for improvements? (i.e. reforms are unrealistic, activists are "crazy" and "don't know what they're talking about", they're "pushing a radical agenda", etc.) One of the biggest challenges for me as an animal welfare advocate is the immediate pushback from people who reflexively assume that even the most modest welfare suggestions are somehow the result of extremist animal rights "propaganda".

A:

Thank you for your nice words :)

One thing that I try to keep in mind for my work is that advocates for any cause face the same criticisms: the reform is impossible, it's a crazy idea anyways, nobody cares, you're uninformed, etc. -- I've volunteered on plenty of other issues and the criticisms tend to be the same for any group.

When our opponents are attacking us as crazy, radical or working from some insane agenda, it's often because they don't want to address a question like "why is it okay to keep an animal in a cage the size of her body for her entire life?"

The reality is that our issue, cruelty to animals, is one of the ONLY issues that virtually everybody agrees on. Nobody wants animals to suffer. As I mentioned in another answer, voters have always shown up for farmed animals. I very rarely encounter people who oppose our work that don't have a financial interest in our failure.

So, keep your eyes on the prize and remember that you are, in fact, not alone!


Q:

I love the cause!

I'm wondering how such a large scale campaign is funded?

A:

Thanks! THL has been working on this issue for some time, including when we had a very, very small budget and just a handful of employees. Back then we were funded by a few events each year (like a walk for animals) and a few individual supporters.

In the last few years, support for this work has become a lot more mainstream and in addition to a much larger group of individual donors, we also have received grant funding from organizations like the Open Philanthropy Project.

That said, we can still use your help ;)


Q:

Is your group pursuing the growth of meat from beef cells? Is this something that could one day be an economically viable alternative, or is it just a fantasy?

A:

We are not working on this science ourselves but if you are interested in this issue I recommend checking out the excellent Good Food Institute: http://www.gfi.org/

While there is a long way to go, I do indeed think that there is a lot of promising evidence that this new kind of farming will be a very viable alternative to factory farming.


Q:

What's next for THL after Aramark agrees to your requests?

A:

As we have seen a massive shift in the egg industry away from cages, we hope to see a similarly broad reform across the poultry industry. This campaign will be the first of many as we work with other massive purchasers to update their policies and improve the lives of chickens.


Q:

What's the motivation to limit them to a single breed? I understand the breed-related concerns, but isn't enforcing a monoculture creating a situation where the chickens are more susceptible to rapid spread of disease—and increased suffering—and creating a high-risk situation for Aramark? Won't this encourage Aramark to use more precautionary antibiotics?

It sounds like putting all your eggs in one basket.

A:

We are not asking for a specific breed, simply that the breed used addresses the major welfare concerns around rapid growth (like leg failure).


Q:

I think that fighting to reduce farm animal's suffering is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, but wouldn't the better ideal be to reduce the consumption of livestock altogether?

As long as we consider farm animals as assets rather than living beings, then the priority is always going to be financial gain for the company rather than quality of life for these animals.

I don't mean to sound like a preachy vegan, it just seems to make more sense to address the root of the problem, that being the consumption of livestock as a whole.

A:

THL also does a lot of work to reduce demand for meat: we've worked with school systems to participate in meatless Mondays, we have a large outreach and education program that helps consumers reduce their own consumption of meat and we have worked with many institutions to add new veg options onto their menus.

That said, it's clear that many billions of animals will continue to suffer on factory farms, and we believe that if we're serious about doing the most good that we can, we have to help reduce their suffering.


Q:

Even though it's not ending factory farms all together, I think this is step in the right direction. As a college student who supports animal rights, what can I do to support this campaign?

A:

Thank you for your support! You should definitely join the Fast Action Network: http://thehumaneleague.com/fast-action-network/


Q:

What's your favorite food?

A:

Pizza and it's not even close.