Barns and manure lagoon Hurricane Florence
The current coronavirus pandemic brought to the surface the global consequences of factory farming and its lack of sanitation. We talked about this emergency with Erica Meier, President at Animal Outlook, an organization fighting to achieve sustainability and equality. We also talked about environmental racism, their current investigations, McDonald’s, and the responsibilities that consumers have. Animal Outlook works nationwide and you can watch their videos on nyxt.nyc/animaloutlook.
How is Animal Outlook adapting to the coronavirus pandemic?
EM: The majority of our staff were already working remotely, so that part wasn’t a big change for us. I’d say the biggest change has been pivoting quickly to maintain and build interpersonal connections online with our volunteers, donors, and the general audience. In-person events like DC VegFest are a big part of what we do, so we’re exploring how to best create a similar experience in a virtual environment. This overall experience encourages us to think differently and more creatively, potentially leading to innovations that may last well beyond this pandemic.
Knowing that this virus originated from consuming animals, are you feeling even more inspired by Animal Outlook’s cause? How did this shape your conversations during the last months?
EM: There’s an undeniable connection between pandemics and factory farming. The conditions in live markets, or wet markets as some call them, are incredibly similar to the conditions in factory farms - overcrowding, poor sanitation, and disease, just to name a few. And according to the CDC, three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases in people – including COVID-19 – come from animals. So it’s not difficult to see that the next pandemic is likely to come from factory farming. It certainly does inspire us to elevate the urgency of our message. It underscores the need, maybe now more than ever, for us to continue our work exposing what goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms and helping more and more people make the shift to a plant-based diet.
Erica Meier - Photo via Animal Outlook
Erica Meier has served as President of Animal Outlook since 2005, after being an active volunteer starting in 2000. Since taking the helm, she’s taken the organization to new heights with continued growth and accomplishments for animals that include ending the egg industry’s use of the misleading claim “Animal Care Certified” and successfully persuading BOCA foods to stop using eggs.
What are some of Animal Outlook's current campaigns and investigations?
EM: We have a number of ongoing campaigns and investigations, but right now we’re focused on our work to persuade Dunkin’ and McDonald’s to add vegan options, and our coalition effort to stop high-speed slaughter.
EM: Thanks to the thousands of people who supported our campaign, several years ago Dunkin’ introduced almond milk as an option with coffee. Now, they’re rolling out oat milk this summer, and most recently, they added a Beyond Meat breakfast sausage patty nationwide. They’ve indicated they’re also considering adding a vegan donut to the menu, which is our latest push.
We’ve been urging McDonald’s to add vegan options to its menu for more than two years now, including participating in a hard-hitting digital billboard in Times Square and protests in NYC and LA. In a recent interview, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski shared that it is not a matter of if we will see vegan options on the menu, but when.
On the legal side, we continue standing up against profit-driven animal agriculture by pushing back on the dangerous high-speed slaughter rules in chicken and pig factories that minimize government oversight and eliminate caps on how fast animals are forced through the kill lines (in order to “process” more animals per day). The USDA’s new rules unnecessarily put animals, workers and consumers at heightened risks in an already questionable system. Our investigations reveal how workers are forced to take inhumane shortcuts to keep up with the faster speeds, which threatens not only their personal safety, but food safety and animal welfare. And now there are many additional concerns posed by COVID-19 that Big Ag generally seems to be ignoring in the name of profit.
Our investigations department also remains active. We just released a new video, The Life of a Chicken, which is a compilation of our investigative footage inside various broiler chicken facilities. This video aims to expose viewers to the reality of exactly what -- and who -- they’re eating. Chickens raised for meat are still babies when they’re slaughtered. Most people are shocked to learn that.
Can you explain what environmental racism is and share one current example of it?
EM: Factory farming takes a devastating toll on our planet, exploiting everything and everyone in its path, including rural communities. Environmental racism capitalizes on racial disparities and is weaponized by industrial farms that set up shop in low-income areas where people (primarily people of color) do not have the resources to fight against the destruction of their communities. These communities are quickly hit by the negative impacts of factory farming, like air quality, pollution, toxic waste, and in some cases even the contamination of rain and drinking water. Residents often live in generational homes that they can’t simply up and leave, and their health can greatly suffer as a direct result of the industry that has encroached on them.
For example, when Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, many African Americans were displaced after having lived on the land for generations. But it wasn’t just the hurricane that pushed them away: When toxic waste lagoons from farms raising pigs, chickens, and cows for food overflowed, they tainted the Cape Fear Watershed, possibly devastating the ecosystem for generations to come. Shortly after the hurricane, Animal Outlook investigators mobilized to document the devastation and show the world the truth of how animal agriculture contributed.
Many fruits and vegan products have to be imported because they are not locally sourced or seasonally produced, which is also bad for the environment. Could you share some guidelines or ideas for alternatives to be aware of?
EM: While shipping fruits and vegetables poses its own problems with regard to climate change, the impact is far less than that of animal products. However, we always encourage consumers to buy as locally as they can and be mindful of the produce that is in season and less likely to have been shipped across the world from a warmer climate.
What are some examples of companies that are changing the direction of their businesses to be sustainable and cruelty-free?
EM: From beauty products to apparel to food, we’re seeing more and more companies respond to consumer demand for more ethical choices by increasing efforts to become sustainable and cruelty-free. While we spend a lot of time at Animal Outlook advocating for vegan eating, there are many ways we can be mindful of what we consume and what we financially support. This includes avoiding animal testing, cosmetics and clothing made with animal products, and items like single-use plastic. A company that comes to mind is Dr. Bronner’s, where our friends are creating multi-use castile soap that is safe, vegan, and environmentally responsible!
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