Animal agriculture was once again a major focus for animal rights activists at the 2020 Taking Action for Animals Conference, held virtually September 19-20. TAFA is hosted every other year by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who describe it as “the leading national conference in the animal advocacy movement.” HSUS is a longstanding adversary of animal agriculture, with a history of pushing for both legislation and restaurant/retail/foodservice sourcing policies that impact our ability to efficiently raise animals for food. HSUS intentionally attempts to publicly position itself as focused on animal welfare or only opposed to “factory farming,” though several of its top staff members formerly worked at more extreme organizations and have made their opposition to consuming animal products clear.
This year’s TAFA conference was held virtually and the Animal Ag Alliance had representatives in attendance so we can understand the discussions being had about animal agriculture. Unsurprisingly, a major theme of the conference was the COVID-19 pandemic and public health, with speakers claiming that animal agriculture will cause future pandemics. Another recurring point was the need to humanize and individualize animals, with speakers mentioning individual chickens and other livestock and giving them names like “Susie” or “Miranda.” HSUS’ efforts to promote plant-based eating within the culinary space, with speakers claiming they have led more than 530 culinary events and trained 11,000 chefs and “worked directly with 641 programs to actively increase plant-based offerings” with the goal of these culinary programs making their menus 50 percent plant-based “in the very near future.” Ultimately, conference attendees were urged to get involved in the legislative process at the local level and beyond in order to help HSUS pass what it deems to be “animal-friendly” legislation.
Here are some of the quotes from the conference in speakers’ own words.
• “Scientists are telling us, in no uncertain terms, that the next pandemic is at least as likely to start on a factory farm here in the U.S., as it is at a live wildlife market in some other country. There are two reasons for this, one is because of the rampant use of antibiotics in factory farms, which creates antibiotic resistant bacteria that could cause a future plague…Two, factory farms are also breeding grounds for viruses such as influenza that can easily jump from farm animals to people.”
• “…In this report from the United Nations and the world’s leading experts, they found that the number one risk [of global pandemics] has to do with the increased consumption of meat, eggs and dairy. Number two has to do with the intensification of farm animals or in other words, the caging of farm animals in smaller and smaller enclosures. That’s not like a top 10, a top 50, or a top 100 risk we’re talking about – number one, number two risk.”
• “If you look at a factory farm where there are hundreds of thousands of chickens surrounding Miranda [one specific chicken]. One gets sick, they’ll all get sick, and then the disease starts mutating because there’s so many opportunities. That’s why scientists call factory farms a “laboratory of disease”, because there are so many opportunities for diseases to mutate and the fear to humans is that one day it’s going to mutate where it’s going to infect people. And then it’s going to harm us and it spreads to other people.”
“Factory farms poison our environment. Factory farms also create serious risks to public health.”
• “We aim to eliminate extreme confinement methods and promote plant-based solutions.”
• “Our second strategy to add in [combating] factory farming is to promote healthy eating with plant-based foods. We do this by bringing locally specialized vegan chefs to major institutions, such as restaurant chains, universities and hospitals, and teach them ways to integrate affordable and delicious plant-based options into their meals. This program not only decreases the demand for animal consumption, thereby helping usher out the age of factory farming, but it also helps the planet…”
• “Your goal is to become one of the go-to people in your legislator’s district, who he or she will reach out to when they have a question about animal protection.”
• “We’re also passing laws to ban these practices [farm animal confinement] in the state, making them criminal abuses that if they are done, it’s not just frowned upon or ‘hey this is a bad thing’ – no, these will be criminal activities.”
• “Every year, factory farming causes billions of animals to suffer. It also contributes to climate change and pollutes our air and water supply. Over the past 10 years, we’ve made fighting to abolish these practices a priority. The animal protection community has worked to combat this cruelty with legislative efforts, consumer campaigns to encourage more plant-based meals, and by working with the largest food companies in the country to get them to mandate that their egg and meat suppliers eliminate cages.”
These quotes illustrate just a few examples of the different types of activism that all of us in animal agriculture are up against. I hope they serve as inspiration to communicate about animal welfare, sustainable animal agriculture and the value of meat, poultry, dairy and eggs in the diet. We need all the voices we can get in these discussions and we need to be just as passionate and relentless in our work – we’ll just keep ours focused on the facts.