The Ghosts In Our Machine

Interview with Compassion Over Killing

Compassion Over Killing
Photo courtesy of Sylvia Elzafon. Taken at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Lorena Elke, our Research Consultant, conducted the following interview with Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing

LE: COK was one of the earlier proponents of open rescue in the USA, following in the footsteps of Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria. Can you talk about the differing effects that strategies such as open rescue and undercover investigative work produce?

AA: Behind the closed doors of animal agribusiness, there is absolute misery that billions of birds, pigs, and cows are forced to endure. Most people are unaware of what’s happening because that’s what the meat, egg, and dairy industries prefer –they want to keep consumers in the dark.

The general public can’t openly visit factory farms and slaughterhouses. That’s exactly why, since 2001, COK has been going undercover inside these facilities –to bring factory farms and slaughterhouses to the public. Our mission is to expose what the industry is so desperately trying to hide: the truth.

When consumers are allowed to see the truth about factory farming, they’re shocked.  And they’re so horrified, many are rethinking exactly what –and who– they’re eating.

In fact, the impact of undercover videos and related news coverage was recently studied by Kansas State University, which concluded that “Increasing media attention to animal welfare issues triggers consumers to purchase less meat.”

That’s why undercover investigations are so crucial and will remain a core strategy at COK.  The power of these videos is also why the US meat industry is fighting to pass “ag-gag” laws aimed at criminalizing whistle-blowers.

LE: COK has been involved in many campaigns in relation to nonhuman animals from legal advocacy to restaurant outreach to pro-veg commercials. Can you describe one campaign that has had particular impact for your organization? What were the successes and challenges?

AA: Several years ago, COK took on the US egg industry and won. We challenged a misleading marketing claim that was nearly ubiquitous on egg cartons: “Animal Care Certified.” This claim conveyed to consumers a higher level of animal care that was actually the case. In fact, most “Animal Care Certified” eggs came from hens who were crammed inside tiny wire battery cages.

We waged a campaign that included filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau, going undercover inside “Animal Care Certified” egg factory farms, taking the egg industry to court, and garnering extensive media coverage bridging this animal protection issue with consumer protection issues.

The campaign succeeded when the Federal Trade Commission issued a statement making it clear that the “Animal Care Certified” claim could no longer be used. It’s now been relegated to the dustbin of egg industry history.

To me, the impact of this victory extends far beyond the removal of a misleading claim, which is of course a win for animals and consumers. It demonstrates that when the truth is on your side, a small group of strategic advocates can in fact win even when battling a giant like the egg industry.

LE: Awareness of nonhuman animal issues is gaining recognition globally, yet the animal industries continue to flourish. What do you think will be the tipping point to a more humane relationship with nonhuman animals? How do you see COK playing a role?

AA: The animal protection movement is making incredible progress. American meat consumption is declining. Hundreds of millions of fewer farm animals are being raised and killed for food as a result. And many of the worst factory farming practices are beginning to fade away, too. Yet we still have a very long way to go.

To truly be a movement, we have to move and we have to keep moving. Billions of lives and a vast universe of suffering are at stake.

Continually moving the ball further and further down the field, one step at a time, is how we’re going to ensure that we win and build that truly humane society in which we no longer exploit animals. That’s what motivates all of us as COK; that’s the world we’re moving toward –and we won’t slow down until we get there.

Compassion Over Killing is our Featured Animal Ambassador for June 2014.


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