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Vegan Outreach is a 501(c)(3)
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reducing the suffering of farmed animals
by promoting informed, ethical eating.

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Vegan Outreach
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Vegan Outreach Special Enews  •  March 4, 2008

The Vital Importance of Grassroots Animal Advocacy

Matt Ball

Vegan Outreach exists to expose and end cruelty to animals, as expeditiously as possible. We focus on getting booklet-length summaries of the atrocities of today's factory farms to as many people as possible, but, because of our limited time and resources, don't delve into great detail on the depths of agribusiness's depravations, nor on the individual animals who suffer and are slaughtered by the billions.

Every so often, it is important to remind ourselves why we put our limited time and resources to grassroots advocacy. Few people have had more firsthand dealings with agribusiness and individuals within this system than Gene Baur, cofounder of Farm Sanctuary. In his new book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food, Gene shares his experiences and knowledge gained, especially since the founding of Farm Sanctuary in 1986.

Gene begins his book with a brief introduction to modern agribusiness, along with some staggering statistics:

In 1950, 50,000 farms produced 630 million meat chickens. That's an average of 12,630 birds per farm. By 2005, the United States had 20,000 fewer farms, but the average number of birds per farm had risen to nearly 300,000.… Along with the increase in volume and the concentration of animals, the value of each one has declined, another outcome of the economics of supply and demand. If a farmer has, say, thousands of pigs in a shed, he can afford and even expects to lose a certain percentage to injury, illness, or the stresses of overproduction.

Inside a broiler house

If these and similar numbers aren't enough to indicate the magnitude of the task ahead, Gene points out that just two companies – Tyson and Cargill – had revenue in 2005 of nearly $100,000,000,000.

He provides details on the nature of the industry. Based on his firsthand accounts, Gene illustrates an observation from 1964's Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison: “If one person is unkind to an animal, it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once sums of money are at stake, will be defended by otherwise intelligent people.”

In spite of all the horrors he's witnessed and all the “otherwise intelligent people” he's faced while trying to stop animal abuse, Gene remains a kind, understanding individual. He really does live up to his coda, “I've always tried to be mindful of other perspectives, and through this to seek common ground.” His big heart shows through frequently in passages such as this:

Factory farmed pigletOnce we learn about what happens in factory farms, the knowledge can seem so horrific or overwhelming that you want to turn away or pretend not to know. I can understand that, and often myself have wished I didn't have to think about the horrific violence done to animals.... But bad situations don't simply resolve themselves when we look away. When we face issues, remarkable things can happen.

Gene's ability to convey his warm, earnest nature in these pages make this book a good gift to offer to otherwise intractable friends and relatives.


Worker prodding cowIn part 2, Gene tells the story of the rise of Farm Sanctuary, from life in a retired bus, selling veggie dogs at Grateful Dead concerts, to a major player within the animal advocacy community. The legislative struggles are especially illuminating. Despite “success” with downed animal legislation in California, Gene still finds downers at stockyards and slaughterhouses across the state: “Even though we had a good new law on the books in California, it wasn't enough to protect downed animals.” This theme is repeated in other examples, and shockingly reinforced by the recently revealed horrors of a “regulated” slaughterhouse in the state of California. Work on the national level has proven even more frustrating:

Twenty years after Farm Sanctuary began working on the downer issues, sick animals are still being left to suffer on farms, in stockyards, and in slaughterhouses, and, apart from cows (theoretically), are still making their way into the food supply.… [T]he underlying perception of these animals as commodities rather than as individuals with feelings and the capacity to suffer hasn't changed. That is a longer and greater struggle.

Changing that underlying perception is the struggle on which we must relentlessly focus.


Part 3 is a more detailed look at modern animal agribusiness, with chapters on different animals. The information in this section, although not often breaking new ground or rigorously documented, is well organized, thoughtfully presented, and uniquely personalized by Gene's diverse set of experiences.

Sprinkled throughout the book are insightful, touching profiles of rescued animals at Farm Sanctuary. Simply knowing animals are fellow sentient beings should, of course, be enough to lead a thoughtful person to oppose factory farms and recognize that veganism is an ethical imperative. But Gene's touching profiles of these individuals provide an entirely new level to the subject, and to the vital nature of animal liberation work. Indeed, having the details of the richness of these rescued animals' lives juxtaposed with descriptions of the abuses on today's factory farms and the numbing numbers of animals who aren't rescued makes this book even more moving – indeed, heartbreaking – than similar books. These personal profiles are a good, honest hook to capture the interest of nonvegetarians.


A deeper knowledge of the animals isn't the only heartbreaking aspect of the book. Having worked with lawmakers for decades, Gene remains skeptical:

Perhaps no other American industry has ever enjoyed the same level of protection and privilege as modern agribusiness. Perhaps none has had so many state and federal officials ready to do their bidding.… I've seen people deliver passionate, compelling testimony before state agriculture committees, only to be met with impassive and uninterested stares, or even hostility, from committee members. The symbiotic relationship between government and agribusiness has certainly influenced their cavalier attitudes.… I am also concerned that these announcements [from companies such as Smithfield that say they are going to change the way animals are treated] and the related public relations efforts could be designed more to placate consumers and maintain a status quo than to reform a substantially cruel and corrupt system.… The more you know about agribusiness, the more skeptical you'll become that industry and government experts are watching out.

He knows that laws and agreements, in the end, guarantee nothing; his frustration is palpable:

The only way to know with certainty how farm animals are treated is to visit the farm where your meat, dairy, or eggs came from. If the owner has nothing to hide, then he or she should welcome your interest.

By using stories of individual animals, Farm Sanctuary – both the book and the organization – is masterful at leading the people they are able to reach into making personal connections. This has allowed Farm Sanctuary to raise far more money than other any other group dedicated solely to the cause of farmed animals.

But importantly, Gene points out a sanctuary's limitations throughout the book:

For every Hilda, Hope, or Cinci Freedom, we are aware that another creature – in just as much pain and just as deserving of care – is being denied a place of mercy. There are always more animals than we can provide shelter for. Even if we had space for five thousand, or five hundred thousand, or five million, or a thousand times that number, it wouldn't be enough.

Early on we realized that our role as a refuge could be only a small part of what had to be done. We knew we could rescue or house only a tiny fraction of the billions of animals killed for food [each year] in the United States. We knew we had to go "upstream" and stop the cruelty at the source, to reduce the number of abused, injured, or sick animals who came our way.

Student reading VO bookletGoing upstream – right to the public that buys meat, eggs, and dairy – is, of course the only answer, and must be done before any real changes can take place.

The key, as Gene makes clear, is that the individuals who determine societal values must first be made aware of the realities of modern agribusiness. Only then can people's worldviews change, society evolve, and laws reflect these new values and ethics. Even before founding Farm Sanctuary, Gene knew that he – and all animal advocates – had to take the animals' message right to the people:

We agreed we could reach many more people if we got on the road than we could from our office in Washington, D.C.

Map

This message has been taken to heart by many activists, who are out there, every day, being the voice of the unnamed animals, handing booklets to thousands of new people (as shown by the current semester college leafleting map at right). These individuals are raising awareness, changing worldviews, and causing uncounted new people to take daily action for the animals. Each one of us is working to put Vegan Outreach and Farm Sanctuary out of business:

In an ideal world, there would be no need for Farm Sanctuary. There would be no factory farms or stockyards, and the cattle, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals would not be abused.

Until that day, we must do our utmost – our focused, optimal best – to turn our dedication and limited resources into concrete, fundamental results, to alter the public's worldview of our fellow animals as widely as possible.

-March, 2008

 

Every Donation Prevents Suffering

Vegan Outreach is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the suffering of farmed animals by promoting informed, ethical eating.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Vegan Outreach
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