Does the term “terrorist” even mean anything anymore?

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The current Vegan Freak podcast talks about two stories in the news recently that have really gotten my blood boiling. The first is about Tony Blair’s vocal support for animal testing and his classification of animal rights activists as “terrorists.” Blair was crafty in his use of implying a (non-existent) connection between a letter-writing campaign targeted at shareholders of GlaxoSmithKline and an isolated incident of a weirdo exhuming a someone’s corpse. We have to be very careful when things like this hit the press to remind friends and family that a.) only a select few animals rights activists (like any other group) are wacky, and b.) a significant portion of animal experimentation has nothing to do with finding life-saving answers to diseases but rather with developing drugs for things like erectile dysfunction.

A related story worth mentioning is one from Germany where researchers say that stem-cell testing can be used to replace hundreds of thousands of experiments on animals. That’s outstanding news, but may not matter much here in the United States until we (and by “we” I mean he) wisen up with regards to the use of stem cells.

The second story that raised my ire is about how animal rights activist Adam Durand was sentenced to six months in jail for a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor? Trespassing in Wegmans’ egg facility to gather the footage for Wegmans Cruelty. This is the maximum sentence Durand could have received and no one was actually expecting any jail time for him. It’s an absurd judgement and I won’t speak any more on it at this point, but I will redirect you to what I wrote about Wegmans a month or so ago. If you’d like to help Adam out or just write him to show your support, Compassionate Consumers has the information.

It’s getting more than a little scary with the government declaring animal rights’ activists “terrorists,” legal action being taken against those that do open rescues, and rights for food animals being stripped more and more. But as scary as it is, these actions wouldn’t be taken if an impact weren’t being made. The average consumer is becoming much more aware of what’s happening to make their food and that scares the industry to death. And, really, it’s not privacy matters or even property destruction the industry is most worried about… they’re worried about industry practices becoming common knowledge which can only serve to hurt them in a big way financially.

Carl Lewis Sells Out

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We really didn’t need another example of why many many celebrities can’t be trusted with the animal liberation message, but we’ve got one. You know all the stuff out there about Olympian Carl Lewis and his veganism? Yeah, well…

This morning I saw an ad for McDonald’s that featured a bunch of different workers, ranging from entertainers to firefighters, talking about how their first job was flipping burgers at Mickey D’s. In other words, “Look! You can have a crap job and still turn out OK!” In any event, one of the people featured was Carl Lewis. I’d have to say that this one ranks right up there with recording a music video in terms of bad decisions Mr. Lewis has made.

Know Thy Enemy Week #4: Advertisers

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Ask any parent: it’s nearly impossible to shield kids from the onslaught of advertising for toys and fast food. But, us adults are hit just as hard. During a random one hour of prime time television that I watched Thursday evening, there were 35 commercials. That’s an awful lot of advertising.

Though there were less food ads during that time period than I expected, there’s one thing I was right about: every single food ad featured meat. A (really annoying) Wendy’s ad that ran twice showed three salads, which is about as close to vegetarian food as a lot of people get. However, one of these three salads featured beef and the other two had chicken. There was also a Taco Bell commercial featuring a meat-heavy wrap of some sort, a Campbell’s Tomato Soup commercial that showed the soup paired with chunks of ham and layers of cheese, and a Domino’s commercial featuring a pizza 30% larger than an extra large. The pizza was, of course, topped with pepperoni and marketed towards men.

There also were a few ads for likely animal-unfriendly items like hair care and cosmetics.

The most subtle form that shows exactly how ingrained the use of animals is in our culture came during a commercial for Ask.com. In the commercial, a pair of scientists in lab coats, one holding a talking monkey, search online for a pot pie recipe. All of the results, of course, show chicken pot pie.

While I didn’t spot any ads explicitly from the meat or dairy industries, I can’t even remember the last time I saw an ad for Silk.

One of the most astounding pieces of information I’ve seen over the last few years compares the amount spent annually to promote fruits and vegetables versus the amounts spent on heavily processed junk foods, fast foods, and meat. In a report called “Out of Balance,” Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports) found that:

The $11.26 billion spent on advertising by the food, beverage, and restaurant industries in 2004 dwarfed the mere $9.55 million spent on communications for the federal and California “5 A Day” programs to encourage eating 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Industry expenditures for food, beverage and fast food advertising, thus, are 1,178 times greater than the budgets for the California and federal 5 A Day campaigns. In this context, it is no wonder that healthful dietary messages from government, parents and others are barely audible.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is another one of those situations where it’s difficult to work with the enemy because there’s just no money in marketing vegetables. The Carrot Industry (you know, the people that go to the International Carrot Conference) doesn’t have the money to spend to get their information in front of kids and their parents the way the National Cattlemen’s Association does. The best that we can hope for on any large scale is when a company like Silk gets absorbed by a larger corporation and gets enough of a boost to be able to get a couple of ads on morning TV.

I used to think that advertising was a waste of resources for groups like Compassion Over Killing. Shouldn’t they be using that money to gather more undercover footage or something? But the fact is, mainstream America never sees that footage, no matter how readily accessible it is. And while it’s vitally important that we continue on with these types of activism, things like advertising on MTV and in magazines may be just as important when it comes to helping raise awareness about vegetarian diets and animal exploitation. While the Superbowl consistently denies PETA’s ads, even advertising on a smaller scale can cause a difference and plant a seed in the head of someone who wouldn’t take it upon themselves to search out the same information on their own.

It’s funny how animal rights people are always being accused of “pushing their agenda,” but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the food industries are spending a whole lot more time and money pushing their agendas each and every day.

Know Thy Enemy Week #2: The Center for Consumer Freedom

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How could anyone ever be against a group named the Center for Consumer Freedom, right? Consumer Freedom is good! And a Center that promotes, therefore, has to be good!

Of course, the Center for Consumer Freedom has very little with giving people the right to choose and everything with lobbying against animal rights groups and giving more power to the groups that back the CCF. Groups like Monsanto, Tyson’s Foods, and Outback Steakhouse… not exactly groups that are known for their corporate responsibility.

In fact, the CCF was founded by Berman & Co, a public affairs organization owned by Rick Berman, a lobbyist who has represented the tobacco industry as well as many in the food industry. The CCF has attacked everyone from the American Medical Association to the National Association of High School Principals, pretty much anyone that says anything that might work against a company in an industry that funds them. And boy oh boy do they love the terms “food police” and “lunatics.”

Much of their vitriol comes out against animal rights and vegetarian groups. Indeed, a quick look at the current content on their web site shows of the 18 stories and deep links on their front page, 10 of them are directly related to animal rights groups like PETA and the HSUS. Did you know that PETA is a threat to your children? Apparently so!

Interestingly, some of their content sounds like things I’ve said around here. Two of their three most recent headlines are about celebrities PETA has claimed are vegetarian but really aren’t (remember what I said) and other links on their site talk about the attack on obesity (I don’t like veg marketing that attacks fat people — it amounts to an unnecessary personal attack on someone’s value as a human while just assuming that fat = eating nothing but huge slabs of steak). However, my concern stems from my desire to see a compassionate animal rights philosophy spread without being overshadowed by sensational things like celebrity or “obesity epidemics” whereas the CCF is more likely interested in promoting the agendas of the fast food industry and attacking PETA for what I like to call “minor infractions of stupidity.”

So what can we do to find common ground with the CCF? I don’t think there’s anything. The industry’s influence runs deep.

But, it’s essential that we make people aware who’s behind the CCF. Every time they’re quoted in the newspaper (and they’re quoted often), we should write a letter to the editor or tell a friend that’s reading the article that the CCF isn’t the group it appears to be. Point them towards any of the numerous groups exposing the truth.

Know Thy Enemy Week #1: Wegmans

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(This is the first entry of five in a week-long series I’m calling “Know Thy Enemy Week,” which will feature quotes and perspectives of those that don’t have the interests of animals in mind. By paying close attention to how corporations and anti-AR folks think, perhaps we can learn a little better how to deal with these attitudes and turn the “enemies” into allies.)

For our first entry, I figured I’d feature the hot story that just won’t go away. I’m sure most Veg Blog readers have seen the excellent footage gathered by Compassionate Consumers in 2004 inside a Wegmans egg farm. It’s horrifying, as is pretty much all footage shot inside factory farm operations: hens living atop rotting corpses of their cagemates, many of them getting their beaks or legs caught in the cage’s wire, and others dying a slow, painful death in the manure pit. Erik Marcus often says that every egg has 30 hours of cruelty attached to it, and when you see how millions of egg-laying hens live their lives before being shipped off for slaughter, it’s clear that “cruelty” is too light of a word.

The thing is, the footage inside the Wegmans egg farm isn’t anything more shocking than other similar expose footage. But you have to look at the company behind the farm. Wegmans is often pointed to as one of the Best Places to Work because of how well they treat their (human) employees. They offer gourmet foods, many “natural” foods, organic produce, and many vegan/vegetarian convenience foods at competitive prices. They’re like a Whole Foods combined with a Safeway combined with a bakery combined with a cafe combined with a Target. Clearly, their target audience isn’t the standard consumer.

Because of this, I would expect more from Wegmans. I’d expect them to follow Trader Joe’s lead and not sell eggs from caged birds under their store brand. But because of these same factors, I see why Compassionate Consumers targeted them specifically: a company like Wegmans should be more likely to make changes in animal welfare to maintain their reputation.

Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case. Instead, Wegmans released this despicable press release last November (updated a few days ago) claiming not only that they treat their hens well but that the footage in the video may not have been shot at the Wegmans egg farm. Of course, they’ve offered no evidence that this is the case and are simply using that deceptive language to plant a seed of doubt in their customers’ heads. In fact, Wegmans makes a lot of questionable claims shrouded by clever use of language:

In November of 2005, our farm participated in its annual audit of the United Egg Producers (UEP) Certified program, which outlines a set of science-based standards for cage space, air and water quality, nutritious food, and other animal care practices. The USDA conducted this audit, and we received a perfect score – 200 out of 200. (Our score in 2004 was in the high 190’s.)

The UEP Certified program is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. The UEP is an industry group that creates their own rules, rules that allow for painful debeaking of hens and extremely tight confinement (allowing each bird a mere 67-86 square inches – less than a sheet of 8 1/2″x11″ paper and over 200 square inches less than a hen needs to be able to flap her wings). In fact, “UEP Certified” is the term the industry has been forced to use after Compassion Over Killing showed that their previous label, “Animal Care Certified,” was misleading. I encourage you to read the industry’s own guidelines (PDF) for yourself.

In the end, it was determined there was no evidence of animal abuse. The New York State Police and the Wayne County District Attorney’s office jointly conducted the investigation, and Wegmans fully cooperated.

I’m guessing this is because most states exempt chickens from anti-cruelty laws and as long as it’s “standard industry practice” (set, of course, by the industry), then it’s OK.

Food safety and food security are non-negotiable for us. We welcome customer debate on any topic, but we cannot tolerate illegal entry into our laying houses because of the obvious risk that a disease, like avian flu, could be tracked in.

It’s interesting that they bring this up, considering many believe the reason that avian flu has spread like it has is specifically because of factory farm confinement operations.

Eggs produced by cage-free hens are available at Wegmans. These eggs cost more to produce, so the retail price is much higher than Wegmans eggs. Three nationally-known specialty food stores are often lauded for switching to cage-free eggs only. Wegmans is a full-service supermarket, not a specialty food store. (Emphasis mine.)

They’re not a speciality food store? Baloney. Compare Wegmans to your local Safeway and you’ll see they’re not a mere “full-service supermarket.” Regular old supermarkets don’t develop scary cult followings. Specialty food stores do.

The final statement of the press release is the most telling:

We don’t believe we should force all of our customers to pay more than double the price for a dozen eggs just because a few people think we should.

It’s all about keeping prices down, which inevitably means that the birds suffer as a result. And if it were really just a “few people” would similar campaigns have worked with Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats? How about the 80 universities and colleges that will no longer use caged birds’ eggs in their dining halls? It’s a legitimate concern of many, many consumers and Wegmans is failing to acknowledge that.

Compassionate Consumers takes on this same statement from Wegmans. Take a look, it’s a great read.

So, know thy enemy. One would think that a seemingly progressive-thinking company like Wegmans would consider animal welfare as an important issue, but it’s become clear that they’re acting no different from any other factory farm operation that works under the “UEP Certified” label. How can we work with Wegmans to change their policy? Support groups like Compassionate Consumers. Write to Wegmans to express your disgust with not only their farms but with their public response. I firmly believe that they will change their ways, but it’s going to take time and determination.

Also, keep an eye out on April 14th. ABC’s Primetime is slated to cover the Wegmans egg farm investigation. Should be interesting to see how evenly the story is covered.