August 31, 2020
Guest Leah Garcés, Mercy For Animals
Hosted by Jamie Harris, Sentience Institute
Leah Garcés of Mercy For Animals on factory farm investigations, long-term strategy, and animal advocacy during COVID-19
“Our challenge is one where investigations are very hard. The people who do this work, I cannot tell you how smart they are. They are doing all kinds of research, not just getting the footage. The footage is the last thing they’re getting; they’re doing so much more to be able achieve that footage, including thinking strategically through: How do we achieve that strategic plan that we’ve laid out which includes securing broiler policies, enforcing egg policies. And what we’re trying to do is not just telling stories that engage the public. They are underpinned by a bigger strategy. We worked on a campaign with McDonalds and we did undercover investigations into McDonalds egg-laying hens; undercover investigations followed by a coalition campaign that then led to them adopting cage-free eggs as their policy. And that is the precise formula that you want.”
Mercy For Animals’ interventions affect the lives of hundreds of millions of animals. But how do we go from these impressive achievements to the end of factory farming? And what strategies should advocates be employing to help animals most effectively?
Leah Garcés is the president of Mercy For Animals and previously founded Compassion in World Farming’s US branch. She’s also the author of the book Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry.
Topics discussed in the episode:
- Mercy For Animals’ plan for ending factory farming (1:45)
- How MFA decides which countries to focus its work on (9:06)
- Why MFA advocates for pigs, chickens, and fish, but not insects yet (17:45)
- The opportunities presented by COVID-19 for animal advocacy (20:19)
- How MFA maximizes the positive impact of its factory farm investigations (29:10)
- The priorities in corporate welfare campaigns and how advocates can avoid encouraging “humanewashing” by the meat industry (40:42)
- MFA’s marketing funnel for volunteers and capacity-building programmes (48:59)
- How Leah thinks about long-term trends and impact for animals on longer timeframes (53:20)
- How MFA has changed its approach to plant-based advocacy (1:06:50)
- The different countries that MFA operates in and how its role varies by country (1:13:48)
- How Leah’s career has developed and her tips for founding new nonprofits (1:19:34)
- The biggest bottlenecks preventing MFA from having even more impact than it already does (1:24:31)
- The importance of increasing operational expertise in the farmed animal movement (1:31:18)
Resources discussed in the episode:
Resources by or about Leah Garcés and Mercy For Animals:
- 80,000 Hours’ quantitative approach to comparing global problems terms of expected impact
- United Nations data on meat supply in various countries
- Evaluations by Rethink Priorities, Founders Pledge, Animal Charity Evaluators, Open Philanthropy Project, and Charity Entrepreneurship on corporate welfare campaigns (focused on chickens)
- Animal Advocacy Careers’ skills profile on politics, policy, and lobbying
- Media Cause, a “marketing and creative agency that helps nonprofits grow and accelerate their impact”
- Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines (1964)
- Jamie’s talk at the Conference on Animal Rights in Europe: Which do we need more; money, or expertise? (video forthcoming and will be available here; slides here)
Resources for using this podcast for a discussion group:
Transcript (Automated, imperfect)
Welcome to the Sentience Institute Podcast, where we interview activists, entrepreneurs, and researchers about the most effective strategies to expand humanity's moral circle with a focus on expanding the circle to farmed animals. I'm Jamie Harris researcher at Sentience Institute, and at Animal Advocacy Careers. Welcome to our 11th episode of the podcast. I was excited to have Leah Garces on the podcast because she is the president of Mercy For Animals, one of the largest farmed animal advocacy organizations in the world. Having worked in leadership roles at several different farmed animal organizations. I was keen to hear her perspective on the movement's priorities. In 2019 Leah published a book called Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry. This book draws substantially on her experience at compassion in world farming USA. And I was interested to see how her perspective has changed after spending longer at mercy for animals on our website, we have a transcript of this episode, as well as timestamps for particular topics.
We also have suggested questions and resources that can be used to run an event around this podcast in your local animal advocacy or effective altruism group. Please feel free to get in touch with us. If you have questions about this and we would be happy to help.
New Speaker (00:01:14):
Leah Garcés is the president of Mercy For Animals. She's been working in the animal advocacy movement for nearly 20 years. having previously been the director of campaigns and programs at World Animal Protection, then the founder and executive director of Compassion in World Farming's US branch before taking her current role at MFA. Welcome to the podcast, Leah.
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
You're very welcome. So Mercy For Animals' website sites, some impressive statistics about the organization's impact, nearly 80 million animals potentially impacted each year through corporate animal welfare policies. And over 200,000 animals potentially sped through institutional food policies, but Sentience Institute's research suggests that there are about 2.25 billion land animals alive in factory farms at any one point in the U S and probably over a hundred billion vertebrate animals in farmed conditions internationally. So mercy for animals is still only impacting a small proportion of the world's found animals despite being one of the largest farmed animal advocacy nonprofits in the world. So the question really I'm getting at is what's the long-term game plan here? How do we go from these impressive, but proportionately, quite small achievements to the end of animal farming or the end of factory farming.
That's a great question. And it's something that we're contemplating every single day. I tell the teams all the time, you know, we're working very hard, but we're up against a massive problem with very few resources. So we have to be ruthlessly strategic about how we go at this and from the very, very kind of high level mercy for animals, mission kind of spells out how we are going to approach this problem. So if you look on our webpage, our mission says that we are going to construct a compassionate food system by reducing animal suffering and ending the abolition of animals for food altogether. And that really spells out for you a lot. First, the word construct is very intentional, so we believe it is not good enough to just say something as bad point a finger expose it, that we have to be constructive. So we can't just say we think something should end if we really want to end it, we also have to construct something better, offer something better. The way we want to go about that is two ways. So one is reducing the suffering of animals that are trapped in the system. So as you pointed out, there's 2.2, 5 billion land animals alive at any one time. And there's actually nearly 80 billion that are raised and slaughtered every single year. And for the foreseeable future, they're going to be trapped in those systems. And so our job is to measurably, reduce their suffering. It's something we can and should do, and it's our moral obligation to do so. This looks like cages and crates being taken out of the system or giving animals more space or changing the slaughter practices to reduce the suffering during slaughter. So that's the first part, and that has the added benefit, frankly, of making the whole system less efficient and more expensive making the products that come out of that system more expensive. And we know one of the key things that drives consumer habits is price point.
So by driving prices up and making the system less efficient, it's going to be less available or less, uh, less consumed. And then that's, while we're working to the latter part of our mission, which is ending the exploitation of animals for food altogether. And so that latter part looks like turning the world plant-based and that is the end goal is making animal exploitation and altogether. And that means building a market, building awareness and building a desire for plant-based products, which will take a longer time. So that's a very high level plan, um, and high level outlook that we carry to work every single day as we approach this enormous problem that takes enormous strategic effort to be effective in.
Yeah, sure. Lots of interesting points that we'll pick up in various points in the rest of the podcast episode, I guess. So on that kind of high level perspective, historically, what has the balance be between the different intervention types and categories of spending at mercy for animals? And has there been much change over time?
Yeah, great question. So, uh, we have three core goals, uh, that we are after and they are a legislative change. That's changing government policies and we have a team dedicated to that. And then we have a team dedicated to corporate policies and changing the way corporations are overseeing animals. And so those are two big institutional changes that we spend the majority of our money on combined with what we call organizing. Now it's also referred to as capacity building or in the very simple way of volunteering, but I don't like to say volunteering because it's not just about volunteering, it's about organizing and capacity building of the movement. And so we see those as really the core of our work, our core goals and their, we call them our change goals. So those are big institutional changes where we're building a movement that is equipped and smart and able to come out in droves to help enact an institutional change, which would be at the government level or at the corporate level.
Now underpinning all of this is what we're more known for frankly, but is just in which is investigations, undercover investigations and our public engagement, which includes our social media, celebrity engagement. Anything in the media that you read about us is in that category. And what we think is important about those things is they're important only if they're serving and filtering and pressuring the institutions and building the organizing force. So if you can kind of imagine there's a pillar and the pillars are those three core goals, and then you have under those core goals our foundation and our foundation are things like the public engagement work. Uh, it's also things that make the organization work like a strong operational system pick like those include payroll and what we call people operations, which is creating a really healthy culture where we're engaging our staff members and our team members and supporting them through professional development and, uh, creating pathways for their professional development.
Uh, and then, like I said, our financial system, so ensuring we have a really strong sound efficient machine underpinning all of this. Uh, so the money is divided and our spend is divided like that. And you can see it very clearly laid out in our three year strategic plan, which we announced, uh, in February of 19. And we're now in our second year. So it's a three year plan and it really clearly lays out precisely what we want to achieve under each of the change goals and the foundational goals. And you can see we're holding ourselves accountable to those goals. We're laying out precisely the number of animals we hope to, uh, to improve the lives of, or take off the plates of people or the kind of institutional changes we want to make in terms of policies. And then underneath all of that, the foundational goals, which are things like having a strong sound financial system, having a healthy culture and having fantastic investigations and public engagement that support us progressing
Those institutional changes. Great. Yeah, really interesting. That idea of those public opinion and public facing, tying into the institutional changes is something we've talked about before on the podcast. For instance, that sounds fairly familiar to the discussion I had with Ria Rehberg from Veganuary on one of our first episodes. Yeah. So I guess I'm also interested if, if you can think of specific examples of where there's been changes in the priorities, especially in the light of new evidence or research, and I'm interested as well, because obviously MFA has an internal research team headed by Lucas Alvarenga. And there's a bunch of really interesting studies on there, like how to dominate social media, which fall into fish welfare issues, does the public care about most and so on? And I'm just wondering whether that research has informed any particular changes in the organization that you can think of.
Oh yes. If I could choose to be on any team besides the president, I would be on the research team, they get to do all the fun things and answer all the fun questions and delve deep into the literature and find out and create new data, which is just the best. I think it's so, so fantastic what they do. And yes, it very much influences how we're working. And one example that I'll give you is looking. So we're about to release it by the end of the year, we'll release something called the farm animal opportunities index. And this is an in depth index that we're creating, looking at countries and whether a country is ready for us to work on farmed animal issues or not, this is really based on effective altruist principles. And they include things like obviously tractability, neglectedness and the sheer number of animals.
And we have created kind of algorithm that looks at all the things that might influence each one of those principles and create a number to tell us whether a country is ready for intervention or not. And this is just trying to help us to decide which countries will we be more successful in. And so we are right now doing that in the countries of Asia, and this'll be the first time we've ever done this. And we will be using that to inform how and where and what we do in Asian countries, because mercy for animals very much sees Asia as a, as a region that we want to have impact in and want to be in there's. So few groups or resources and going into that region yet. So many animals are there and we'll be using this to inform how we go forward. And that's, that's all a new, uh, the research team when I started in October 18 was pretty small.
It didn't really exist in the format that it does now. And I'm very excited. We've expanded that team. We've increased the resources to that team and the importance of that team in informing our decisions as we move forward. Uh, once that first, uh, index is created, it will be shared for the whole movement to anybody will be able to pick it up and pick it apart so they can take pieces. They like, or don't like of it, they'll be able to see the nuts and bolts of it. And if one thing or another, they don't necessarily agree with, they'll be able to take it apart and use it as they wish. So for us, one of the things that we've discovered in this that we think, and have put more weight on in terms of which countries to go into is tractability. So we think that this is of course, you know, our view.
We think that one of the most deciding factors for whether you can actually have impact or not in a country is tractability. And I think traditionally as an animal rights movement, maybe we've gone into countries or try to make progress in areas just because of the number of animals in the neglectedness that is happening in that country. And that can be a mistake we believe because if tractability is really low, if there's just very little opportunity or possibility of impact, because of, let's say political instability, inability to use your traditional methods of campaigning like investigations or corporate campaigns, it means that we can't do the things we normally do or good at. And so we probably shouldn't start there. So tractability is created through this research. We've, we've really made different kinds of decisions about the countries we want to be in and where we want to be in. And that's just one example. There's a lot of things. Our, our research team is trying to help us inform how we move forward.
Cool. Yeah, really interesting. Glad you mentioned the farmed animal opportunity index. I was, I was actually lucky enough to have had a sneak peek at it and give some feedback on the, on the draft. And it was something I was going to pick up on is the really high weighting of tractability relative to the other criteria, scale and neglected newness. Um, so by comparison, 80,000 hours have a quantitative approach to comparing global problems in terms of expected impact. And they weight tractability less than either neglected or scale. I guess my thinking on it was that it makes some sense because Mercy For Animals is a large and well-funded group. So when you enter a country, you can bring quite a lot of resources to bear relatively quickly. But I guess I also have some slight concerns that weighting tractability too heavily is, is kind of misleading. I mean, obviously these are only heuristics and what we care about is the cost-effectiveness of particular interventions. Yeah. I don't know. Have you had much, have you had feedback or from other people or anything like that, that suggesting that tractability has been overweighted?
I think there's been debate about it, but no one really knows. And I think that these are our best guesses and we're leaving the index so that you can take it apart and take out pieces if you don't like this. Now, you know, we think that we have entered countries are considered entering countries where we didn't think about tractability wisely enough. And as a result, we may have wasted time and effort and resources and hopes and kind of Goodwill in those countries. So, yeah, for mercy, for animals, I do think it is really critical for us to put that up front and center also because of the interventions we use quite often rely on the things that tractability is looking at. These are things like, you know, free speech and ability to access the media or income in the middle class being higher. So these are things like being able to do investigations in countries or run a corporate campaign, which involves being able to do, you know, high end protests or interventions like that.
So for the methods that we use and that we are good at and know about being effective, that's part, I think we have to accept that's part of what informs our thinking around that. It may be that another group has another, another way of thinking. I think it also speaks to the type of interventions we have in certain countries. And China is the one that's of course, you know, front and center for everyone, with housing, so many animals and raising and slaughtering, half of the world's pigs, I think for example, or so many fish and agriculture, and so many broiler chickens raised for meat and the tractability, frankly, in those countries in that country has been extremely low. We have made extremely little progress for the amount of time and effort that some groups have been putting into that and it's slow. And I think that the interventions that really work haven't really been discovered yet. And so we may have to try totally different approaches and this may help us figure that out.
Yeah. I mean, do you have any thoughts as well on how different groups might use the, the farmed animal opportunity index differently? Uh, I guess one thing that jumped to mind for me was, for instance, if you're considering setting up some kind of grassroots group or some initial efforts where there don't exist many, then you might wait neglected and this much more highly because your, I guess your ambitions are in some ways lower.
Yeah. You might say that, that you can also, you'll be also be able to score the types of interventions a little bit. So for example, a legislative work, whether that's feasible at all, you can, you'll be able to separate out different interventions. So depending on the group, if you're just looking to build grassroots capacity in a country that might actually rate quite high, whereas legislative or corporate progress will rate very low in a country that is just starting to deal with these issues. So you'll be able to take out not only, you know, that you'll be able to take out the type of intervention. So if you're really good at one type of intervention, you'll be able to plug it in and be able to see how based on the criteria that we've come up with, how feasible it would be to be successful.
Mercy For Animals has campaigns affecting quite a number of different of animals, including fish, which have historically been neglected in animal advocacy, which is primarily because of the immense scale of fish farming and slaughter plus that neglectness consideration, suggesting there are opportunities for cost effective interventions to help fish, but I couldn't see anything or mercy for animals website about insects or other invertebrates where the same logic could apply. And obviously that's a bit kind of taking the logic further, but do you have any thoughts on that? Could mercy for animals expand its reach to include advocacy for those sorts of animals in the future?
We certainly could in the future at the moment, we have to be so ruthless about our, um, our resources that the tractability issue comes into play there, right? So the most success we have, and we know this from like A/B testing in terms of gaining supporter and public attention and willingness to help is around pigs. People love pigs. Then next is cows and then it's chickens and then it's fish. And I bet insects would not rate well. So, you know, part of our work would have to be to work down that awareness and public interest and, and work it up so that it's feasible to do anything, um, to that regard. So we need the public engagement in order to push for legislative and corporate policy. And so while, you know, I think it is fair and right to consider insects as and beings and to consider their suffering, it's going to be very challenging. And really we have to start with the lower hanging fruit at this stage. And that lower hanging fruit is a very on a very, very high tree already. So the, the, the pig pigs and cows are already difficult, let alone the chickens and fish, which are the massive number of animals, the majority of animals. So we're challenged in this area for sure, but it's not for lack of wanting to it's, it's a more of a strategic impact decision at this stage.
Yeah. I guess I have the sense that with the neglected newness factor, there's going to be some low hanging fruit for lots of different animal types. And this is something we can come back to when we talk about, um, investigations that may be, there are just occasional opportunities for sort of getting that ball rolling and having surprisingly high impact for surprisingly low effort. But as I say, we can come back to that in a bit. I guess I had one other question relating to this kind of overarching priorities consideration. Most of animals has been doing some surveying on the novel coronavirus outbreak. The surveys found that in Brazil, China, India, in the U S between 25% and 50% of respondents believe that COVID was related to the raising of animals for food, at least a third in all those countries indicated that they had reduced their animal product consumption in response to the pandemic. Yes. So I'm interested in the extent to which COVID has shifted mostly for animals is priorities.
Oh, for sure. Um, we see a really big opening right now on this matter. And that survey only reinforced what our instinct was telling us. But if you note, for example, you've been talking alluding a little bit to our investigations. Uh, so we did an investigation in Mexico where we looked at egg laying hen farms, and there were six of them and what we decided to do. So when we get investigative footage, we can very much look at it and decide the kind of narrative is it going to be on cruelty? Is it gonna be on safe food safety, what environmental impact, because of course with factory farming, there's so many different stories you can tell. And more than more often than not, we tell the cruelty story because it's usually the most obvious one in this particular case, because we're in the middle of a pandemic, we decided to just focus more on the human health aspect.
And it was an experiment for us to do this, to say, okay, let's take the COVID circumstance. People's head minds are already in this space. They're already looking, we know the survey's telling us these things, let's see what happens. And so essentially we, the, the investigation, if you, if you look at it, it was in Mexico. There were something like 900 birds died in one day from an infection. And then those birds were fed an antibiotic and then their eggs became a bluish tint. And then the bird's eggs were washed and then sold on the market, like fresh eggs. And then we decided that we would, so we would use that because of this, these blue eggs, we use the hashtag blue eggs, which I'll say in Spanish is a euphemism for something else, which I won't go into, but it worked, it got people's attention and it was trending on Twitter it for a day.
And in Mexico, blue eggs was trending on Twitter. We were covered by every, every media outlet, something like 60 major media outlets in Mexico and drew attention to the cruelty and the health issues around factory farming. And to me, this was a reinforcement of what we were already thinking, which is, this is a real opening. The pandemic creates a real opening for us to very clearly lay out that factory farming is an existential risk for human beings. That frankly, we think this pandemic's bad. Well, the next one could come from a pig farm or a chicken farm and, and be the end of us. And that's not an exaggeration. Those are entirely possible outcomes. And we are planning to, for, to launch a campaign, uh, around this in the fall around human health and the risks, existential risks to our species related to that. And if that goes well, I think we'll keep expanding in that direction in terms of how we engage the public.
And the other part of that that has been fascinating for me to see unfold is as it relates to slaughterhouses. So while the rest of us, of course are standing six feet apart, people in slaughterhouses are standing shoulder to shoulder. And as a result, slaughterhouses are hotspots for COVID-19 infections. And this has created whole new opportunities around coalition building and policymaker engagement because of the high rate of infection. And because it particularly impacts, uh, Latino and black workers, more than any other workers, because half of slaughterhouse workers in the United States are Latin X and 25% are black. It means that there's also a concern about the injustice around racial inequity. And this has opened up an opportunity to join forces with other groups, with workers groups. So we launched, we had, first of all, we had so much media coverage just discussing that slaughterhouses treat both animals and workers as expendable that they're cutting costs at the expense of animals and the, at the expense of workers.
And, and again, this speaks to what I was saying earlier about our part of our goal is to make the whole machine less efficient to make. If we put in safety measures for workers, it's less efficient. If we make the lines slow down, it's less efficient and that all results in less animals being able to be churned through the machine. And the only reason we're able to do this now and get national media attention for it is because of the pandemic and off the back of that, we have been able to introduce federal legislation to slow down the lions, which if you told me six months ago, Hey, do you think under the Trump administration, you could have federal legislation to slow down slaughterhouses. I would have said no way. And now an a bill has been introduced that has pretty good support bipartisan support and is making the rounds now. And so I think that this has opened a major opportunity for us if we continue to follow that path. And I think people are fundamentally thinking very differently. There's been a spotlight shown on slaughterhouses in particular, but then in the beginning of the pandemic, especially on the way animals are raised in the kind of risk that puts to us as a species.
Yeah, it makes sense. I was initially fairly pessimistic about focusing on COVID related messaging because rethink priorities did some message testing related to COVID and found evidence that various messaging frames focusing on that actually performed worse than some of the more commonly used messaging strategies. But I guess what the point you just raised is is that it presents other opportunities. And it's not just about the effectiveness of one individual message. If it presents opportunities for just much greater media attention and some interest from policymakers where it otherwise wouldn't exist, then that obviously outweighs small differences in particular messages.
Yeah. I remember when that study came out. And so I think that it depends on the timing of things. So I think that that was early in the pandemic and the pandemic in the beginning, people would have been wrong and it would have been received badly if you had gone out and said, you know, be vegan or else you're causing the next pandemic. That definitely would have not done well in the first month or even two months. So we at mercy for animals, we actually did a, we described our communication in three phases. And the first phase was just our communication centered around just being there for people and saying, we understand this is hard. We're still here for you. Here are ways you can get involved if you still want to. Uh, and we did a lot. We did an online concert, we had webinars for volunteers and it was really about a kind of caring message because people were scared and didn't know what was going to happen next.
So you couldn't come at them with another scary message. And then the next phase was beginning to really raise the questions of how is this related to animal agriculture and what can we do about it? And beginning to call to question policymakers thinking this through. And then the third phase is the one. I don't know if it's, we're not in it yet, but third phase will be when and if the pandemics completely over and we'll be able to really go hard on this message. So I think you have to take a very sophisticated view of communication. And especially around a pandemic, people will move through phases and phase we're in phase two, where people are very much fed up with being stuck in their houses. They want to blame someone or something, and we need to redirect that energy and that effort toward true institutional change. And that, and that is working for us. We have never had such a successful quarter in terms of engaging policymakers. There's never been a better time for us in terms of engaging media. We had so much media attention, so much success around that. I think we were, I was doing media interviews every day for about two months straight, just talking through the issues and the relationship to animal agriculture and the problems and slaughterhouses in particular. Right.
That's great. So I'd like to pick up on some, uh, some of the specific intervention types that mercy for animals uses. And we've been speaking about the investigations, the mercy for animals does various point. So I'm interested if there's any particular methods or considerations that go into maximizing the positive impact of those investigations. And I guess also in terms of the factors that affect which investigations are actually carried out
Well, um, a of it, I can't talk in detail about, obviously we do a lot of undercover investigations and our methodology for that. It's important to not speak about in a, in a public way. But what I will say is the investigative team is very clear on our organizational priorities and what we need to be successful. So right now, for example, one of the biggest campaigns we're running and have been engaged with for a few years is around broiler chickens, which are the meat chickens, and around laying hens, which are used to lay eggs. And those are two areas which the team knows they should be looking out for. They should be seeking opportunities around because those can and will be used by the teams in order to enact a policy. So that's definitely part of the strategic decision making. And that's why we have a three year strategy.
We have a three year strategy, lay out those priorities. They can look at those priorities and then they know they need to create the evidence and the visuals to help achieve change there. The other thing that the teams are doing more and more of in the United States is drones. So where employment-based investigation continues to be very challenging in the United States. And you can see that because you don't see any groups in the United States, achieving many undercover investigations in the United States are either happening in Europe, Brazil, Mexico, other countries. And it's been a while since anybody has achieved the kind of investigations that we did five years ago all the time. And this is because the companies are getting smarter, they're looking for us. They know how to look for us. And the laws have dramatically changed to make it illegal for us to do undercover investigations.
So through ag gag laws or versions, they're not exactly called Agag laws, but it makes it so that, you know, posing as a different person or being employed by us while being employed by a company in a slaughter house could be illegal. So it makes it challenging. And the number of States we can do things in is really highly reduced now. And that's an injustice. I think that that is a legal challenge that we still are trying to make. It's just very risky and all of it is very challenging. But if, if that was undone, we'd have so much more capacity in the United States, but in other countries. So we, so then that makes us prioritize other countries in terms of investigations a little bit more because it's easier to achieve for less resources. And the media are not used to it when we get undercover investigations in other countries, it's a lot more shocking and we can run very powerful investigations in Mexico and Brazil.
For example, in Mexico, they seem to have a very high appetite for very gruesome footage that you would never be allowed to show in the United States. So we had very gruesome footage on slaughter, for example, shown last year, that was on in November last year, that was on like prime time news channel. And our team member was on the news, speaking about it for an hour. And it was incredible. So that would never happen here, as you know. And so our challenge is one where investigations are very hard to achieve requiring, or the people who do this work. I cannot tell you how smart they are. They are, they are some, they are, first of all, Eagle lists. And second of all, some of the most intelligent people you will ever not get to know because they will not be known to anyone, but they are doing all kinds of research, not just, you know, getting and getting the footage. The footage is like the last thing they're getting, but they're doing so much more to be able to achieve that footage and including thinking strategically through how do we achieve that strategic plan that we've laid out, which includes securing broiler policies, enforcing egg policies or raising awareness on things like fish or in general people recognizing animals as sentient beings.
So something that came up there was this idea of diminishing returns, I think in investigations of factory farming within particular countries. And that there is easier in some countries because there's less awareness of it already. So it gets more media attention. That sort of thing is the idea that presumably the first investigation in a country in a year is going to have a lot more impacts than the 10th or the a hundred or whatever. The two kind of different angles, there are one the country by country consideration and also the species by species consideration. And what you talking about there? I mean, obviously there's various practical considerations. That mean that prioritization is a difficult thing, but it also sounds like you think that there is some room for that in terms of encouraging focus on particular animals over others, that sort of thing. So I'm interested in, if you have any thoughts on whether varying the species being investigated does much to prevent the diminishing returns. So for instance, if you have, if you have a one video on pigs, one on cows, one on chickens, one on fish, one on insects or whatever does that, does that do something to, to maintain the media interest?
Yeah, for sure. The story really matters. So whereas, you know, effective, altruists tend to more think of the numbers and the impact the media and the public care more about the narrative. And so we have to mix the two, we have to both think strategically about the high level impact we want to have from like an effective altruism perspective. And then we have to think, okay, that should inform the story we tell that should inform the narrative we choose, which is what you saw in the Mexican investigation, where we chose laying hens. But the story we told was around pandemic risk and health. And so choosing that can also apply to the animals that we choose or the people we choose to tell it through. And I think increasingly mercy for animals is playing around with telling stories through the individuals involved in the work, for example, workers or farmers who might be involved, which is a little speaks to our transformation project.
We know from data that pigs speak and pigs and cows are high up in people's, uh, empathy and chickens and fish are not. And so the stories you tell have to speak to that. So it's, it's a mix of thinking of, you know, what's, what's impactful and will it help achieve our strategy in terms of institutional trends we're seeking, but then carefully and emotionally, and very talented in a very talented way, telling a story that's compelling to the public and to the media that they just can't turn away from. And I think sometimes as activists, we miss that second part or sometimes it's activist, we only do the first part. So we don't do the two things. We need to do the two things to be effective and to really reach into the public in a way that's impactful.
Yeah. That certainly makes sense. I wouldn't want to suggest that by having these prioritization considerations, you kind of forget to actually try and make it an actually effective use of, of time and an actually a story that catches interest or whatever, but it doesn't seem obvious to me that those two things trade off against each other, because I guess like it would trade off if you thought that there were occasional news stories that you had to kind of follow up on. And I guess maybe the pandemic is an example of that, because then as you mentioned, like something to do with slaughterhouses becomes especially tractable and it's especially promising, but presumably the experimentation with narratives is a, is a fairly fixed thing. It's just, we haven't explored this Avenue yet. Let's try that. See how that goes. Or do you think that it does actually vary with time and with particular circumstances a lot more than I'm giving credit for?
Well, I guess what I worry about is just telling compelling stories. It's without the kind of underpinning of, of a desire for institutional change or strategy behind it, because we can find great stories, right? You could tell, I mean, just, you could tell the story of an escaped piglet or, you know, one story, but if it's not leading up into a strategy, then it's just a flash in the pan and then it's gone. And what we're trying to do is that's what I mean by combining the both, both is, is not just telling stories that engage the public because they're heartwarming or they're good narratives, but then they are underpinned by, um, a bigger, a bigger strategy. So, and that's what the investigations are now looking toward. Cause we can find cruelty everywhere and we can find cute animals everywhere. So it's not, that's not what we're looking for. We're looking for images that will support the strategy we already have. So that's really challenging.
Do you have any examples that jump to mind of where that tying into a wider strategy has, has really paid off? So I, the humane league in the UK, we're campaigning against a company called noble foods for awhile. And then they'd been doing this campaign for some time and then animal equality released a video, an investigation of a Noble Foods farm, I believe, or a farm that supplied them anyway. And then the noble foods made a commitment almost immediately after that. Does that sort of thing happen often, or do you notice any other examples of that kind of concrete directly feeds into campaigns and other strategies?
Yeah, I mean that is the golden ticket right there. And so Walmart, we worked on a campaign with Walmart on pigs. We launched, we did six undercover investigations and over two or three years before I started and through those undercover investigations and through a series of protests in the Walmart parking lots around the country, we were able to secure, um, Walmart, writing their first policies on first of all, the farm animal, you know, the, the five freedoms and then also saying that they were going to do away with gestation crates. And so this was a really great example of where you had undercover investigations that led to a major corporate policy. So Walmart being the largest retailer in the United States, and that is the precise formula you want where you're looking at high impact. I think then the next thing we did was working also with McDonald's and we did undercover investigations into McDonald's laying hens and a very similar track of undercover investigations followed by a coalition campaign that then led to them adopting cage free eggs as their policy. So those are very clear examples and we're trying to follow the same thing in Mexico right now, for example, where we're trying to get legislation passed and around defining what cage free eggs should be. And we're trying to work with corporations on cage-free egg policies. So this investigation is part of that and trying to achieve that.
Cool. Yeah. Which brings us on nicely to corporate campaigns. I'd like to speak briefly about those as well. So, and this is something you mentioned earlier, just the, the idea of there being different ways in which corporate campaigns contribute to change. And you mentioned that the price increase type thing. So yeah, there's lots of different paths to impact from these campaigns. It could be short term direct improvement in the lives of the animals in factory farm conditions. It could be building momentum for more radical change in the right set of animals through increased moral outrage about the treatment of those animals. It could be driving up the costs for consumers. It could be driving up the costs of the production itself and reducing profits, or it could even be building connections and relationships with the animal agriculture industry, which can be leveraged to make more radical asks later once we're in a better position. So I guess it, whilst it's possible that the same organization can deliver on all of those benefits. I assume at times there will be trade offs and most obviously the goal of building momentum for more radical change might conflict with either the short term measures at times, or the desire to build relationships with the industry. So I, yeah, the question is whether mercy for animals has a particular outcome in mind that it optimizes for in its strategic planning.
Well we're, as our mission says, we're trying to reduce the suffering of the animals that are trapped in the system. And so we measurably, we try to think about that in measurable terms. So those are things like getting rid of cages and crates and, uh, reducing suffering at slaughter. So for us corporate policies need to achieve, so we, we aim our like target is getting companies to commit to reducing the suffering of animals in their supply chain. So that looks like a cage-free policy committing to, um, practices that reduce suffering of meat, chickens, or slaughter practices with, you know, that reduces the suffering of animals at slaughter points. So that's our target for any of our corporate work for sure. And then we also have an aspect of getting companies to go plant-based and we're just beginning to experiment with that, which is the really big, you know, impact in the sense that you're literally removing animals from the plate. And you can really measure the number of animals that, you know, never come into existence, never suffer at all.
Sure. So something that comes up a lot, when we talk about corporate campaigns is the idea of humane washing. And at the moment I'm conducting a case study of the fair trade movement, and there's a large amount of scholarship addressing how the movement has become more mainstream focusing on certification bodies and that sort of thing. And there are a number of ways in which the involvement of those companies has led to a weakening of standards and a cooption of the movement. And there's a risk with welfare certification schemes, like those operated by groups like professional world farming and potentially other forms of corporate engagement as well of this kind of humanewashing thing. And you wrote a bit about that in your book, grilled as well concerned about that. I guess I, do you have any thoughts about what the farmed animal movement can be doing to avoid that kind of corruption?
So humanewashing is of course, a big consideration for us when we're looking at how we move the needle. Um, and you know, in my book, I talk about this, I talk about how there is, um, a farmer that I work with in the South of Georgia and he raises animals completely. And pastor they're slaughtered on farm and they're sold to whole foods and he raises all kinds of species. And after working on a corporate campaign, uh, to achieve change with Purdue and Compass, and I felt very proud of myself that we had moved the needle on, you know, 60 million animals sort of, I went to him to speak to him and get some more information from him. And he just really was upset and said, this is just as no good. It makes my job so much harder. This really isn't humane. What are you, why are you so happy?
You know, kind of thing. It really, um, made me realize how careful we need to be about getting caught up in that sort of excitement of making progress with companies it's critical. Like it is. It's definitely critical and it's a huge number of animals. And you're talking for example, when we achieved compass moving to the better chicken commitment, which reduces broiler suffering, we're talking, you know, whatever level of suffering, times 60 million per year, just with compass. And whereas opposed to this farmer, I'm working with, he's raising like 20,000 chickens a year, right? Nothing in comparison and the challenges around the numbers. And so if you move the needle just a little bit on raising animals, a little, you know, with less suffering, you're reducing suffering a lot. So if you're measuring and thinking about things through reducing overall suffering in the world, it really matters, but it's not, we have to be careful that that's not the goal.
It's not the end goal. And keeping that in the balance is really important to not overpraise or cult. So we've had to be very careful not to call things victory. We don't call things victory. We call them progress. And we don't say we're improving a condition. We talk, you've heard me very carefully say reducing suffering. And that's how we're framing it to remind ourselves. This is about reducing, suffering, not improving something because it's just a system that's inherently cruel and no can never be good. So what we're our job is to reduce the suffering as we move towards that world of ending exploitation altogether.
So one suggestion that was made in relation to the fair trade movement that the farm that we've been actually already does pretty well is just trying to balance those, those kind of carrots, good cop type approaches with the stick, the bad cop type approaches. It's something people talk about quite often in corporate outreach, I think, and groups like The Humane League tend to be seen as the bad cops, whereas groups like compassionate world following them. And we're like the good cops. My impression is that most of the animals does a bit of a mix of both. Do you agree with that characterisation?
Yes, that's, that's exactly right. So I used to work at Compassion in World Farming and I started the US branch. And the good cop approach is, is one where I am well versed in. And I did that for eight years at compassion in world farming. And it, it was very productive to be able to sit with companies and find out where they were at. I think though that what I missed too, along with having this carrot was the stick because you kind of got to a certain place and then there was no further to go at some point and you were stuck. You didn't, I prefer the way I'm working now, which is where I have all the tools in the toolbox. And I can use anyone that I need for any circumstance, because some companies won't talk to you, but they need to, they need to.
And so sometimes you have to pull out the stick and some companies are willing to speak to you and they're willing to sit down and you should give them that opportunity. And so I, I think that it's very effective as a larger group. I understand as a smaller group, whereas, you know, Compassion in World Farming US is extremely effective at the good cop, extremely effective and engagement. But mercy for animals is a larger organization that has the capacity for all the tools in the toolbox. And I really like having, um, investigations in my back pocket and the ability to sit down and say, we will sit down with you and we will talk to you. And I think of us more of like a Greenpeace, I guess, where you have the capacity for both. I will say that having investigations, what was very hard for me was moving from compassionable farming to MFA and seeing some companies refuse to speak to me, they just, we had had a very good relationship and then they said, now we can no longer talk to you because you're at MFA and you're doing investigations and we refused, we have a policy and it felt ridiculous to me, it felt like such an arbitrary thing to do to say that they would not speak to me anymore and that's happened.
And I've had to that those are the consequences definitely of walking that line is that some organizations refuse to speak to me.
Interesting. And yeah, I mean, I'm sure there's a place for organizations that do both, but it just reinforces the idea that there, there needs to be both. There needs to be to some extent specialized organizations. For sure. For sure. Yeah. So one thing I wanted to touch on, you mentioned it briefly out is that the kind of volunteer and capacity building stuff, um, I'm interested in that. What does the, the kind of volunteer marketing funnel look like? What's the journey from first hearing about mercy for animals through to deepen regular engagement in animal advocacy? Yeah.
Good question. Um, so we are reformulating this track a lot in the organization right now, and we've hired a new director of organizing, uh, whoever sees our international work and we're trying a new model out, which we've been very successful at in Brazil and Brazil. We have a network of something like 800 volunteers and we're refining and repeating that now in the United States, it's worked very well. And the idea is that you create cities that we have identified as being critical for strategic reasons. And then we identify lead organizers who are volunteers, but we don't call them volunteers. We call them lead organizers who are in charge of that city. And then the council is created with them in a, in a totally horizontal fashion. And they each have jobs on that council that they're in charge of. And so there's a lot of autonomy in deciding the areas of work that they want to do while there's also a kind of requirement or an expectation that they're feeding into helping us achieve our institutional.
So the idea now that, that, so that's how you might get involved. So you would find that your city is one of the identified strategic cities you would possibly decide to be a lead organizer, or you would be working with that lead organizer in your city in some strategic fashion. As I said, that's been really successful in Brazil. We're trying it out. Chicago, for example, will be one of the cities going forward that we're really excited about. And we'll have six, uh, six cities in the United States. And if that works, we'll just keep going because I think, you know, we, we have to face, we can't hire people. We don't have the resources to hire people in every city, in every country and every place in the world. And there's plenty of people who are really, really engaged and want to help. And that's, that's the model we're following.
It's a very tried and tested model with other social justice movements. And so we're repeating it. We've got someone new Michael Garnier who's experienced in organizing in other social justice issues is helping us create this plan along with his team. So it's very exciting time. I think it's one of the underserved areas of the animal rights movement. And that was identified by, I think it was ACE that identified it probably three years ago. And since then we have been investing in organizing which they called capacity building, but we were investing in that direction as a result.
Cool. Yeah, that's really interesting. It's also an area I'm very optimistic about once you take into account sort of longer term considerations, then I, you become more excited about those kinds of investments into the future, I guess, on that particular thing as well, the, your, your webpage on capacity building notes that you coach volunteer leaders, is that like a separate thing from what you were talking about?
No, that's part of, so when you become a lead organizer you're coached and you have a particular track that you're following and we do webinars and trainings right now, virtually of course. And it's a specific kind of a track that you follow to be part of the team.
Yeah. Have you noticed any particular trends in terms of particular campaigns driving activist mobilization more than others?
Huh, not particularly. I wouldn't, I would say that it's been curious to see how people have responded to our slaughterhouse campaigns as of late where we're cooperating with worker's rights groups in particular in the United States, Latino worker groups. And there's been, I think a much at an end, a real engagement around this, I think because it's such a hot topic that's being spoken about in the media. So we've definitely seen an increase in interest, I think because it's such a live topic, you know, it's not one of the longer term topics necessarily, but it's something that's really hot in the media right now. So I guess I would say if there's something that is really being discussed in the public, then you're probably going to get higher and get engagement. Um,
Cool. Yeah. So I want you to, we've obviously we've talked about some kind of high level priority stuff, mercy for animals, but there's some almost, even broad level of the, of the movement's perspective. It's something I just mentioned there about thinking about the longterm implications is something I'm really interested in and think is really important if you're interested in the impact in, in impact for animals on timeframes of over five years or so then it seems worth taking note of the trajectory that company that sorry, countries are moving in. This is going back to thinking about the farmed animal opportunity index and stuff like that in terms of the scale of interventions and the scale of opportunities, for example, that might make the scale much larger for China or Brazil, but lower for Canada, where those sorts of trends can be seen in UN data on meat supply in various countries. I am interested in what sorts of time scales mercy for animals tends to think of, or you think of when you're thinking about how to help animals and maximize your positive impact. Do you think about it? Does the planning, is the planning necessarily on, on fairly short timeframes or do you sort of build in those longer term considerations into the planning? Somehow
We're definitely building in the longer term, uh, while trying to create milestones that help us maintain our optimism and energy and motivation. Um, so, you know, one of the things we think very clearly about is the trajectory of human population increasing by 2050 and being nearly 10 billion people. And so even we don't kid ourselves about that, and it's not only that there's going to be monopoly, 10 billion people is that so many people will be lifted out of poverty then and be moving into the middle class, which means, so even if the individual person is eating substantially less animals, it will still equal substantially more animals being killed. And the UN projections around that are that by 2050, we're going to nearly double the number of animals that are going to be killed and slaughtered. If we stay on the trajectory we are. And so we've done some looks at this and said, okay, what happens if we want to have the number of animals that we want to be slaughtered that are being slaughtered today?
What does that mean per region? And in the United States, it would mean individually each person per capita would eat 90% less animals, and that just helps shape. And that's just by 2050, right? So that just helped shape our thinking of like how hard we need to work and how we need to set very, it's very, um, difficult. Uh, we need to set very high goals and not settle for small goals if we can, if we can, and then, but we need to also not be overwhelmed by that and create very important strategic milestones along the way. And I do feel sometimes very pessimistic about that when I think when I really think through the numbers, or I say things like until COVID, we were killing more animals than we ever have before history. Now that's amazingly reduced during COVID, which then, you know, speaks to, well, what opportunity is here, but in general, we try to really not kid ourselves about what we're doing and how hard it is. And then at the same time we build in milestones that keep our motivation and optimism going in the right direction to say, okay, we are making progress, but we can't stop. We can't slow down. We can't relent.
Yeah, definitely. So I'm interested as well as whether in whether it has implications for the balance of interventions and the yeah. Just the different actual tactics that mercy for animals uses. So yeah, I guess if you, like what I was mentioning before with the capacity building with staff kind of punting towards the, the, you know, the slightly further into the future, this comes up with corporate welfare campaigns. If you look at really short timeframes, then the it's pretty hard to deny that they're, that they seem highly cost effective in terms of making a difference for animals. There's been a bunch of different reports by groups like puppy, animal charity, evaluators, rethink priorities, all seem really optimistic about the impact on, on the sort of measurable timeframes, the direct impact on animals. I guess when it comes to this idea of building momentum for further change, uh, that there is reason to think that welfare reforms do contribute to that.
And we've summarized some of our evidence on our foundational summaries questions page on our website, but it fit. There's not much reason to think that corporate campaigns are especially good at that. So it just feels like shifting the question away from how can we help animals most now to how can we help animals most within the next a hundred plus years could change our perspective quite a lot. And I mean, I guess for me, the takeaways is kind of just like, we need to diversify and explore lots of different strategies, a lot more. He's one of them and try and work out what the implications are, but I don't know. Do you have any thoughts about if that shifts the actual prioritization of different types of interventions for mercy, for animals? Yeah.
Yeah. I see what you're saying. And I, I have, I have some thoughts on that. Um, so we do think corporate engagement, corporate campaigns are really effective in the near future and they really do measurably reduce the suffering of animals. And so we continue down that track, not least because it raises the prices of meat, which then, uh, and we, and so that can, um, uh, reduce the kind of price point difference between plant-based products and, uh, animal products. And we're engaging companies, hopefully in a way that is impactful and positive. And then we are also talking to them about plant-based products that they might start to introduce, because if we can get companies as you know, like Tyson or Purdue, to see the benefit of, of taking onboard plant-based products, uh, and replacing their animal products with the plant based products, then that's going to all happen a lot faster.
And that's probably the only way it's going to happen a lot faster is getting the companies himself to just say, proteins protein. The bottom line is the bottom line. If I can do it through plants, then great. I'll do it through plants. I don't really, they're not, they're not really caring about whether their chickens or their soy. They just want to make money for the shareholders and to pay the bills, et cetera. So that's one aspect that is a strategy that we continue to pursue. But another one is that you said about trying lots of different, different things. And my strong belief that in order to really end animal agriculture, we are going to have to broaden the tent in a massive way, like we've never done before. And this means building really broad and big coalitions with other groups that care about other things all to end factory farming.
So this means working with workers' groups, it means working with like factory farmers. It means working with environmentalists and working with like health and wellness professionals, this kind of rally call of the civil rights movement was "the people united shall never be defeated." And I feel strongly, that's the strategy we need to explore. Like how do we unite more forces against factory farming so that it's so obvious that it should be ended and that it's so detrimental for not just animal suffering, but human suffering species, our species existing, uh, and climate change, the environmental movement, et cetera. So part of the strategy for mercy, for animals that you can really see that has shifted in the last couple of years is broadening who we work with. And that means working with worker rights organizations and slaughterhouses, and means working with factory farmers, environmentalist, other social justice movements, all United against factory farming.
And I will say we're having a lot more progress with policymakers when we come at it like that. And even with companies, I think companies is, is more challenging, I think, but policymakers are far more ready to listen to us when we come to the table with a coalition. And so those are the kinds of experiments we need to make, because I think if we look in the longterm, I am challenged to see how we're going to end factory farming without uniting with other social justice issues and showing the factory farming is so destructive for so many aspects of our life. And I think that's ultimately how we're going to end it. Okay.
Really interesting. I feel so I share the sense that policy advocacy is going to be more effective. If you can build those sorts of coalitions, this is a fairly commonly discussed thing within lobbying. And we then kind of legislative tactics discussion, um, something I came across quite a lot when I was creating a, what we've called skills profile, um, shortly to be published on, uh, policy politics and lobbying for animal, obviously careers, the other organization I worked for. But I, I don't know. I mean, the question of the sort of collaboration with other movements in a more general sense, I feel like there are some, there's definitely pros and there's definitely, there's definitely cons. I feel concerned. I mean, for example, there's some, some historical precedent of, of social movements just like trying to enforce, well, not enforce trying to build those sorts of collaborations and it's not really working out for them.
So I guess this isn't a social movement per se, but the example that jumps to mind that I've been looking at fairly recently is the U S anti death penalty movement had a lot of kind of theoretical support and buy in from other organizations. And the church was, it was an example, there was lots of religious support, but it just didn't really materialize into much tangible support for them there. I mean, there's a bunch of, yeah, we don't, we don't have time to debate this out fully, but I feel like there are some, yeah, this is another thing we've summarized some of the evidence for on our website about the kind of strategic pros and cons of, of broadening the focus of the movement.
Yeah. I mean, you need to stay focused on what you're trying to achieve, because it is a real risk that you dilute your efforts by joining forces others. And that's what people fear. They don't want to join forces with other movements because they're afraid it will dilute their efforts. And I've almost of my career had been told, no, don't do that, but I think we've reached a point where we need to do that. And there's an opportunity to do that, especially with COVID for example, in the slaughterhouses where we're able to introduce to legislators with, with the workers groups that slaughter houses are archaic, dangerous and cool places. And we are more powerful if we came to the table right now, either, and this goes for corporations and policymakers, and we said to them, during a pandemic, we only are coming to you because we're concerned about animal cruelty and slaughterhouses.
They would, we wouldn't even get in a meeting. We wouldn't get a meeting at all, but if we come and say it's a cruelty issue and a workers' rights issue and a human health issue during a pandemic, we get a meeting and we get it discussed where we wouldn't have before. And I think that's, that's probably what needs to be weighed up is, you know, where are you not getting airtime at all? And that building a coalition will help you do that. And so what I've said to a lot, cause a lot of people have questioned us working with workers' groups. A lot of our supporters are asking for an explanation. And what I say to them is, you know, we're not diluting our effort. We're elevating the issue. We're not diluting it. We're elevating it in a time when otherwise we wouldn't be able to be heard about chicken cruelty.
Nobody is going to listen to us about chicken cruelty and soft shuffling of chickens when we're in the middle of a pandemic. But then if we combine forces with workers' rights groups and suddenly people are listening and they are considering chicken suffering while considering human suffering and it doesn't have to be an either or so I think you have to look at the particulars of an opportunity. I think as the world's issues, like things like climate change or more pandemics emerge, we'll have no choice, but to do it in this way and in doing it this way, I think we'll be able to elevate the cause and elevate the issue to be heard in important circles where decisions are being made.
Yeah. That makes sense. It sounds like collaboration on specific issues. It feels quite different to attempting to forge some sort of indefinite alliance between different social movements. Not that the, you know, they could feed into one another, but the goal being case by case work with other groups on that sort of thing.
You know, coalitions are tough and I generally find them very hard to work in and you should only do them if you have to. And when you do them, they should be very, very loose. They sh everybody should be able to follow their own rules and their own course, and there should not be a lot of rules, standards or meetings for that matter. And the looser the better, and the more agility built into a coalition, the better so that you have a broad understanding of the goals, but, and maybe, you know, the kind of, this is where we stop campaigning. So where's the line, where's the finish line. And other than that, there needs to be the that's the benefit of a coalition is everyone bringing all these different skill sets and connections and supporters and brands to the table and letting that fully flourish in a coalition rather than squashing it. And the mistake coalitions quite often make are collaborations between different even social justice groups is just trying to squash everyone into one box. And then you've lost all the benefits that you wanted to, to have in order to achieve the goal.
Okay. One last sort of broad movement, wide strategic question I wanted to touch on something we spoke briefly about earlier, when you mentioned the idea of the public facing outreach and media focus type work building into the institutional campaigns. Well, mostly for animals, as you say that the media and public facing outreach remains the largest category of spending. One of the bits it's it's most well known for. And a lot of that public facing content is focused on dietary change specifically. Like I guess the choose virtual website is one example, uh, and dietary asks are built into some of the, the volunteering they're kind of steps to engagement type type process. So Sentience Institute has been arguing for a few years now, I guess that the animal advocacy movement has over invested in individual diet change interventions and under invested in institutional strategies. And it sounds like you've got a lot of sympathy for that view. I guess the thing that jumps to mind is, has it been considered or explored the behavioral ask could be redesigned in a more sort of radical way throughout the organization so that it really optimizes for that activist recruitment type thing and engagement rather than including those dietary asks at all, even?
Yeah, that's a good question. I don't know the answer precisely, and we continue to experiment with that idea. We have re you know, we used to spend a lot more money on Facebook. For example, we used to have, uh, on dietary change and also used to have staff who are almost like customer service folks that just responded to questions about going vegan and how to do it. And when I started in October, 2018, that team was shifted to institutional plant-based work and thinking through strategies and spend around, you know, not catering to individuals, but catering to institutional policies. So we're still working on effective we're, we're still working on plant based dietary change, but it's more around institutional change that we're trying to seek. So you whole team members were shifted away from individual to institutional. So that's one big shift over the last couple of years.
And, you know, I think the thing is we're challenged in that we are talking about an issue that is often very difficult for the majority of the public to stomach. It is we can't just go out and show cruel and horrible footage. And what's effective quite often is recipes and engagement in a positive way as your front porch to entering the organization. And so I consider a lot of the footage that, you know, the, the spend that we're, we're making the front porch to getting into the organization. A lot of people join us because they're very curious, and they like the recipes. They like the celebrities. It's a nice front porch to enter the whole house. And as they get more curious, they get deeper and deeper into the house till they get to its core, which is a much more hardcore effort to end factory farming.
And so I think you need those front porches and we'll continue to have those. You need those, those dietary change recipes, celebrity celebrities, you know, those sorts of things that allow people to dip their toe in the water. We worked with an organization called media cause which analyzed some of our social media and what was doing better, what was doing worse. And, you know, one of the outcomes was basically when we use the word vegan, it was a big turnoff. And if we use the word plant-based or plant strong, that was much better. And we really toned down some of our more aggressive, uh, dietary change language about two years ago, as a result of that, that survey, and really tried to make everything we're doing much more inviting rather than kind of aggressively communicating go vegan or else. And you'll have no idea. Some of that shift if you've been paying attention in our communications.
And I think we've had a higher level of engagement as a result. And again, we're trying to create that front porch experience for people in our communication. And some of our, you know, it's difficult with our undercover investigations because we often are showing some really gruesome stuff and we're playing around with how to keep people watching it. And there's been some interesting learnings we've had around that, how to keep people watching. For example, if you have some really gruesome footage that you're playing with and you want to expose, because you're wanting to put pressure a company and you need them, you need that footage to really out that company. One trick you can do is putting wording describing what's happening, sort of at the top left and people's eyes shift to that rather than right at the footage. And it gives them a break from looking at the footage and they engage with the footage for longer. So that's one, one example. So there's lots of things that we're always thinking about playing with and experimenting with in this front. Cool.
So yeah, in terms of the front porch thing, that definitely makes sense. And I guess I'm just saying there as being, I'm not suggesting that all con all mention a diet could do it well, should it do it could be car just more so that, like, I guess it's not seeing it as an important outcome in itself. It's, it's like a stepping stone towards engagement type thing.
We do think it's important in and of itself to all say, so it is the end goal for mercy for animals is, is ending the exploitation of animals altogether. So it is part of our brand. It's an important part of our brand. Yeah,
Yeah. Obviously that is the end goal. I, it comes back to this idea about whether that's like, whether the ask that we want of the individual is that you're making the diet change or that you're making a contribution to these wider institutional tactics type thing.
Well, I think that's about getting people to become engaged enough to be one of be in our organizing team. And then we're able to put them in a cannon frankly, and shoot them at a company when we need to. So it's, we have to create engagement to the extent that people feel so loyal and excited about what we're doing, that they're ready to protest when we need them to campaign against an institution. So we are definitely thinking of it as either they're going to be, you know, monetary support for us, or they're going to be organizing support for us. And we are thinking of tactics for bringing them into one of those two tracks, maybe both, but usually it's one or the other people just want to give us their monthly donation and not being too informed because it's hard for them to engage in it, or it's hard for them to process what's happening, or they really want to be on the front lines and they want to organize, they want to be part of organizing. So we're trying to think of how can we bring people in and either point them to sort of being a donor or being an organizer in our organization so that then we can enact institutional change either through building our funds or through being part of the camp, you know, being there to support campaigns as, and when we need them. So
Sounds pretty closely aligned to the thing I was envisaging. Really. I, uh, obviously I haven't seen throughout mercy for animals, different kind of engagement channels and exactly how integrated is. Um, okay. Let's move on briefly to, I just wanted to ask about the different countries that mercy for animals is, is operational in cause it's, it works in us, Brazil, Mexico, and India. What's the kind of split of resources between the different countries. Is it fairly evenly spread or is it much more concentrated in say the US than the others?
Much more concentrated in the US we have about 140 ish staff, a little less than give or take. And about 75 or 80 are in the U S and then about I'm going to get the numbers wrong, so this is not going to add up, but like 25 in Brazil and 20 in Mexico, we have three in India. We have two contractors in Hong Kong. So the split is, you know, that way, and the United States costs itself way more than Brazil and Mexico. Uh, so there's a lot more resources in the United States. And you know what I would say, cause I think often what I hear people asking in the, especially in the effective altruist space as well, I should just give to Brazil, that that's what should happen. But what I would say is what happens in the United States often will predict and, uh, drive the movements and other countries.
And that same goes for Europe as well. And I'm an example of that, that my Brazilian, you mentioned Lucas earlier, and we, you know, we, we debate this, we think, okay, should we be putting more money into Asia, more money into Brazil, more money to Mexico. And one thing that Lucas reminded me of was that let's, let's look at the black lives matter movement. And this was, you know, this is in the United States, it started in the United States, but because of what happened in United States, it's everywhere globally. There were global protests after what is happening in the United States. And the United States has the ability to set a kind of social justice standard for other countries quite often in Europe. Similarly, I think Europe can set standards or, um, especially because of trade that happens that can affect everywhere else. So it's important not to overlook the impact of the United States and the tractability capacity in the United States and the standard setting that happens in the United States.
At the same time, we have a very intentional strategy to increase funds in other countries. And so we're looking to Asia, for example, as a place where we want to increase funds. Now the problem is tractability and finding pathways of success and at a grassroots movement, the grassroots movements don't exist necessarily and having to build those. So that's going to take time if you think, you know, the U S has been going in this tract and Europe has been going in this track in Europe, in particular, has been working on farm animal welfare ports for a long time since Ruth Harrison and was working on her Animal Machines book. And so we've got decades and decades of building to this moment that hasn't necessarily existed in other countries. So we have to build all of that before we throw money into those countries. Um, but hopefully we've learned enough that we can build them faster and there's more money available and more awareness available that can pour money into those countries. But I think it's, it's not to undo what I think my important takeaway is don't we shouldn't underplay the role that the us or Europe has played in driving the global
Animal movement. Yeah, definitely. That was also a consideration that's that's been built into the farmed animal opportunity index as well, I noticed as well, which is pretty cool. Yeah. Another question I have is about the different countries is if you notice, well, I guess what the main differences are you see across the different countries that mercy for animals operates in? I'm sure we could go into details on that for a long time, but some of the big picture, main ones?
Well, it's very interesting because I think we were seeing so much corporate success in the United States initially, and we thought, okay, we'll just cookie cutter that and put it in other countries and see if it works. And it is definitely working in Brazil. So in Brazil, the market is set up very similar to the United States and that there are monopolies and that you can run campaigns against those top producers, retailers, restaurants, and the producers are pressured by those, those customers. And then you can have a change in Mexico that is not the case as easily in Mexico. There's a far more inf and the same goes with India. Those two countries have far more informal markets where the large majority of products are still being purchased in open markets. And so something like 3% of eggs are being bought in supermarkets in Mexico. So if you want to change the majority of the egg market, you can't just go after the major retailer, you have to think through other strategies that involve the informal market, which makes our total look at corporate campaigning, very different.
There's still a third of the market. Eggs are being sold to restaurants so we can, okay, keep going in that vein on restaurants. But producers have a bigger piece of the pie. They're much more influential and they are the end. Like you can't influence them in through their customers because they're deciding where and how they're. And they have too many customers. They're all informal market purchasers. So we're really, you know, looking at countries. And one of the things we do before we go into one of these countries and sometimes retrospectively is do scoping studies to understand the markets, understand the players, whereas the products being sold, who's in charge of it. What is corporate corruption look like? What are the laws that are existing? So we can understand like where are the Achilles heels and these systems so we can build appropriate strategies and you do have to take every country differently. And it really matters where people are purchasing their food and how, who who's in charge. And I always think of this kind of power pyramid who's in charge of the decisions. And so therefore, who do we need to influence and who influences them and building campaigns around that, um, inappropriate pieces of work around that.
You touched on this earlier, but obviously you've, you you've moved between various different organizations. You were previously director of campaigns and programs at world animal protection and then executive director at Compassion in World Farming USA. And now you're a mercy for animals. What are some of the main differences and similarities between your experience in a leadership and management role in those three organizations?
Well, I have 20 years of experience now, so that's always helpful. Um, I think in terms of the differences, I guess what I worked at world protection, which was then called the world society of the protection of animals. I oversaw every type of campaign, every type of animal. So everything from, I participated in the international whaling commission to dolphin trade, to stray dogs, to working horses, bear bile and farmed animals. And through being exposed to all of that and traveling to over 30 countries before I was 30. And seeing all of this types of suffering that animals are at the hand of humans, I became to the very clear conclusion that I, that the one that mattered the most to me and the cause the most suffering was eating animals, was animal agriculture, farmed animals. And so it was through that experience and that exposure that I decided I only wanted to work on farm animals.
So that would be where I'd focus my energy. And so that gave me a lot of experience. I will say world animal protection was great at thinking through because we had to deal with all animals, all countries all the time. It gave me a, that was where I learned about strategic thinking in a really big way where I had to be ruthless about how are we defining impact? How are we deciding priorities? And then moving to compassionate world farming USA. I kind of went from one end of the spectrum, all countries, all animals and everything to one country and farmed animals. And really I was focused on chickens. So I went, I, I felt very good about being very focused and very understanding that success requires focus. And, uh, that taught me about really thinking about at the time nobody was really working on broiler chickens.
And so that's why I chose to focus on it for the organization. And that led to some of the work where we're seeing now in the United States and some of the focus we're seeing now in the United States, and now I'm pulled with mercy for animals to all countries farmed animals. And so I'm somewhere in between my first and my second job now. And seeing, again, wanting to pull bigger and know, now it's not enough to work for me in one country that I, but you still have to use that very strategic and ruthless prioritization to able to make impact. So now I continue to think success requires focus, but how do you do that in a world where there's all these countries eating all the animals, um, and, and really needing to continue to have prayer to station of resources at the front of your mind.
I was planning to also ask you about if you've got any tips for aspiring managers and leaders and your thoughts of management leadership. I feel that was covered quite thoroughly in your talk yesterday at the conference for animal rights in Europe. Um, so maybe we'll just stick up a link to that on the, on the podcast right up. But I will ask actually, something I don't think you covered was, um, was the idea, I mean, when you worked at compassionate world farming USA, you built it from the ground up foods, right. So is there any advice you'd give to individuals thinking about founding a new nonprofit or the bra, a new branch, an existing nonprofit or something like that?
Yeah, so I did build it from the ground up and I was given a laptop and two days of pay when I first started, um, which was fun. But the first thing I did was network and I called and had interviews like formal interviews with every leader working in that space and ask them, what do you think compassion should do? What isn't anybody else doing? What do you think, would you welcome us being here and really trying to figure out where was the neglect in the movement so that we could add something that was unique and needed and that, you know, there's no point in repeating what people are doing well, and you should really in a world that we're living in with. So this issue is so under resourced in comparison to the problem we're facing. Uh, that for me is really critical. So I also did a scoping study in the United States where I looked at the landscape and just as we're doing now at mercy for animals in, uh, the Asian countries or in, um, China and India, we did one really looking at the understanding of landscape really fully, again, trying to figure out where is the strategic need for such a thing, because there will be one, but you need to figure out like, what are you good at?
What is the strategic need? What do people need you to do that no one else is doing and doing that for six months before you even take your first step, I think is an important starting point.
Yeah. Speaking of, of strategic needs, what are the focusing back on mercy for animals now? What are the, the biggest bottlenecks preventing mercy for animals from having even more impacts in it than it already does? And I guess I'm not talking about kind of like things that are almost impossible to change I'm talking about. Um, yeah. Just things that could potentially be addressed by increased attention from others in the community or that sort of thing.
Well, money, of course, always money. Uh, I think, you know, every year we're, we're going through this strategic process right now, where we write our budget for next year and every year there's like $2 million more of stuff that people want to do. And every year that gets bigger. So this year, you know, there's about $2 million of stuff that people want to do that we can't fund, or we're not, you know, comfortable. I mean, we're a 13 point, uh, lecture this year, we have a budget of $13 million, 13.1, let's say depends on how we end up with COVID. You know, and I, I started, we were 10 million and I want us to get us to 20 in five years. How do we get from 10 to 20? So it's both thinking about how do we increase our ability to build up to raising that much money and how do we build teams that are effective at spending that much money in really tangible ways?
Uh, you know, there's so many projects we want to do and, uh, reach into communities and reach into different countries. And we're just limited. And, and it doesn't, it sounds like a lot of money, but it's not a lot of money in comparison to issues are dog and cat issues. It's really not. And the entire farm animal movement is totally underfunded in comparison to the problem we're facing. And so how do we get to a stage where we're attracting donors of that magnitude and want to give in not just the tens or the 50, which is fantastic, but the millions over and over again in large numbers. So that groups like ours are animal quality, THL, compassionable farming. All those groups are really able to rise in the public agenda. And then we're really able to sit down with presidential candidates and talk to them about the progress that needs to be made or CEOs, you know, the top companies and talk to them about the chain.
And we're taking very seriously because we're really, well-funded, we're really well-recognized. And we're really part of the cultural conversation. And we have true societal capital. That's where we are lacking still. And so I'm always trying to think, how do we elevate this issue to be considered one of the most important, the top five most important things on a corporate or political agenda, and to get there, we have a, we have so much work to do, um, and it's, it's partially resource, but it's partially the kinds of the ways we talk about the issue, the way we elevate the issue. I think coalition building, as I spoke of earlier is strategic and particular coalition building is really important to raise this, um, and to be able to attract both the media, the corporate and the political attention that's needed to elevate this issue.
Yeah. Interesting. You speak of funding almost as a, like a signalling value type thing and kind of demonstrating the influence of the, of the movement as well as obviously the practical things that it enables you to do. But yeah, I actually, the talk I gave at the Conference on Animal Rights in Europe was about this question of how far the movement is funding constrained as compared to constrained by different types of talent and expertise. And given that funding was your first answer there, I'm guessing you see that as a, as a high priority. A way of thinking about this slightly more concretely for individuals, how they can contribute is to well, is to think about. So imagine there's a particular individual who's equally excited and likely to be successful at either building up a specific skillset and becoming an employee for Mercy For Animals, you know, applying for roles and trying to be the person who, who does the work themselves or in just seeking to get a well paid job, maximize their income and donate as much of it as they could to Mercy For Animals. Which would you be more excited about?
I don't know. I have to say both. I'm sorry to say, I'm not going to answer you that way because we need both. I mean, and people are more equipped for one or the other, you know, some people I don't know would want to work in this and they feel they're really talented at working at Google and that's their talent and that's their impact. And so giving as much, you know, the earn-to-give is really, really effective. And I know so many great people who are doing that. So I have to say both. Um, I will say that, you know, one of our challenges is that is salaries and you think about, um, attracting really diverse candidates, for example, and with diverse talents and also from diverse backgrounds will help us solve this problem in a more effective way. And as you're, I thought you were going in the direction of like, you know, you have someone who has great skill sets and they were equally likely to work for mercy for animals, or they were able to work in environmental work or, you know, something else, child welfare, or, um, anything else, you know, any other nonprofit, every other nonprofit is paying better than we are.
And so we can't, we only attract people who, which is great. And really everyone working with us is really hardcore into the cause. But we're also going to have to get to a point where we're also attracting people who are believe in the cause, but could work also in environmental work. And, but they get paid more there. So they're going to go there instead. So we need to be able to compete with all the kind of bleeding hearts that might go to any nonprofit to really create an effective workforce that stays with us, that doesn't get, you know, stolen away to a better funded, um, social justice movement. And that's an, also a big issue for the animal rights movement. And so that's another reason to kind of build our, our bank account and build it is it is a signaling issue for sure. And I think a political candidates in the sense, and I'm just one who gets a bit irritated by all the money that is spent during political campaigns and how it is a lot of signaling that's happening. If someone raises a certain and I'm talking about, you know, not presidential candidates, but local politics, how much money they've raised as a signal, how much support? Well, it's very similar for nonprofits except we're going to spend the money really, really effectively because we're already, you know, in our role and we are ready to go, we're ready to have impact. And, but the money matters. It matters for how we can impact. We can have the people we can attract and the people we can retain more importantly,
Yes. To the extent that you see that expertise and contributions in that sense can be comparatively impactful, at least to donating high amounts of money. Are there particular types of expertise that you struggle to hire for, or that you really feel that Mercy For Animals needs more talented applicants?
It's all in the operational space, the place where we struggle as, and that's just not my organization, but every, every organization that works on animal rights. So I'm talking about people operations, finance, tech, you know, it's we have under, we have under-resourced those areas in our movement. And we have a really hard time, I will tell you, like in our finance area, we, it's very hard to attract, retain talent because the financial sector pays astronomically more than we can pay. So we have to get someone and we have great team members, but we have to really be strategic. And it takes us a long time to find the right talent who will come in at our price point. So they usually are frankly able to take a lower salary than they're worth on the market for some other reason. And it would be, and they're excellent.
It just takes us a long time to find them. And so I think it's all in the operational. I think maybe people would be surprised to hear that we have a lot of strategic campaigners that are excellent and lobbyists and government affairs folks, and even the public engagement folks are really great. And I think the place where we really struggle as a movement is kind of the we're activists might find it less interesting, which is a and B and we're an activist movement, right? So it's not the first thought to think finance will finance makes our machine sing. It makes our machine efficient and without it we're clunky and slow and everything won't work. So we have to invest in finance and I, and I think we need great talent to do that, to attract great talent. We have to pay them well. And we probably never be able to pay them what they could they're worth is on the market, but we have to come closer than we're coming now,
Just to clarify, when you say finance, are you including, are you talking about fundraising or you're talking about management of money and accountancy and that sort of,
I'm talking about accountancy management of money, giving us like, you know, looking at the forecast of our spend and kind of being, helping us be agile when we've got low cash flow or high cashflow or investment in thinking through where our best investment strategies. Cause maybe if we invest some of this, we could get money back. And that's really useful in terms of preparing for an election cycle, for example, or help that sort of thing. So it's account it's accountancy and, you know, thinking through financial strategies and financial management of the organization, which is a really underserved part of the movement, I would say
You mentioned that people might be surprised to hear that I am slightly surprised to hear that not the campaigns and the campaign side of things, being a comparatively tractable to source high quality candidates for, uh, and, and retain them. But the idea that the operations side is a bottleneck is not something that I've heard a lot of from the other organizations that we've spoken to for animal advocacy. Careers is something that we're well, we're planning to more systematically do that research and do some surveying and speak to organizations to work out what their main issues are.
I think that it will matter the size of the organization. So I think there is not issues with finance at a certain level, and then what you want to be a large organization like mercy for animals there is, and that's, you can run into some problems. And I think we've done well to research ourselves, but I bet you'll find differences depending on the size. And that speaks to the size of the movement. There aren't a lot of organizations as big as mercy for animals, just a handful. And if we want to have large societal impact, we're going to have to get bigger. And if we want to get bigger, we're going to have to have strong, foundational support services within an organization.
Hopefully you will be able to explore that, that angle and whether it, the extent to which that does affect the situation, but great. Yeah. Leah, thank you so much for joining me on the Sentience Institute Podcast for this episode. I really appreciate it.
Oh, it was a lot of fun. We could have talked all day, but you know, yeah.
I had, I had many questions that we didn't have time for.
Oh, there were so many I wanted to talk about, so we'll have to do a part two at some point.
Okay, great. Yeah. Thanks again.
Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. You can subscribe to the Sentence Institute podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and other podcast apps.