Largely out of public view, factory farming began on America's poultry farms in the 1920s and quickly spread to every sector of the meat, dairy, egg, and seafood industries. By the 1970s, this new form of animal agriculture had begun to devastate rural economies and ushered in an era of systematic animal abuse and pollution of the environment. Today, 99 percent 1 of our nation's meat, dairy, and eggs are produced on factory farms, and nearly all seafood comes from factory fishing.
But resistance is mounting, and the transition back to sensible and sustainable practices has already begun.
Incorporated in 2007, Farm Forward is a nonprofit advocacy and consulting group at the forefront of pragmatic efforts to transform the way our nation eats and farms. Our vision is encapsulated in the critically acclaimed international bestseller Eating Animals by Farm Forward Board Member Jonathan Safran Foer, and our executive staff and board have been working on behalf of farmed animals since the early 1990s. This accumulated expertise informs Farm Forward's unique role as the first centrist organization where disparate interests opposed to the abuse of animals on factory farms can unite in coordinated and effective ways.
Creating the First Post-Factory Farm Poultry Ranch
Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch is a unique network of Heritage poultry farmers that includes the nation’s preeminent expert on Heritage poultry, Farm Forward Board Member Frank Reese. In 2009, with the pro bono assistance of Farm Forward Consulting, Good Shepherd was able to expand its production beyond turkeys to include chickens. Good Shepherd is currently the market leader in the sale of chicken and turkey products that come from birds who are raised entirely outside of the factory farm industry using humane and sustainable methods. Good Shepherd has served as a model for animal welfare standards developed by several nonprofit groups, including the nation's largest certification organization, Global Animal Partnership. With ongoing pro bono assistance from Farm Forward Consulting, Good Shepherd continues to grow to keep up with rising demand for poultry produced using humane and sustainable methods.
The work of Farm Forward has been of decisive importance to me and all of us at Good Shepherd. Without their ongoing support my work would come to a standstill. There are plenty of people who have tried to help with the best of intentions, but good intentions aren't enough. Farm Forward's hands-on, practical assistance—on my farm and in the public square—is absolutely essential. At a time when almost no one is talking about the crucial importance of preserving both genetics and husbandry techniques, they are. They see what needs to be done and they have the know-how to help make it happen. Farm Forward gets it." –Frank Reese
Fostering Growth within the Heritage Poultry Industry
Farm Forward Consulting is also providing pro bono assistance for farmers interested in transitioning into humane and sustainable poultry production.
In September 2011, Farm Forward’s Chairman and Executive Director traveled to North Carolina to visit two of the farms that comprise the Carolina Heritage Poultry Coalition. The coalition consists of more than a dozen independent farmers who work cooperatively under the supervision of the Coalition’s founder, Jim Atkins. Atkins is a long-time friend and mentee of Frank Reese. His objective is to turn the Coalition into a fully-integrated and self-sustaining production network capable of supplying the region with heritage poultry products.
Farm Forward has pledged to provide financial support and PR consulting services to assist the Coalition. The Coalition’s success would represent a major milestone in our efforts to create an infrastructure that supports an alternative poultry industry, and we hope to use the Coalition as a model for other farmers around the country.
Advocating for Standardized Animal Welfare Certification
Unfortunately, terms like “free range” and “all natural” are not independently regulated. Virtually all poultry—regardless of a label on a package—come from the same industrial systems. As the factory farm industry continues to find clever ways to mislead consumers, reliable certification has become more important than ever. From its inception, GAP has set a new a standard with its unique 5 Step system, which uses third-party inspectors to provide unprecedented transparency. Farm Forward has advocated for GAP since its inception, and in late 2011 we began providing hundreds of hours of pro bono and at-cost consulting services to assist the organization as it continues to grow.
Maintaining the Integrity of Humane Practices Through Legal Protection
Farm Forward has surveyed the work of heritage chicken farmers and discovered that a leading concern lies in protecting the meaning of the word Heritage. With the assistance of a pro bono attorney, Farm Forward has filed three trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on behalf of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. We have also begun to formulate a comprehensive legal strategy to protect the integrity of terms like Heritage, which are vital to the ability of farmers to communicate clearly and honestly with consumers.
Farm Forward also joined two new political action committees that focus on important upcoming ballot initiatives seeking further state-level regulations for factory farms. “Oregonians for Humane Change” and “Yes on 1130” were started with the aim of increasing the cage size of egg-laying hens in Oregon and Washington State, respectively, and were inspired by similar victories on this and other factory farm issues in Arizona, Colorado, California, Maine, Michigan, and Ohio. Over the summer, both groups shifted focus from state efforts to lend support to a groundbreaking collaboration between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers that pushes for federal legislation mandating more humane treatment for all egg-laying hens nationwide. The HSUS-UEP proposal is animal welfare history in the making; federal law has never protected farmed animals except during slaughter, and farmed birds have been excluded even from this protection. The New York Times solicited and published a comment from Farm Forward CEO Aaron Gross in its coverage of the HSUS-UEP agreement.
Collaborating to Shape Public Discourse on the Humane Treatment of Animals
We have continued to promote the work of New York Times best-selling author and Farm Forward Board Member Jonathan Safran Foer. Eating Animals is now being used in an increasing number of classrooms, bringing what we believe is one of the most powerful cases against factory farming ever written to young people across the globe. For example, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill required every incoming freshman this Fall to read the book and participate in a series of events around the book’s themes. We are now working with select high school teachers and university professors who already use Eating Animals in their classrooms to develop additional support materials for educators, including periodic “virtual visits” to classrooms by Foer himself using inexpensive video conferencing technology.
Farm Forward also recently helped best-selling author Kathy Freston complete her book, The Veganist. This accessible, informative, and popular book advocates the big picture connections between farmed-animal welfare, human health, and conscientious life choices. The Veganist quickly became a New York Times best-seller and has been featured prominently on shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Good Morning America.
Outreach to Educators and Students to Raise Awareness About the Ethics of Animal Welfare
In January 2011, Farm Forward founder and Chief Executive Officer, Aaron Gross, Ph.D., shared the Farm Forward vision with more than 350 educators as a keynote panelist at a leading national education conference, EduCon, co-hosted by Philadelphia’s prestigious Franklin Institute. This outreach is the beginning of a growing relationship with educational communities that Farm Forward has outlined in its newly-revised five-year strategic plan.
Since January 2011, Gross has presented on various aspects of our relationship with the animals we eat at numerous colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada and at academic conferences, as well as publishing two book chapters on animal ethics and co-editing a book to be published by Columbia University Press, Animals and the Human Imagination, which is targeted for classroom use and do out in early 2012.
Promoting Conscientious Consumption Through Social Media
Facebook's billion-plus members and the more than 200 million tweets sent via Twitter each day show the vast reach of social networks. Farm Forward's team has been on the cutting edge of these trends, combining social media and the publication of original content to spread a message of conscientious consumption to a wide audience that is harder and harder to reach through traditional marketing.
- 1. Farm Forward calculation based on U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2002 Census of Agriculture, June 2004; and Environmental Protection Agency, Producers’ Compliance Guide for CAFOs, August 2003.