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 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 new kind of 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 a Resource to Educate Consumers on Poultry Welfare and Guide them to High-Welfare Products
Farm Forward is working with leading poultry farmers and animal welfare experts to create BuyingPoultry.com—a free online and smart phone-based buying guide that takes the guesswork out of finding alternatives to factory farming. BuyingPoultry.com will rank every poultry brand and product in the U.S., so you know how they treat their animals. With BuyingPoultry.com, consumers will be able to see who’s best and who’s worst nationally and in your local grocery store, find information about what these companies can do to improve conditions for animals, and make it easy for everyone to add their voices to the cause. The site will also provide information about the best plant-based alternatives and where you can find them.
We're excited to announce that development is underway thanks in part to our successful Kickstarter! We raised a grand total of $41,692 from 788 backers and received national media coverage in outlets including Wired and Fast Company. Sign up for the BuyingPoutlry.com newsletter to receive updates on our progress.
Enhancing the Effectiveness of Leading Organizations
Farm Forward’s consulting services allow us to amplify our impact within the movement by shaping the strategic goals of and enhancing the effectiveness of larger organizations that share our mission. Our team has been recognized as having a diverse set of skills in farmed animal welfare advocacy that even the largest and best-funded groups cannot easily duplicate internally.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is the oldest animal welfare organization in the Western hemisphere, boasts more than 2.5 million supporters, and, since 2011, has looked to Farm Forward for support in developing and executing its farmed animal welfare strategy. From policy briefs that helped the ASPCA develop new positions on factory farming, to a first-of-its kind campaign that targets the overlooked issue of the genetic welfare of farmed birds, to economic analyses of the costs associated with moving to higher-welfare methods of production, we have been proud to help the ASPCA bring its weight to bear against factory farming. In 2015, we look forward to working with the ASPCA to integrate buyingpoultry.com into their poultry welfare advocacy.
In 2013, UK-based Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) hired our team to draft content for the food-animal section of their new US-focused website. We were tasked with outlining the welfare issues for all major food-animal species and providing information about how consumers can help promote higher-welfare practices through their purchasing choices. In all, we drafted content for 34 webpages with citations for CIWF. We consider CIWF’s increasing US presence a major asset to the movement and are pleased that we have been able to support its development.
Since 2011, we have provided a wide range of services to Global Animal Partnership (GAP), whose 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program includes more farmed animals than any other higher-welfare standards program in the US. Over the years, we’ve assisted GAP with web, newsletter, and email content development and editing; donor relationship management; IT technical support; computer hardware and software procurement; staffing needs; and social media.
Beginning in 2014, we also began assisting the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) with various religious outreach programs. These programs represent an enormous opportunity for bringing the anti-factory-farm message to a relatively unreached audience, and we look forward to helping the HSUS magnify its impact in 2015.
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. In 2012, Good Shepherd became the first recipient of our Pay it Forward program, which provided a low-interest loan for Good Shepherd to build a new barn and dramatically expand its turkey operation. 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, and the most rigorous certification, the Animal Welfare Approved program of AWI. With ongoing pro bono assistance from Farm Forward Consulting, Good Shepherd continues to grow to meet more of the pent-up demand for poultry produced using humane and sustainable methods.
Crucially, Farm Forward’s analysis of the growth of Good Shepherd has shown that new orders to Good Shepherd are virtually always replacing purchases of factory-farmed poultry. When a family orders a turkey from Good Shepherd for Thanksgiving, it means they don’t buy a factory-farmed bird. When Chipotle ordered thousands of pounds of Good Shepherd chicken, they also ordered that much less meat from factory farms. Our analysis also suggests that as individuals and companies move to higher welfare birds, the increased cost militates towards an overall reduction in meat consumption.
In 2015, we’ll be working with Frank Reese and Good Shepherd to build a Heritage Poultry Institute. The Institute will provide an entirely new level of interactive resources for the farmers, educators, and students who will work to expand Heritage poultry’s capacity to supplant factory-farmed products.
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
Advocating for Improved 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. The current “gold standard” of animal welfare certification is the Animal Welfare Approved program (AWA) of the Animal Welfare Institute, which has a single, rigorous standard that producers must meet. We are huge fans of the AWA program, but its reach has been limited by the lack of a tiered program that not only identifies the very highest welfare producers, but also helps consumers appreciate the range of welfare options available. Global Animal Partnership (GAP) has set out to meet the need for a tiered welfare certification system, allowing consumers to distinguish the range of different levels of welfare and make their own choices.
Farm Forward has supported GAP’s “5-Step” tiered approach since its inception. At the same time, we are also advocating for even higher poultry welfare standards for both the AWA and GAP’s 5-Step program, and utilizing our seat on the GAP board to further expand its transparency and reach. In late 2014, we celebrated one of our biggest victories in this arena when the GAP board voted to change its turkey standards such that non-Heritage turkeys would be excluded from the highest levels of its 5-Step program. We are currently pushing to bring the same changes to GAP’s chicken standards.
Collaborating to Shape Public Discourse on the Humane Treatment of Farmed Animals
Since our inception, Farm Forward has found the fullest expression of our vision in Farm Forward Board Member Jonathan Safran Foer’s international bestseller, Eating Animals. We supported Jonathan when he wrote the book and are featured prominently within it. 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 recently required every incoming freshman 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 annual “Virtual Visits” to classrooms by Foer himself using inexpensive video conferencing technology. In conjunction with the 2014 Virtual Visits with Foer, celebrated German journalist and animal advocate Hilal Sezgin led Farm Forward’s first series of Virtual Visits in Germany. Sezgin’s book No Animal Welfare without Liberation has become a landmark text in Germany for its powerful arguments against industrial agriculture and animal exploitation, and nearly 70 groups throughout Germany signed up to discuss these issues with her. One of the major highlights of the day was a joint session which took place with both Sezgin and Foer as co-hosts. Participants were thrilled to have the opportunity to interact with both writers and to see them exchange ideas. Over the past three years, an estimated 10,000 students have taken part in this exciting program—more than 85 percent of them having the opportunity to interact with Jonathan live in their classrooms. Participating schools included Rutgers, University of Texas at Austin, and Oberlin College.
Also in 2014, we’ve worked hard to help turn Eating Animals into a documentary that could reach many times more people than the book. Scheduled for completion in 2015, Eating Animals the film is now being produced by Academy Award®-winning actress and Farm Forward supporter Natalie Portman with funding from Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Christopher Quinn, the award-winning director of God Grew Tired of Us, will direct the film. Farm Forward Founder and CEO Aaron Gross, Ph.D., has met with Portman and Williams and is working closely with Quinn on the documentary, just as he did with Foer on the book.
Gross has also expanded the reach of Farm Forward’s approach through academic publications and public lectures. His first book, Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies (Columbia University Press, 2012), explores the new interdisciplinary field known as "animal studies" to challenge the way we think about animals. Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee calls the edited volume "a richly intelligent mapping of the field" and "accessible—even engrossing—to the ordinary educated reader." Harvard Professor Kimberley Patton calls it "impressive and startling. . . an oracle" and the University of Chicago's Wendy Doniger predicts that it will not only "inspire more scholarly work on animals, but it will also supply fuel for activists who hope to treat animals more humanely . . . in the world outside the academy." Gross is also a sought-after speaker at businesses, college campuses, academic conferences, and public speaking events internationally, bringing Farm Forward’s message into the ivory tower and the board room. Recent talks have included presentations at Google’s headquarters, the University of Cambridge, the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, and at the Chicago Humanities Festival.
Farm Forward also 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.
Promoting Conscientious Consumption Through Social Media
It’s hard to overstate the influence that social networks like Facebook and Twitter wield today. 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. Our online presence offers a fresh, relevant perspective on the difficulties associated with finding higher-welfare food and the systemic problems that create those difficulties.
Because we know that social media is becoming increasing visual, we’re crafting new videos that expertly and succinctly explain the problem of factory farming and how we can solve it.
As our platform has grown, so has our ability to generate real and exciting changes in the industry. In 2014, we launched BuyingMayo.com to raise awareness about the killing of male chicks who are deemed worthless for egg production. Almost half a million people watched our videos, signed our petition, and made phone calls in support of our campaign. As a result, Unilever, the parent company for Best Foods and Hellmann’s mayo, has promised to seek alternatives to killing male chicks for its products—a first for a global brand.
We are also developing several avenues for possible consulting relationships that would help engage America’s faith communities. The largest animal protection group in the US, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is also the only group with a developed program of outreach specifically geared towards religious communities, especially Christian churches. Farm Forward Founder and CEO Aaron Gross has served on the Faith Advisory Council of the HSUS since its inception, and in 2014 began working with the HSUS to expand their successful outreach programs to more effectively engage the American Jewish community. We have already helped forge a first-of-its kind partnership with the HSUS and the largest Jewish environmental group in the country, Hazon, to bring the meat reduction and anti-factory-farming message to people in the heart of their faith communities. Further bolstering Farm Forward’s credentials in this area, Gross released his new book, The Question of the Animal and Religion (Columbia University Press, 2014), which extends the work of Animals and the Human Imagination to help us think more carefully about how religion and the plight of animals intersect.
In 2015, we look forward to expanding the HSUS-Hazon partnership while also creating other exciting opportunities for the HSUS to connect with people of faith.