Why Farm Forward Matters
Factory farming is a unique kind of problem: the abuse of animals on factory farms is not like the abuse that traditional animal protection groups were formed to combat decades ago. Factory farming is something new and this new problem has created a need for a new kind of advocate—and a new form of advocacy. Farm Forward applies this new advocacy not only to our own campaigns but also to the approach we take with the many groups we advise and work alongside. As best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer explains:
When I sat down to write Eating Animals there were many animal groups ready to help, but only one that wanted to think with me about a fresh approach to the issue. Farm Forward’s team is the only one I know that has the will, the expertise, and the creativity to inspire the ongoing innovation we need to end factory farming. Watch this group. They are just getting started.”
Farm Forward matters because we are the only national organization devoted entirely to fighting factory farming. We focus on low-cost, high-impact programs and the development of new strategic directions that promote humane and sustainable alternatives to industrial animal agriculture. Our executive staff and board of directors helped pioneer the development of corporate campaigns and state-based legislative advocacy—the strategies that have most dramatically improved the lives of large numbers of farmed animals in the last decade. With a board that includes prominent ranchers, nonprofit leaders, corporate CEOs, and animal welfare authorities, today Farm Forward is the leading group incubating and advocating new strategic directions that will continue to take the movement for humane and sustainable agriculture forward.
While making great strides in the incremental improvement of conditions on factory farms, animal advocates have made only modest efforts to promote the growth of truly high-welfare systems that can take market share away from factory farms. For this reason, Farm Forward focuses much of our effort on helping to establish a model, post-factory poultry farm as a key step in reinventing the industry. To accomplish this goal, this year the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) awarded Farm Forward a grant of $150,000 to launch our innovative new Pay It Forward loan program. Pay It Forward loans are made available at below-market interest rates to industry-leading, high-welfare farmers who can play key roles in developing the alternative infrastructure of sustainable, non-industrial farms.
Farm Forward administered the first Pay It Forward loan to Frank Reese Jr. and his Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. Mr. Reese used the funds to construct a new barn on his Kansas farm that will double the farm’s production, function as a hatchery to supply heritage birds to the larger farm community, and act as a working prototype for a profitable, high-welfare heritage poultry operation. Good Shepherd’s new barn is the first of its kind—a state-of-the-art larger output facility producing exclusively slow-growth heritage chickens and turkeys who live their lives on pasture.
Through this project, Farm Forward is proving that a production system focused on providing optimal animal welfare can be profitable as well. The Good Shepherd barn is only the beginning of the Pay It Forward program. As loans are made and paid back, the fund will continue to grow, allowing for more loans to more farmers who want to adopt or expand their use of high-welfare animal husbandry practices. Our approach also means that we are willing to work within the farm community in ways that older animal protection groups have often avoided. Frank Reese Jr. explains:
I had spoken to half a dozen well-funded animal protection groups who had expressed appreciation for the high welfare I provide my birds, but none would help my efforts. I know it’s not their intention but by focusing exclusively on promoting vegetarianism or improving conditions on factory farms, these big groups end up hurting truly high-welfare farmers by making us invisible. When I met Farm Forward, I thought, these guys are different—they get it.”
Part of our mission at Farm Forward is the promotion of informed and vibrant discussions about factory farming that have the capacity to inspire future generations of leaders. To this end, in 2012 Farm Forward held our first series of Virtual Classroom Visits with Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer met with more than 2,100 high school and college students in eight webinar sessions to discuss animal welfare, environmental degradation, avian influenza, ag-gag, and other issues raised in his international best-seller Eating Animals. Seventy college and high school classes in three countries and twenty U.S. states participated. The response from teachers and students has been overwhelmingly positive. We continue to develop curriculum materials to generate discussion surrounding Eating Animals and look forward to the next series of Virtual Classroom Visits as we continue to encourage students to examine these important issues from a variety of perspectives.
Farm Forward is also developing a new mobile app and website—BuyingPoultry.com—that will serve as the go-to source for consumers who want to buy more ethically-raised poultry products and learn about plant-based alternatives. From Cage Free to Free Range, BuyingPoultry.com will make sense of confusing, often deceptive product labels and highlight the best and worst producers and brands, both nationally and in your local grocery store. A mobile version of the site will allow consumers to use BuyingPoultry.com while they shop, offering location-specific guidance on the best products to buy. The mobile site will make it easy for consumers to submit feedback about products they want to see in stores and what practices they choose to support. The project has just entered a major fundraising phase that kicked off with an introductory video starring Jonathan Safan Foer.
In 2011, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman coined the term “ag-gag”1 to describe legislative efforts to restrict or ban undercover farm investigations. In 2012, ten states2 introduced “ag-gag” bills in their legislatures. In response, earlier this year, Farm Forward launched the website ag-gag.org to rally public opposition to these violations of basic free speech. More than 2,000 supporters answered our call by signing the Stop Ag-Gag petition, and we reached thousands more with a series of targeted online advertisements. Three states have passed “ag-gag” bills in recent years,3 but advocacy efforts stopped seven other states from passing similar measures.4 With backing from industry giants like Monsanto, more than a dozen states are expected to introduce similar legislation in 2013. Our work has just begun!
Part of Farm Forward's work includes collaborating with culture-makers to raise awareness about the realities of factory farming and alternative models of raising farmed animals. Eating Animals is being adapted into a documentary produced by Academy Award®-winning actress and animal welfare advocate Natalie Portman. Christopher Quinn, the award-winning director of God Grew Tired of Us, will direct the film. Farm Forward CEO Aaron Gross recently met with Portman and is working closely with Quinn on the documentary, just as he did with Foer on the book. Farm Forward believes the film will reintroduce the traditional philosophy of high-welfare animal agriculture to a wider audience and build even greater momentum in the push to end the abuses of factory farming.
Farm Forward continues to play a central role in animal welfare certification by helping Global Animal Partnership (GAP) as it expands its signature 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. The 5-Step program has quietly become the largest animal welfare certification in America, overseeing the welfare practices of more than 140 million animals.5 Farm Forward continues to provide a range of consulting services to GAP, offering hundreds of hours of pro bono and at-cost support. GAP’s standards, and the work of other leading certifying bodies such as the Animal Welfare Approved program of the Animal Welfare Institute, are crucial in the fight against factory farming and need support to reach their full potential.
Our base of supporters—all of you!—represents a new kind of advocate. You don’t look away from the uncomfortable aspects of creating a humane and sustainable food system. And just as importantly, you don’t ignore the obvious: that as long as factory farms continue to raise 99 percent of America’s farm animals,6 eating as few animals as possible (or none at all) is a legitimate and powerful way to withdraw support from factory farming. This fearless willingness to get in the trenches with high-welfare farmers and slaughterhouse operators, while also acknowledging the validity of arguments for plant-based diets, is what sets Farm Forward and its supporters apart. This willingness matters.
Farm Forward will continue to push the envelope and innovate until factory farming is behind us. Factory farming is a recent mistake. With your help, we’re going to correct it. That matters to everyone.
Please join the Farm Forward mailing list to receive updates and important information about how you can get involved. If you'd like Farm Forward to continue our work changing the way America eats and farms, please consider making a contribution today. Every donation makes a difference.
- 1. Mark Bittman, "Who Protects the Animals," The New York Times, April, 2011, available here.
- 2. New York, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Utah, Tennessee, Missouri, Nebraska, and Minnesota all introduced ag-gag bills in 2012.
- 3. Dan Flynn, "Five States Now Have 'Ag-Gag' Laws on the Books," Food Safety News, March 26, 2012, available here.
- 4. Dave Heller, "Bill to ban undercover video on farms defeated," Gannett News, May 16, 2011, available here.
- 5. From Global Animal Partnership's website (accessed Nov. 26, 2010).
- 6. Farm Forward calculation based on U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2002 Census of Agriculture, June 2004; and ibid.