Why Farm Forward Matters
Farm Forward is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending factory farming. Since our inception in 2007, we’ve set ourselves apart by acknowledging the need for a shift toward plant-based diets while simultaneously fostering the work of higher-welfare farmers like heritage poultry expert Frank Reese. Working closely with farmers has informed our strategy and allowed us to play a unique role in moving farming forward. As Frank 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.”
Factory farming is a new problem, which has created a need for 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 focuses 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 the largest number of farmed animals in the last decade. With a board that includes prominent ranchers, nonprofit leaders, corporate CEOs, and animal welfare authorities, Farm Forward is the leading group incubating and advocating new strategic directions that will continue to move humane and sustainable agriculture forward.
Establishing a Post-Factory Farm Poultry Industry
While making great strides in the incremental improvement of conditions on factory farms and in the promotion of plant-based proteins, animal advocates have made only modest efforts to promote the growth of truly high-welfare agricultural systems that can take market share away from factory farms. For this reason, Farm Forward focuses much of our effort helping to establish a model, post-factory poultry farm as a key step in reinventing the industry. To accomplish this goal, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) awarded Farm Forward a grant of $150,000 to launch our innovative Pay It Forward loan program. Pay It Forward loans are made available at below-market interest rates to industry-leading, highest-welfare farmers who can play key roles in developing the alternative infrastructure of sustainable, non-industrial farms.
Because more chickens and turkeys suffer within the contemporary poultry industry than any other farmed animal, Farm Forward has always made the welfare of chickens and turkeys a priority. Over the past four years, we’ve worked with poultry farmers and animal welfare experts to create BuyingPoultry.com—a free buying guide that takes the guesswork out of finding alternatives to factory farming. 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 to find them.
Bringing Attention to Genetic Welfare
Another key part of our work on behalf of farmed birds is our efforts to put a spotlight on poultry welfare by influencing the largest and most powerful animal protection groups to flex their political muscle not only for companion animals but for the billions of chickens raised for meat. Nearly all chickens and turkeys raised in the U.S. suffer from genetic problems that interfere with everyday activities like flying, perching, and even walking because industry has used powerful new techniques of genetic manipulation to breed mutant birds that grow unnaturally fast. Because this genetically-induced suffering is so extreme and has been so overlooked, Farm Forward is especially focused on getting groups to concentrate on the welfare problems associated with genetics.
In 2013, we helped guide and provide support to the oldest animal protection group in the Western hemisphere, the 2.5 million member strong ASPCA, to launch their new “Truth About Chicken” campaign, which informs the public about the need to address the genetic health of chickens raised for meat.
By working strategically and cooperatively with the largest groups, Farm Forward leverages each donation we receive in a unique way; one dollar donated to Farm Forward may shape how thousands of dollars are spent in the larger movement against factory farming.
Thought Leadership and Civic Engagement
Another part of our mission at Farm Forward is the promotion of informed and vibrant discussions about factory farming that have the capacity to inspire generations of future leaders. To this end, in 2013 Farm Forward board member and author Jonathan Safran Foer hosted eight Virtual Classroom Visits to discuss problems associated with factory farming with more than 3,300 high school and college students at nearly 100 institutions around the world. Participating schools included Rutgers, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, and Oberlin College. That’s a 50 percent increase in participation over our first Virtual Visit in 2012, and this growth should continue in 2014. The response from teachers and students has been tremendous and we continue to work with the network of teachers and professors that have joined these visits to develop additional curriculum materials utilizing Foer’s international best-seller Eating Animals.
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, Farm Forward launched the website ag-gag.org to rally public opposition to these violations of basic free speech. More than 13,000 supporters answered our call by signing the Stop Ag-Gag petition, and we reached hundreds of thousands more with a series of targeted online advertisements. Six states have adopted ag-gag laws since 1990, but in 2013, thanks to public pressure, every ag-gag law introduced—in a total of eleven states—was defeated. Although we’ve held ag-gag at bay in 2013, we need to stay on high alert for similar legislation to be introduced in 2014. With backing from industry giants like Monsanto, our work has just begun!
Legislation is crucial to ending factory farming, but legislation only becomes possible as people begin to think differently about animals and differently about food and farming. For this reason, Farm Forward gives special attention to working with culture makers like writers and movie directors who can strike at the deeper roots that have led to factory farming, affecting change in slower but more powerful and enduring ways. In 2013, 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 2014, Eating Animals the film is 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, is directing the film. Farm Forward CEO Aaron Gross has met with Portman and Williams and is working closely with Quinn on the documentary, just as he did with Foer on the book.
Changing culture also means changing the way we use technology. For decades, America’s technological expertise in food production has been squandered developing factory farming or mitigating its problems. Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs is using big tech to imagine a more humane and sustainable future for food. Farm Forward is especially proud to promote the work of companies using technology to create “cleaner food” with plants that replicate animal products. Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat are two companies Farm Forward spotlighted in 2013. Backed by prominent individuals like Bill Gates, PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, and Twitter founder Biz Stone, these companies are taking plant-based proteins and turning them into humane and sustainable versions of products that typically contain animal proteins. Hampton Creek is separating the chicken from the egg, and Beyond Meat is taking the chicken out of, well, chicken. These companies made huge strides in 2013, and as more resources are put into research and development for finding creative ways to reduce our meat consumption, who knows how much further we can go in finding alternatives to factory farming? We’re certain that these innovations to food production will be integral to changing the way our nation eats and farms.
Improving Animal Welfare Certification
Another pillar of future progress to transform the way America eats and farms is better animal welfare certification. 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.2 Through our seat on the multi-stakeholder GAP board, Farm Forward continues to work with GAP leadership to expand its programs and to press for greater rigor and transparency in its animal welfare standards. GAP’s standards, and the work of other leading certifying bodies such as the “gold standard” Animal Welfare Approved program of the Animal Welfare Institute, are crucial in the fight against factory farming and need more 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,3 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.
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