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Farm Forward and our allies were concerned to learn that People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) published a video today containing footage allegedly taken at Frank Reese’s Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a farm we have often praised for their use of genetically healthy birds in contrast to the dominant practice in the poultry industry of using sickly “hybrid” birds. We still would praise Good Shepherd for being one of the only commercial poultry farms in the country to avoid the tremendous genetically-driven animal suffering that is the norm in the poultry industry. In the video PETA describes the conditions for turkeys at Good Shepherd as no different than what happens on factory farms. While we take these allegations seriously and there are real problems that the video depicts, we strongly disagree.
Both the birds themselves, and the conditions they live in at Good Shepherd, are dramatically different than the norm at industrial farms. Dozens of undercover investigations, including many by PETA, document truly atrocious conditions and abuse on industrial operations, including using genetically unhealthy animals whose very bodies condemn them to suffer, intense overcrowding with no outdoor access, and animals being kicked, stomped, and thrown aggressively. None of this cruelty is seen in PETA’s video of Good Shepherd. Unlike PETA, we think these are differences that matter. To pretend that reducing suffering isn’t important because problems remain is to forget what it is like to suffer.
That said, some of the scenes depicted in the video should give us pause. Sick birds should be euthanized. Catching and loading animals should be done in ways that eliminate crowding, stampeding or panic. Transporting animals long distances should be avoided and ultimately eliminated. It is true that smaller farms like Good Shepherd often have little choice but to transport animals long distances to slaughter but this should not make us pretend that long hauls are not miserable for the animals forced to endure them.
Our supporters who eat animals should know that even when you set high welfare standards and have high integrity farmers, like we continue to believe is the case at Good Shepherd, there remain profound structural limitations to treating farmed animals as most of us believe they should be treated. If your values are in tension with what you see on the video, or the reality that even on high-welfare farms some unnecessary animal suffering persists, Farm Forward encourages you to simply remove animals from your diet. Plant-based diets are one powerful way to fight the cruelty of the factory farm, but they are not the only way. For those who continue to eat animals, you can still resist factory farming by sourcing your animal products from higher welfare farms that at least avoid the worst abuses endemic to industrial farms. We encourage anyone who eats animal products to exclusively buy products from certified higher welfare farms. Eating less meat and better meat is also a powerful way to fight the cruelty of the factory farm.
Finally, we feel compelled to take this occasion to relate to our supporters that, regrettably and for reasons totally unrelated to PETA’s video, Frank Reese and Farm Forward have not worked together for several months (despite many years of previous collaboration). In August of 2018, Frank resigned from Farm Forward’s board after ten years of service and since that time we have not worked together. This has not changed our support for Frank’s longstanding advocacy on behalf of genetically healthy heritage birds. We are proud of the work we’ve done with Good Shepherd in the past and wish Frank the best as he continues to work to preserve healthy heritage birds. Farm Forward will continue to encourage consumers and companies to make food choices that reduce animal suffering, including choosing plant-based food, reducing the consumption of animal products, and choosing highest available welfare heritage poultry as a means of resisting industrial agriculture.