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Mercy For Animals and Cage-Free Duplicity (Part I)

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Mercy For Animals (MFA) is a classic example of a welfarist organization that makes a habit of talking out of both sides of their mouths, and of saying one thing while doing another. There is much that could be said, and has been said, by way of criticism of this organization. MFA was one of the groups that joined with Peter Singer in 2005 in signing the infamous and shameful letter to John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, to express their “appreciation and support” for Whole Foods’ supposedly “pioneering” standards of animal exploitation, thus inaugurating the “happy” exploitation movement. According to Mackey, MFA actually helped to create these standards, which allow the consumer to choose the level of animal torture they wish to purchase.

MFA and the other groups involved have been asked in an Open Request to retract their endorsement for “happy” exploitation. To date none have done so, including MFA.

The title alone of this organization, involving “Mercy,” is problematic. As Gary Francione points out, “Our obligations to non-human animals are not a matter of charity or mercy; they are a matter of fundamental justice.”

But in this essay I want to focus on MFA’s position regarding cage-free eggs. MFA condemns cage-free eggs here, here and here as not “cruelty-free,” and not “what you think,” that is, not “humane;” as involving overcrowding, no access to outdoors, painful mutiliations without anesthesia, maceration of live baby male chicks, and violent slaughter of hens when their egg production slows.

How to explain, then, that MFA relentlessly promotes cage-free eggs? Yes, that’s right. They promote cage-free eggs although they acknowledge that cage-free eggs involve all sorts of cruelty. MFA’s blog page, the same one that condemns cage-free eggs, features numerous entries—nineteen in the space of a year—celebrating MFA’s “success” in convincing retail food businesses to “pledge” to adopt a cage-free egg policy, typically to be implemented by 2025-6. This intensive campaign continues, currently targeting food retailers in Brazil.

MFA’s focus on fundraising via welfare reforms means that they have always been in the business of promoting animal exploitation, since welfare reform necessarily promotes animal exploitation. This previously included some focus on welfare reform in the egg industry and support for cage-free campaigns carried out by other groups. But MFA’s corporate cage-free egg campaign kicked off with a vengeance when they accepted a grant from the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) for $1,000,000 in February 2016. Since then, MFA have accepted a further $1,000,000 from OPP for “International Cage-Free Advocacy,” as well as $1,000,000 to promote “Broiler Chicken Welfare Corporate Campaigns,” and $500,000 for “India Animal Welfare Reform.”

OPP also gave grants to fund cage-free egg campaigns to The Humane League (whose founder, Nick Cooney, is now Director of Education at MFA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Compassion in World Farming. All of these are traditional welfarist organizations, with no goal of ever abolishing animal use, but only of supposedly improving the treatment of farmed animals and promoting the continuing consumption of animal products. OPP is itself a blatantly welfarist organization of the same persuasion. MFA’s aligning itself with this lot shows that they have abandoned any pretence to being a “new welfarist” organization that sees abolition of animal exploitation as the ultimate goal that can supposedly be achieved through welfare reform, and are competing for the same donor market as the traditional welfarist groups. It appears that MFA wants to graduate from being “HSUS lite” to being the equivalent of HSUS.

At first, OPP were wary of giving a grant to MFA. They stated that they were initially concerned by the fact that “MFA did not view cage-free egg campaigns as a priority” and by the “negative blog post” (previously cited) that criticised cage-free conditions as not humane. OPP must have missed the December, 2014, MFA e-letter containing a press release from a PR firm on behalf of MFA in which MFA promoted cage-free eggs:

“With the enactment of Prop 2, California is leading the way towards a society in which farmed animals are treated with the respect they so rightly deserve,” says Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals. “As a civilized nation, it is our moral obligation to protect all animals, including animals raised and killed for food, from needless suffering. It’s time for egg producers nationwide to end the cruel and inhumane confinement of hens in wire cages so small they cannot walk, spread their wings, or engage in most natural behaviors.”

This cheerleading for cage-free eggs occurred only one and a half months after MFA condemned cage-free eggs in the blog post that worried OPP. In response, Gary Francione criticised Runkle’s statement as a morally repugnant betrayal of animals, pointing out that it’s outrageous to characterise cage-free conditions as amounting to “respect” for the poor birds trapped in them.

As it happened, OPP’s doubts about providing MFA with a grant were assuaged when Runkle reassured them that “MFA’s position on cage-free conditions for egg-laying hens is that they are significantly better than battery cage conditions (though they are not perfect), and that they are an important step in improving hen welfare.” This was a reiteration of his position on cage-free eggs given in a Talk to Google in 2013 (42 minutes, 16 seconds) in which he referred to cage-free eggs as a “business decision.” Runkle stating that MFA “plans to make cage-free egg campaigns a priority” also helped clinch the grant. Indeed, OPP were later to say that, “As a result of this grant, cage-free advocacy has become the primary focus of MFA’s corporate outreach efforts in 2016.”

Runkle clearly did a sterling job of convincing OPP that MFA is fully committed to selling out animals in return for a hefty grant, and that any former objections to exploiting chickens for cage-free eggs could be safely disregarded. To say that cage-free conditions are “not perfect” beggars belief for its hideous misrepresentation of the misery that these conditions constitute for chickens. “Significantly better” means that the birds are still tortured, perhaps slightly less, and still meet the same premature and violent death in a horrifying slaughterhouse, with the built-in prospect of being boiled alive. This is what Runkle demonstrated his alacrity to promote, making MFA a partner with the egg industry. With friends like this, the animals do not need enemies, willing to trade away their interests in exchange for money.

For their part, OPP obviously judge that MFA have made good on their commitment such that they are now funding them to the tune of $1,000,000, for openers at least, to promote “higher welfare,” that is, supposedly more humanely raised chicken meat. Runkle and his colleagues are being richly rewarded for their willingness to betray animals.

One thing is clear: corporate welfarist groups like MFA are not only in partnership with commercial animal exploiters; they are commercial animal exploiters. They are the sector of the animal exploitation industry that helps legitimise it to the public. They reassure us that we can continue exploiting with a clear conscience. Just switch to cage-free eggs and you’re doing fine by animals. Give yourself a big pat on the back for being a “compassionate” consumer.

Continue to Part II of this essay here.

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  • JimAndersen

    Right off the bat the article makes the classic mistake of confusing animal welfare with animal rights. If the author understood the animal rights philosophy, it would be understood that Mercy for Animals is an animal rights organization and NOT an animal welfarist organization. That understanding would not only explain why MFA seems to talk out of both sides of their mouth but it would also allow the author to predict which way MFA would lean. We’ve got to correctly identify just who these people and organizations are before we can successfully bring sanity to the table. So — please call an ace an ace and a spade a spade and begin to acknowledge organizations like MFA are animal rights organizations and NOT animal welfare.

    • Alan O’Reilly

      I think you’re the one who is confused.This article does a sterling job of illustrating exactly why MFA is a New Welfarist organisation rather than an animal rights organisation.

    • If we take the position that the animals have the most basic right not to be treated as commodities, we cannot mingle with regulating their treatment as commodities because by doing so we deny their most basic right. Standing up for their rights and regulating their exploitation are mutually exclusive.

      An animal charity organisation that promotes animal welfare is a welfarist organisation. Linda McKenzie successfully demonstrated by bringing up countless examples that Mercy For Animals works in a partnership with the animal exploiting businesses and helps them promote animal welfare regulations and sell more animal products in exchange for large payments.

      There are no animal rights organisations. “Animal rights” has become meaningless.

  • t.conway1

    Thank you, Linda, for this ace muck-raking exposure of MFA in your thorough documenting of the colossal and callous hypocrisy of MFA. You show readers how NOT to be confused by these self-serving “animal confusion” groups. Please send it along to Runkle and his cronies at MFA!

  • James Purcell

    Guys, what am I missing here. MFA seems to have brilliantly lied to OPP and others to get their millions of dollars, only to turn around and fund more undercover farming videos and campaigns exposing the inherent cruelty in animal use. It really seems to me like MFA just told it’s animal abusing donors what they want to hear to get their money, and then turned around to use it against them. Seems fantastic. What am I missing here?

    • Ray Danford

      Exactly right.

    • “Brilliantly lying” to animal exploiting businesses once, in order to get money and then turn against them, is a fairy tale, let alone succeeding multiple times by brilliantly lying to them. It is a fact that animal exploitation businesses pay millions of dollars in grants *only* if they are likely to get good return on their investment.

      However, MFA brilliantly lie to it’s “animal abusing donors” each time they show them those undercover farming videos and tell them that they are *not* animal abusing donors at all; they are “helping” those animals because they eat “humanely” raised chickens and cage-free eggs approved by MFA; they are helping those animals because they are ethical omnivores, vegetarians, flexitarians or reducetarians; they are still helping those animals even if they do absolutely nothing as long as they keep donating to MFA in order to finance more undercover footages and convince even greater number animal abusing donors that they are doing all the right things no matter what.

      It is a tragedy that these nonvegans who are brilliantly conned by MFA actually volunteer to donate because they do care about the animals are many of them would be willing to go vegan if exposed to a logical explanation.

      The undercover investigators employed by the animal charity organisations by their own admission engage in torturing the animals in order to obtain these footages that are not necessary for vegan advocacy at all. After all, ethical vegans reject all animal exploitation regardless how horribly the animals are treated.

    • Linda McKenzie

      James Purcell: Sorry, but what you are saying is preposterous, and grasping at straws. Common sense tells us that, after having granted $1,000,000 to MFA, OPP are not going to go on to grant a further $2,500,000 if they are not satisfied that MFA are doing with their money what they say they are doing. In any case, OPP themselves have provided information that shows that what you are suggesting is nonsense. I can’t give you the link to the relevant information because for some reason, Disqus as it’s used on Ecorazzi wont allow links to be posted. But if you search ‘Mercy For Animals — Corporate Cage-Free Campaigns’ that will take you to the right page. You need to read the whole page carefully. One of the subject headings is “Is our grant just subsidising MFA’s other work?”. It’s clear that the answer is “no.”

      But even if what you suggest was true, that would not be a good expenditure of that money. I can’t educate you in one comment on why that is. You’ll have to do that for yourself by reading abolitionist literature. The fact is that MFA would not be able to obtain those kinds of large grants from an organisation like OPP, which has no aim of ending animal exploitation, but only of making it supposedly more “humane,” if their aims were not in step with those of OPP.

      You need to find a way to come to terms with the truth about MFA—that their primary focus is promoting “happy” exploitation—rather than inventing fantastical scenarios to try to deny that fact. They’ve spent millions of dollars on promoting animal exploitation while pretending to be an animal advocacy organisation. Please stop swallowing MFA’s corporate propaganda. Neither you, nor anyone else, needs them in order to go vegan and become an effective abolitionist vegan advocate.

      I suggest you read the book, “Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach” in order to learn about animal rights theory and to become an effective grassroots animal advocate. We just don’t need MFA; they are a source of harm to animals and we need to either completely ignore them or refer to them only for the purpose of critiquing their immoral and failed approach.

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