Cheryl Leahy, Executive Director of Animal Outlook, has been shedding light on the exploitation of animals in our food system since 2006. In this deep dive interview, Sentient Media’s Executive Director Ana Bradley explores the role of investigations and the law in building a better future for all and uncovers hidden suffering in the pet food industry as the pair discuss the role of animals in society, from “crush videos” to food.
Ana Bradley: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Sentient Media podcast where we’re meeting the people who are changing the way we think about and interact with our world and animals. Today, we are meeting Cheryl Leahy, Executive Director of Animal Outlook. So hi, Cheryl, thank you so much for joining us.
Cheryl Leahy: Thanks so much for having me.
Ana: So a little bit of background on Cheryl, she joined animal outlook in 2006, as general counsel and the lead of the legal advocacy program, and became executive director last year in 2020. Obviously, since 2006, and presumably before that, there have been a lot of wins. But there are a couple of standout moments that I’d like to highlight before we get into it. So there was one class-action lawsuit against the dairy industry for price-fixing, which resulted in a $52 million settlement. And then there was an investigation of Tyson Foods that resulted in an evidence-driven campaign and the first-ever charges and convictions for broiler breeding cruelty, which is just incredible. On top of that, she’s also developed and taught one of the U.S.’s first courses on animals in agriculture and the law at UCLA. So Cheryl, thank you so much for joining us. We are massive fans of you and your work here at Sentient Media. And today you’re going to talk to us firstly about a breaking investigation. Please fill us in on what you’ve been working on.
Cheryl: Yeah, so hot off the presses that we’ve just released our latest investigation, which is a broiler industry hatchery investigation. So for those who aren’t familiar with the way the chicken industries are structured, the broiler industry is a type of chicken that people eat. So these are animals that are hatched at a hatchery then they go for grow out for about six weeks, and then they are sent to slaughter. So this investigation is of the hatchery stage. And it’s of a company called Case Farms, which is one of the top 15 U.S. broiler production companies. And the investigation took place in North Carolina, which is a major ag state. And this is the really, I think a really great kind of window into what does it look like day-to-day for the broiler industry at this hatchery level, I think it’s both kind of, unfortunately, business as usual. And particularly cruel, we’re making an argument that, you know, we believe this rises to the level of criminal animal cruelty. But it’s so kind of entrenched in the day to day operations of this facility that, you know, it’s a really interesting sort of window into these animals really are just treated as objects, they’re just sort of seen as widgets to part of us and part of the system, they process about 200,000 animals every day. So you know, over time, of course, they’re kind of responsible for millions of animals over short periods of time. And we see things like animals being mangled on machinery killed, left suffering until somebody happens to you know, pick them up and put them into this euthanizing machine, although I don’t love the word euthanasia in this context, but basically, a machine called a macerator, which I kind of think of as almost like a blender, like it’s like a grinding up machine. And in this case, for what are considered cull birds, birds that are either deformed or they’re injured, or they’re too sick, you know, they’re essentially not commercially viable animals. They are, in this case, either put into a gassing machine first where they are gassed with what we believe to be carbon dioxide, or they’re just put fully conscious into just directly into this macerator. So we’ve got, you know, basically, fully conscious birds being dumped alive for is going to gassing machines, or if they’re injured, maimed, you know, kind of mutilated, just being kind of left out to suffer until someone happens to notice and pick them up. We’ve also got birds being dragged across trays in the sorting room, there’s a processing line where they get sorted out of the trays, and then they go into these, these sort of conveyor belt systems and that ends up you know, damaging injury and killing a number of animals. So this is pretty much I think, you know, a pretty good cruel yet standard example of how the broiler industry works. And I think what we’re really asking for is this company to be held accountable for the, you know, the millions of animals that it’s responsible for them. So I hope that people will check this out on animaloutlook.org you can watch the video there.
Ana: And you’re saying that this is illegal, like, this is illegal behavior, this isn’t accepted even on their own, you know, regardless of sentience or you know, like a, you know, a vegan’s, an ethical vegan’s feeling about the animals, this is something that’s actually illegal on their own terms.
Cheryl: Yeah, I think be being, you know, rising to the level of violating the duty of care, right, this is there’s a certain amount of neglect and a certain amount of active cruelty, we do have throwing and rough handling, and that kind of goes into the more traditional buckets of, of animal cruelty. But under North Carolina law, you know, you have a duty of care to these animals, just any state’s law, you have a duty of care. And if you know, the focus is on just getting as many through the system as fast as possible. You know, that’s not enough. That’s not, you know, rise to the level of basic care, and it crosses the line into criminal animal cruelty, his argument they’re making.
Ana: So you’ve been at Animal Outlook for about 15 years. So I was wondering if you could introduce us a little bit to your mission there, and what your role is exactly, or has been?
Cheryl: Yeah, so we are a farm animal advocacy organization, our mission is to challenge the status quo of animal agribusiness. And then we break it down into the different ways that we’re doing that. So we have four programs, our undercover investigations, which I just talked about, this is something we’ve done dozens of investigations over the years of everything from, you know, say, the hatchery level all the way to the slaughterhouse large and small kind of all over the place in terms of the animals, really getting a picture getting sort of a library of material around what is happening on factory farms and slaughterhouses what animal agriculture looks like. And that I think heavily impacts the ability for us to do the other types of work that we do, and for the movement to do other types of work. I really see investigations as kind of the engine that’s driving a lot of the animal advocacy that we’re able to do. And I really stand by that. I think that’s why I’m still here from day one, when I walked into the door, you know, it really became clear to me how powerful this sort of raw material is and how much potential it has to leverage change. The other three programs so the second one is legal advocacy. So that is mostly for us impact litigation, we do a fair amount of lawsuits around standard systemic cruelty addressing the worst cruelty to largest numbers of animals. Sometimes this is a result of an investigation. Sometimes it’s directly related to the animal cruelty. Sometimes it’s seeking enforcement of animal cruelty laws, which is what we’re doing, for example, in the case farms investigation. Sometimes it is using laws that were never originally intended to help animals but where the harm to the human can be almost a stand-in for the harm to the animals. And we can kind of apply concepts that you know, were not originally intended for animal cruelty or other similar harms. But we can apply them to the some of the systemic harms of animal agribusiness. The third area of our programming is what I would call sort of a supply-side work. So this is corporate engagement, you know, we have a long history of working with well, very early on it was restaurants and then move into large food companies. So our most recent or most recent victory was around Starbucks, getting Starbucks to offer a nationwide vegan option, a vegan meal, of course, they have all their plant milks and everything. And there’s been a lot of positive evolution in that direction. So the idea there is to get these companies to replace their animal product items with vegan items. And sometimes we also work to get them to enter some of the worst standard practices from an animal welfare point of view. We’re also on the supply side, doing work on the farming side of things. So trying to transition farms from animal farms to plant farms. And that’s something that we’re really growing. We just posted a position announcement to hire a director of farm transformations and that, you know, that idea of, Okay, well, let’s go to where the people are actually sort of controlling the largest numbers of animals or have the potential to make such an impact if they were to change their, their practices. I think that can be very high-impact work. And then the fourth item is what we call outreach. You know, it’s basically vegan education sort of moving veganism into the mainstream and not just vegan eating but vegan values, people having kind of raising cultural literacy around why should people think about these issues? What do people need to know about these issues? And then also how, how practically Can we help people along to move these concepts and these norms and behaviors into the mainstream.
Ana: Nice, incredible work. And you’ve just exactly explained why we’re such fans of everything that you do these intersections, and the thoughtfulness of that strategy is really powerful. I’m curious about your personal experience, like your personal journey into advocacy, like, how did that start?
Cheryl: I’ve always been an animal person, I’m one of them, I was one of those kids, you know, just really loved animals and had a natural connection to them. And I honestly think many of us are, I think a lot of people, you know, sort of going along with this theme of animals in society, there’s sort of a natural element of human psychology that’s very connected to animals, I really didn’t have an opportunity to kind of apply that to my work or thinking about what I wanted to do, until college where I did environmental studies. And it was clear to me that you could have the intersection between environmental studies and animal protection, you know, clearly around factory farming or industrial animal ag work, it really struck me that you have an independent compelling argument against factory farming, from, you know, sort of almost parallel tracks where the Environmental Protection argument against factory farming is extremely strong, you don’t have to touch any sort of animal rights, animal protection, any of that in order to kind of get yourself there. And then likewise, the argument for animal protection on the animal protection side, or the animal rights side, against basically animal ag wholesale, is incredibly strong as well. And I thought that that was there was something so compelling about that, I thought there was so much potential for that. And then, of course, later, I learned about the additional arguments, which I think you could make the same point about human health, right, being able to against animal ag, from the point of view of human health, and then really rounded out the human rights and sort of worker treatment. And, you know, the implications for things like water scarcity, and which communities in which you know, populations are going to be subject to some of the worst pollution and the worst, you know, other kinds of issues. So, really, I don’t think and I’ve said this in my classes before, and I asked people to sort of challenge what I’m saying, but nobody’s taking me up on the operative challenges. But what I say is, I really think factory farming is the biggest social justice issue facing humankind, right. It’s just something that touches everything. And there’s really no way for us to kind of move forward with all of our values as a society. without addressing this and reversing course on this, we really took a wrong turn somewhere, you know, and built this system that we just can’t sustain and we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t want to sustain it. So I went to law school, kind of with that kind of thinking in mind, thinking that law is uniquely capable of kind of crystallizing moral progress in you know, in our society. And I’m not sure, I think I still believe that. I think that there’s still potential for the law to really move things forward. But I do think, you know, it’s sort of a double-edged sword for me to look at the way that people really do care about animals and you look at things like survey data, people really do care about animals. And then the law seems to be kind of hanging back and a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways, a lot is making progress and really, you know, crystallizing and capturing and sort of cementing that progress for animals. So I think it’s a push and pull, I think it plays a really important role.
Ana: I’m always so impressed by those individuals who take it upon themselves to be like, right, we are optimistic, we believe that the law can change and that that’s the that’s the way to fight the that’s the way that’s changing the way that things are operating right now. Whether it’s for human rights or animal rights, or as you say, these things, the environment, humans, non-human animals, it’s all completely connected. I’m curious, like, how you like, could you give us the broad strokes on animal law when it comes particularly to farmed animals? Like do they have rights? You know, what are they entitled to? You mentioned at the beginning, you know, of the call about this investigation and how animals do have a right to, you know, a duty of care and obviously, you know, it changes state on state in the U.S. but I’m curious is there any kind of basic thing that all animal farmed animals have rights to?
Cheryl: Yeah, it’s a really interesting way that you’re, you’re presenting that question that the question of rights is, is something that I think, you know, I mean, a lot of ink has been spilled on this in the legal side of things. But I think most people would think of rights in the most basic sense as sort of an acknowledgment of, you know, the existence of interest, right, somebody is there and the law is seeing that somebody right and so interesting, because there’s so many non-human examples of things that and that definition of rights have rights in our in our U.S. system, at least. On the other hand, animals are, farm animals, in particular, in practice tend to be fairly ignored by our laws. So I’ll lay this out for you a little bit. So, you know, speaking about U.S. law only, at the federal level, there, there is nothing that applies to the way the animals treated from the time they are born or hatched until the time they’re sent off to slaughter. So no federal law has applicability there, there are federal laws that are relevant in some way to farm animals. And by that, I’m specifically talking about animals use for these commercial purposes, right, the meat, milk, and egg industries. The two laws are the Twenty Eight Hour Law is number one, which is a transport law. So that says if you are transporting livestock that does not apply to birds. And we’re still talking numerically about a relatively small number of animals. For more than 28 continuous hours in a vehicle by common carrier, you have to give them food, water, and rest for five hours. Now, the history of this law is really interesting. It was last amended, I believe in something like 1906. It was heavily enforced in the early half, especially 1920s 1930s. of the 20th century. And if you look at some of the legislative history of the law, you see a lot of real, you know, putting a real flag in the ground for animals, including farmed animals. And that sort of tracks on what the history of the animal protection movement, if you go back that far, that there really wasn’t this special treatment for dogs and cats, who everybody else was sort of left beside this was part of these animals were in the middle of cities, you know, we’ve got we’ve had, you know, the Chicago stockyards and other places like that, where you had animals coming right into downtown and people, you know, people actually saw what the reality was, I think that has changed dramatically. And with a Twenty Eight Hour Law, in particular, I think the story kind of tracks some of this, the social evolution, and the dynamics that have changed around this. But after World War II, we had the sort of scientific advancement that allowed for factory farming to be the norm. And just to be clear, for anyone who isn’t aware of this, like when I say factory farming, and when I say animal agriculture, that’s the same thing, right? I mean, this is how it’s done. So that happened after World War II because there was the ability for, you know, chemistry advancements to allow 10s of 1000s of animals to be one place, but not have them all die, right. And then of course, at the same time, you have demographic shifts into more suburbs and cities and fewer farmers. So at that time, you have the USDA interpreting the Twenty Eight Hour Law, basically out of existence by saying that it did not believe that a vehicle included a truck well, trucks had not been invented in 1906 when the law was last amended, and most livestock were transported that time on trains. And now it’s almost you know, it’s a tiny percentage is transported on trains. So for a number of decades, there really was no enforcement of the Twenty Eight Hour Law. And then in the early 2000s, we along with a couple of other animal protection organizations, Humane Society of the United States and couple others petitioned, we did an investigation of transport to show just how bad it is, it really is quite, you know, shockingly bad, much worse than twenty-eight hours as you can imagine. And then we argued that, you know, the USDA really can’t do that. Like it’s what’s called arbitrary capricious and contrary to law, you’re allowed to go against agency. They’re exceeding their authority. And they said, Yeah, okay, a truck is a vehicle. About a year later, they came back said, Yeah, it’s a truck as a vehicle. So, so they gave that that enforcement, you know, we’re going to enforce it a little differently. We’re gonna give it over to the DOJ. And then you know, here and there, it does seem like they are enforcing it a little bit, but it really is an area that I think almost, this is a law that almost just sort of lives stuck in history, like it really has not come back, and it should never have gone away in the first place. But, you know, it’s an interesting area, there’s potential there. But I think more than anything is sort of historical, you know, parable a little bit about, you know, our last way, when almost the norm. The other federal law that applies to farm animals is the humane methods of slaughter act. So that is, again, only applies to livestock, that one is much more robust. And it does get enforced and doesn’t get enforced nearly as much as I think people would like to think or believe. And, in fact, when it does get enforced for, you know, particularly severe issues, we may never learn about it. There’s a really interesting history about the access to information and all of this, but there are there are enforcement mechanisms in place to food safety inspectors, Inspection Services supposed to be there watching while they are slaughtering for human consumption, and they are able to enforce it. Now, there’s no way for private parties like you or I to go and get the enforcement, we can ask. And sometimes we get somewhere with that, and sometimes we don’t, but the fact that it does exist, and there are regulations, I think, is strong. Now, what that leaves us with, though, for most animals, and for most of the lifecycle is the state-level animal cruelty laws. So every state has an animal cruelty law, in most states, they’re exclusively criminal laws, which means that in most states, you are not allowed, again, as a private party to enforce those laws, you have to basically persuade the law enforcement, the relevant and law enforcement, which you know, could be humane officer could be sheriff’s department, and ultimately, it’s going to be like your, your district attorney, the prosecutor has to make a decision to go ahead and prosecute the case. So that becomes a real area of difficulty, a lot of the time, it really doesn’t matter. You know, I would say that you can go back and look at all the investigations that we’ve done that other groups have done, and try to just blindly, you know, just list out how terrible is the footage, right? How strong is the evidence of cruelty? I would bet money that if you then compare that to which one’s got cruelty enforcement, there would be no correlation there. You know, it’s not, that’s not the factor that’s really driving it. I mean, we never bring a case to you know, ask for prosecution when we don’t think it’s really, really strong argument that they should be prosecuted. But they really do have discretion. It’s very broad discretion. The other things about the animal protein, I mean, on one hand, animal cruelty law, you know, it is really special and unique. A, because it’s the only things that are that apply, right, specifically to how animals are treated. But B because it really does, as we were talking about acknowledge the existence of interest for these animals, and they says the law will see these animals right there. And there’s no other laws that are like, Well, you know, you hurt an animal or you killed an animal, and therefore, that is a problem, right? This is an acknowledgement of rights in a basic sense, right? I mean, obviously, there’s debate over again, what you would you would count as rights, but there is something qualitatively different about this kind of law than any other kind of law out there. So I think it’s a mistake to think that we shouldn’t use them or that there isn’t potential for them to be used. But one big barrier is, aside from the lack of private right of action, is the fact that in most states, there are exemptions for common or normal, or normally accepted agricultural practices, that kind of thing. So basically, what they’re saying is, you could do something that would could be criminal, and it could be a felony to if you did it to a dog or a cat. But if you do it to a farmed animal, what all the potential defendant has to do is say, Oh, well, this is common in my industry. It doesn’t have to say it’s not cool. They don’t have to say there’s something I could be doing differently. Right. They just have to say, this is something that the industry accepts. So that’s sort of a wholesale delegation to the industry in a lot of ways. Now, I would argue that there’s a lot of potential there if we could get into court and we can really make arguments about how, you know, you have to think about the reason for an exemption like that, right? It’s you can’t just create a complete black box where the court never gets to inquire into whether something’s cool. You have to think that, you know, use the principles of criminal law using the principles of sort of general justice, right. You can’t just categorically give away the ability for a court to examine whether something rises to the level of criminal behavior. So I think if we were able to spend more time, you know, in court on these issues, and oftentimes we get stopped before we ever even get to court, I think we would really be able to provide more of a deterrent to the industry for some of the worst standard practices that are out there. For example, 94 percent of the dairy industry is disbudding or dehorning calves, that is one of the most horrible things you can possibly witness, right. They’re just these animals are rising and kicking, and they’re tying their faces in the side of things. There’s one investigation, I think, an MFA investigation where the workers got his fingers in the eyes of the calf because that’s stopping them from moving his head. Well, that’s done by everybody, you know that. But there’s no reason for them to be doing it. They could just be using genetically changed cattle like cattle that doesn’t grow horns. Same goes with the castration in the pork industry like you, you can watch these animals, like literally, we’ve had an investigation where these, they’re manually castrated, they’re like being ripped out of their bodies. And then the worker will put duct tape around the wound. And then there’s like, you know, body parts coming out, like intestines, and they’re pushing them in with their 1000s of courses, the piglets are like screaming, there, you’re watching this thinking, What is going on? And you know, you don’t have to scratch very far below the surface to find out that there’s no reason the industry is doing this. They’re all doing it. And there’s a separate way to do it. That’s just using an injection, which has been FDA approved since 2013. No one does it. I think those are the kinds of things that can really the major vehicles for change if we can just kind of apply the criminal law to advance the criminal law forward in those areas. And there’s, there’s one example that really gives me optimism here, which is actually that Tyson case, you mentioned at the outset of our conversation, one of the charges within that case was against a common practice. And it resulted in a conviction. And that’s the first time that that has ever, to our knowledge, that that has ever happened where a criminal, you know, there’s criminal enforcement against a standard practice, and it’s successful criminal enforcement. So I think that’s a real sort of watershed moment, we’re kind of we’ve made progress around those issues. Now, that was an unusual standard practice. It was a broiler breeder operation, where they were using plastic rods to push through the nostrils of the male birds, male parent birds. So I talked about breeders at the hatchery level, but those eggs are coming from parent flocks, who in the industry are trying to make, they’re trying to keep them alive longer, because more profitable to come alive longer. But of course, the, you know, their offspring could be killed at six weeks old. So the fact that they’re genetically manipulated to grow, you know, very obese very fast in a six week period, you know, and some of them, yes, they’re getting heart attacks, they’re getting leg deformities, they’re, you know, getting their whole bodies burned by ammonia, because they’re sitting in urine, that doesn’t cause such a profit problem for the grow-out facility. But it causes a profit problem if that’s happening in the breeder level. So they’re keeping these birds just perpetually hungry, starving. So they put these By the way, they do it as they put these rods in their nose so that they can’t access the feed for the female birds, which is higher quality feed because they need it to produce eggs. So they’re keeping these birds underweight and not satisfied. So it’s just sort of cruelty layered upon cruelty. And in that case, we were able to go to Tyson and say, Look at our investigation. This is absolutely, you know, absolutely horrible. And Tyson actually stopped doing it. And so did at the bottom of the campaign 17 of the top 20, broiler companies said either we’re stopping and not like phasing it out for 10 years, but just stopping or we weren’t doing in the first place. So I think that was an unusual situation because it maybe was less entrenched in the industry. And there was also we also had this very sort of lucky situation with the prosecutor is willing to take that argument and move forward. And I will say that’s progress. But there is one whole other area where we really have not made any meaningful advancements. And we really need to do it and which is getting corporate charges, really getting enforceability and accountability around and I don’t think that’s because the law doesn’t allow for it. I think it’s because we just this is the same situation with like, sort of prosecution not willing to do that. And there’s a lot of scapegoating that goes on in the industry, but I do think there’s a lot of potential and a lot of good advancements behind us in the use of the criminal animal cruelty law.
Ana: Wow, that’s, yeah, that’s a lot to take in and digest. I mean, it’s incredible work that you’ve been doing. And it’s awesome to hear a small bit of optimism in amongst all of these, like you say, cruelty layered upon cruelty. I wonder, like if proving sentience is part of this journey to actually, you know, getting corporations or at least getting consumers to, you know, to fight against corporations, if we can prove that, you know, unequivocally that, you know, chickens and pigs, and, you know, all of these animals have, you know, scientifically been proven to be sentient. Like, I’m thinking of the law in the UK that’s come in recently where that’s coming in, where lobsters have been proven to be sentient. And you can’t boil them alive anymore. You know, it like, that’s, that’s a great step. You know, are there any other laws that you can see that we’re kind of on the cusp of right now? Or do you see this role of proving sentience as part of this journey to getting laws passed?
Cheryl: It’s really interesting question. I think that to me, just like the cruelty is not the factor, like level of cruelty is not the factor that determines whether we’re going to get some sort of accountability, whether it be criminal or civil. I don’t think sentience, alone as a concept is actually going to advance us. I mean, what I’ve seen, I’ll answer your question kind of two ways. On e is sort of what I’ve seen, in terms of the industry of reacting to the attempts to get enforcement or, you know, not just I don’t really talk about litigation, but litigation is is another avenue that we spend a lot of time on. And some of that is to do, basically workarounds to the fact that there’s no private right of action in the criminal law. So we’re trying to find creative ways to basically do criminal cruelty prosecution, but through the civil system, and then there are some litigation that we’re doing…
Ana: Can you just explain what that means? Exactly? Because I’m not 100 percent sure?
Cheryl: Yeah, so for example, that, you know, okay, so you can take your whole case to a prosecutor, and they can say, No, thank you. Like, this is not for me. I mean, you know, just pause for a second and say, the fact that we have that system is a real problem. It’s really at the heart of I think, why these industries are allowed to operate with carte blanche, and to do it in a way that gives them confidence, that they’re kind of in the driver’s seat about this, I think, you know, I’ll give you an example. So we did an investigation of a broiler facility, we’re talking about broilers a lot today, I guess, about 10 years ago. And one thing that we found there was the practice of dumping birds alive. So they basically would take, again, what they’re considered to be unprofitable, whether they’re injured, whether they’re sick. And they instead of killing them, there’s a whole process of industry that we’re supposed to use to kill them. They put them in this, this pit outside that has like a little flap on top, and then they would just let them, you know, be buried alive. So among a number of other things, and this is all we always have categories and categories of cruelty, but that particular thing really got to people really bothering people. And you know, myself included, right? I mean, I had never seen that before. And we did our usual thing where we, you know, we really tried to push prosecution, because it was, you know, particularly horrible. And we actually got hundreds of 1000s of petition signatures for people saying, you know, you need to tell us as Pilgrims Pride, another huge company that this firm is for, you know, you need to get them to stop like they, you know, you need to go after them for this. And the prosecutors was completely unmoved by that, because, of course, that prosecutors job is to serve, you know, their own constituency of this small rural jurisdiction. And they may in some cases, these, I don’t know, this one particular but in some cases, they’re elected. Right. So this idea that they’re the gatekeepers for issues that have global implications. And we’re talking about massive companies that, you know, there’s billions of people, even many more billions of animals that are at issue here, and you’re talking about some person thinking about their little corner of the world where maybe this particular company is a major employer, and they’re just like, I don’t need to listen to this, you know, and they don’t, that’s just how our system works. So I think that, you know, that’s a backdrop we really need to think about the fact that that’s happening as we’re thinking about what is the factor that will advance us in law, right, because there’s nothing If you look at the laws themselves, there’s nothing that would not that does not acknowledge the sentience, right. I mean, you look at the way that animal cruelty laws are written, and you look at even some of the opinions, which are often very old, you know, that layout that there’s real concern for animals in there, there, there is already acknowledging that I mean, you know, like, it excludes birds, you know, doesn’t even exclude fish, we talk about fish as a whole separate topic, right? Although, to my knowledge, the fish cruelty case has never been the basis of cruelty charge. But I think the point is, you know, the industry really does get to be in control. So what I’ve seen over time is the industry has gotten very good at PR, they used to do things that would be like, Oh, this is not what happened, you know, this is probably staged, these people are just crazy vegan activists, right, they used to do all that. And now they have almost a just, you know, almost verbatim script that they use when these investigations come out that says they are horrified, shocked, and saddened by the cruelty, they have a zero-tolerance policy for animal cruelty. Sometimes it says they fired a worker or workers, sometimes it says they’ve retrained them. But basically, it’s like, we would never do anything, you know, knowingly that would violate our whatever standards, those standards themselves are a way to be a shield against any kind of legal accountability, they have very little in them. They’re very much, you know, meant to look like they’re, you know, comprehensive, but in reality, they’re, they’re basically just, they’re toothless. There’s nothing in there that even sometimes doesn’t even apply to certain phases in the process. So could they put a word like sentience into a, you know, let’s say, the dairy standards or the, you know, chicken industry standards? Yeah. Would it actually advance things from a legal perspective, unlikely, in my opinion, I think more likely to kind of shake things up wouldn’t be laws that actually get us into court for animals. So this would be there’s there’s a type of law out there right now called caps, courtroom animal advocacy programs, currently the most active one of those, there’s only a handful, but the most active one of those is out of Connecticut right now. And that allows people to go in and assist the prosecution, you know, and kind of sort of be a stand-in for the animals. Now, it does not apply to farmed animals as it currently stands. But I think a concept like that could be really helpful to advance law. For farmed animals, if we could get either get in directly and say, you know, we are prosecuted on behalf of animals are we our civil enforcement going to behalf of the animals. Or it could be something that, you know, allows there to be sort of the regular process, but then somebody is representing the interests of the animals, which we do for children, for example, we have bargains enlightened, you know, we could do something like that. Now, in terms of what is the role of civil law versus criminal law? So, you know, the examples I’ll give about, okay, well, now we can’t get anywhere because of, for example, what happened with the prosecutor with the, you know, the burying alive. There’s a number of examples like that. So there are cases where you’re allowed to use a completely separate type of law, to argue sort of indirectly, for cruelty. So, for example, in California, we had an investigation of a hatchery, the prosecutor did not want to prosecute. And we used unfair business practices like unfair competition argument, basically saying you can’t profit on ongoing animal cruelty. And we argued that we were injured, you had to get into source court with an injury basis, you know, standing, because we put the resources in the investigation. And that case, you know, ultimately was successful, it resulted in a settlement. That was the first time that law was used to enforce animal cruelty laws, basically, indirectly, for farmed animals. So there’s a number of examples like that. There are also laws that allow a second sort of hearing, like the sort of like sort of pseudo-private prosecution laws. So there’s a case right now about a dairy industry investigation that we did, where the prosecutor did not want to prosecute the case. We used private prosecution law to say, You are wrong on your interpretation of the law and the evidence. And we want the, you know, the judge to basically override the DA his decision not to prosecute the case, which oral arguments on that, I think, October 13, on an appeal, which is really exciting, because we usually don’t actually get into a literal courtroom on these issues. So you know, I think Those kinds of things. That would be a great example, that was a case where we had, you know, the hot iron dehorning, that’d be a great example of an opportunity to do that. So I think the answer is, there are ways to advance the law. I don’t think they have to be as sort of substantively ambitious, as you know, establishing sentience, establishing rights. There are others, I’m sure that would really disagree with me. But I think we just need a chance to get in front of people, it would be nice to have, for example, courts that had expertise in animal cruelty prosecution, in particular, where we could be much more tailored in remedies and, you know, say, this is how we want to fix it, we want to be able to go back and look and see what’s going on, for example, you know, we don’t want to be scapegoating, you know, individual workers and letting everybody else get off the hook, not that individual workers, you know, don’t do really horrible things sometimes, but it’s all part of a system, right? It’s all part of a kind of bigger system that continues on with very little, very little damage, after these investigations. So we’re tracking that, I think, where the law has potential.
I think that’s a really good point, because the, you know, the criminal in, you know, probably 100 percent of your cases, in investigations, is really, you know, the few corporate entities who control the money and gain the most from continuing to exploit animals and humans and the workers, you know, in this way. So, yes, you know, if animal, you know, animal rights aren’t, or farmed animal rights aren’t even acknowledged, you know, in the law. You know, how would you go about unraveling? You know, such powerful entities as I mean, you’ve done it, you know, with Tyson. But, you know, how do we go about unraveling these powerful entities, where the law is set to protect, you know, the profit, you know, we have ag-gag laws being passed, you know, rights for any kind of farmed animal or even, like I say, even workers don’t, don’t seem to have the rights either.
Cheryl: Yeah, well, that’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? How do you actually go after the sort of main corporate actors? So I’m sure you saw this, this article that just came out in early September, about how, you know, the top 20 for the farms are polluting more greenhouse gases than multiple countries in Europe. In the same way for the small number of actors that are responsible for, you know, the massive amounts of animal cruelty. So I think when you’re looking at how you address these things, you know, you have to look at how do you target these major corporations that have the ability to make a huge change? I mean, you know, for example, when we did that, that same Pennsylvania investigation, material investigation, that was a Nestle supplier, so we went to Nestle, and said, you know, we really should sort of give more vegan options, we also asked him to stop disbudding in their supply chain, they would not do that. But they did add more vegan options. And as the number one food company in the world, you know, that’s a huge thing. Like they have the power and the control over such a huge thing that even, you know, a slight shift like that has massive implications. I think from a legal point of view, you’re talking about using a number of strategies. So you’ve got, you know, the enforcement of animal cruelty laws, which we talked about, you’ve got the civil litigation now. Now, we’ve talked a little bit about using the civil routes to go after directly after animal cruelty. But I think there’s a whole world and it’s almost sort of infinitely possible. In terms of the list of ways you could do this, have laws that, as I said, are not originally intended to help animals but could be addressed and can be applied to address these systemic cruelty issues. So, for example, you mentioned the antitrust case, the dairy antitrust case, what was happening in that case, was 70 percent of the dairy industries and dairy industries in the US at least is run by co-ops. So that sounds very quaint. But these are turns out to be huge entities with a lot of power. They’re also heavily supported by government entities. So what they were doing was they were paying farmers to kill their young productive cows off in their entire herd, often smaller farmers, and they were calling it very euphemistically this dairy herd retirement program. You know, I will say like, for anybody who’s kind of looking for targets, ways to go after the industry, when you see like really Orwellian language like that, where you’re like, the best thing they can do is just completely say the opposite of what they mean that there’s usually something there. There’s usually something to do about that. But is a cow killing program and they killed over 500,000 young cows to take them out of the supply chain to inflate the prices and their own data that they were publishing on the website was showing that they made over nine and a half billion dollars doing this, at least as of the time that we develop the case idea on this. And then we kind of hand it off to a big class action firm, they spent all this time litigating and pulling all this, this economic data around, but what the co-op was just protected under this law from the 1930s, that says, You don’t have to be subject to antitrust rules if you’re a co-op. Well, that was meant for these tiny, you know, if you’re like a regional like sugar grower, and you want to get together with the other regional search sugar growers, so that you can fight the, you know, the Caribbean sugar, like rum companies coming in, this is completely turned on its head, right? It was never meant to reduce supply, it was never meant for these big huge guys. So that case was a really good example of, here’s somebody, you know, here’s an industry really playing a game, they’re really playing the rules, and nobody’s taking them to task for it. And here’s an example of where they can do that. You know, another area might be the use of the False Claims Act, which basically says when you are fraudulent, acting in the context of a contract that you have a sales contract that you have with the federal government, or actually all scores all state governments or state False Claims Act, you can stand in for as a private citizen, you can stand in for the interest of the government, and get that money back. So we were able to do that successfully in an interesting way after a lamb slaughter investigation that we did. And that, you know, those cases almost never take place. And I think there’s a lot of potential there. So I think when it comes to going after systemic cruelty, I mean, you also can look at things like, you know, the industry really relies on really exploiting workers, there’s so many things, you know, that these workers don’t have protection, there’s a very interesting and very racist history of why there are exemptions for farmworkers, farmworkers in a lot of these worker protection statutes. And, you know, trying to kind of undo that, I think it’d be a big thing. The other big area, I think, here is to try to sort of dismantle the subsidy structure, we are in a situation, I don’t think people understand this necessarily, but at least in the U.S., there’s a strong history of the federal government really pushing animal agriculture kind of over other things. And I’m including feed crops. There’s a reason that we farm corn, wheat, and soy over, you know, a number of, obviously, tonnes of other types of crops. And that’s because most of that is going to feed animals. And that also is very heavily connected with why do we have so much corn syrup, and you know, Fritos, and all these things that are contributing to other health issues. And it’s because of the level of kind of propping up that the federal government is doing, it’s a $30 billion subsidy structure that goes to animal AG, and that’s completely you look at there’s actually charts out there, you can look at it, you know, there’s it’s just nothing in comparison to what they’re doing with like fruits and vegetables, and really like literally nothing. So, you know, there’s ways maybe to really start dismantling that that could have massive implications. And that also includes repurposing some of that money for, you know, encouraging more sustainable and animal-free systems.
Ana: Well, yeah, I’m curious, like, obviously, most of your if not all of your work is about, you know, exposing the reality of what’s happening, you know, behind closed doors and making that information, public, you know, to, you know, internet users, YouTube, whatever, but also putting it in front of the corporations. And yeah, like you say, they’ve changed the narrative from Oh, they’re just crazy vegans to Oh, we didn’t know honest. But do you? Do you believe the saying, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, the world would be vegan?
Cheryl: No. And here’s why there is research on this. And it says basically, that information alone is not enough to push that sort of transformative process in people. It’s important to have information and I think, you know, we can spend all day talking about why we don’t have access to that information. I think investigations really provide that kind of counterpoint. But it can actually backfire to you just information. And that’s because we have a powerful sort of cognitive dissonance mechanism, right? In order to resolve cognitive dissonance. Either you change or you change your value, right like you can change the value opinion. It’s easier than changing your behavior. So people will justify, you know what that what they’re doing and what they’re a part of because they don’t want that discomfort. And I think you can look at things like people who work in these, these places, people who live in these cultures. And you know, there’s, there’s a certain kind of, you know, detachment and blindness, of course, you have to, you’d have to be doing that it makes total sense, you know, even something like Four H, where, you know, their job is essentially to acculturate children into this sort of hierarchical thinking against animals and kind of violent and authoritarian way of thinking. But I think what the research says you need, in addition to information, in addition to being able to see what’s going on, is a sense of self-efficacy, you need people to feel like they understand the problem. And they understand the solution. And they believe that they are able to affect that solution. So people feel really helpless. Or they think that the behavior change that they would have to do in order to resolve the problem would be too hard, the barriers too high, they won’t feel that they’ll kind of feel deflated, they won’t feel that sense of confidence. And if they don’t feel that, then they go back to kind of resolving the cognitive dissonance in a different way. And another real important component to this, you know, that, that we’ve really been thinking about more here in Animal Outlook is the concept of community, which, you know, you can certainly kind of go on your own, and you can kind of have your own journey into thinking about these things. But in terms of taking a person from really not knowing, or thinking about these things, all the way through to really internalizing this, this information and making it you know, enhancing your identity. I mean, I really think that that’s what it’s all about as we’re trying to go. It’s very hard to get there with when you feel alone when you feel like you’re sort of going against everyone around you. So feeling like you’re part of the community. And I think the opportunity these days to feel like you’re part of an online community, you know, is a real opportunity there. But just seeing the things, even if they, you know, cause this whole sort of domino effect of, you know, the industry is going to point fingers, and then people are going to, you know, hope that it’s not as bad as what they see. And you know, but it bothers them and all that like that alone is not going to get you all the way there. I will say there’s to me something very weird about fish when it comes to this. Because I think you could have glassfish places, and then wouldn’t do anything. It’s really interesting because so we did an investigation of a fish salmon hatchery in 2019, which we’re still they’re still in litigation over. But then, you know, it was pretty bad. Like, if you just listed out all the different things that were not happy with throwing the fish, there was fish eating each other’s eyeballs, because they’re mistaking the pupils for food because they didn’t have enough food. I mean, it’s just crazy. And then, of course, the fact that we let fish just like suffocate and die that way. I mean, if we did that any other animal, you know, so um, it really felt like we had to go back to the earlier days of animal advocacy to make these arguments like yes, fish are animals. Yes, they feel pain. The science is there on that, you know, and, you know, the cruelty law exists to cover, including, you know, everything, including fish, I think there’s something, you know, we just have to do as advocates to move us forward on fish. You know, it’s a pretty new area in terms of exposure. Certainly, you know, there’s investigations from back in the day of open ocean fishing, and, you know, people get really upset about, you know, dolphins and turtles and sea lions and stuff becoming part of that, but the actual fish, I think people are less engaged, and it’s really violent and horrible. So I think, you know, we have some more work to do about helping people connect the dots there. But I think for mammals and birds, it’s already just viscerally in us, you know, as people, most people are not going to the vast majority of people are not going to look at an investigation, you know, and say, this is fine. You know, they are bothered by it is something that, you know, our problem is not values, it’s not cultural values. People do care about animals, they care about them in overwhelming numbers, even when you ask the questions, you know, should animals have rights, even ask questions like, should farmed animals be treated like companion animals, you know, people overwhelmingly do care about them. And that is included in things like, you know, Proposition 12 in California, which is not an animal rights law, but it’s a major animal protective law. You know, people come out and vote in major numbers to support laws like that. So the problem is not our values, it’s sort of our behavioral norms. You know, and our systems that are in place like our legal institutions and our political institutions that really allow for a very distorted you know, reflection of those values.
Ana: I think with the on the fishing, fishing, aspect of things like with the, you know, cows and chickens, what people can argue for is like, Oh, yeah, we want them to be, you know, happier. And obviously, we care about welfare, and we want a line-caught, you know, salmon, whatever. But at the end of the reality of where the meat and the fish that are actually consuming comes from is obviously, you know, not line caught or, you know, cows living in a field where they live solely off of grass, like where the field is grown for these animals, like the feed for the farmed fish is taken from, you know, out at sea from the high oceans, and it’s done through trawling, the feed for the cows is from, you know, the Amazon or other deforested areas of our planet. So yeah, I do I do find, like connecting the dots is, is a really important aspect of this and educating people. But on the point of companion animals, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today was about companion animals, and it was about how we feed our companion animals because there’s this hidden kind of thing that we don’t talk about very often, you know, especially in the animal protection space, where a lot of people have pets, you know, companion animals and feed them on, you know, shop-bought meat, right? It’s, you know, especially if they’re cats, you know, you can’t bring up a cat on a plant-based diet. Like, what work have you done in the pet food space? Like, is there anything that you can shed light on? Is it like a different environment, how do we get their food?
Cheryl: Yeah, well, I’ll talk about one of our most recent investigations, and then I’ll kind of do a zoom out and talk about pet food in general. But I think, you know, so this was our first investigation that specifically targeted a place for pet food. But basically, this is a New Jersey slaughterhouse that slaughters both cows for what they call like high performance, dog food, and also horses for exotic animal feed. So what’s really interesting, it just sort of an interesting wrinkle, just a note that I think most people in the U.S. do not think there is horse slaughter in the U.S., and the reason for human consumption. But because animal feed is such a weird area, in terms of its regulations, you know, that it doesn’t apply there. So, you know, non-human consumption, horse slaughter is happening. So that’s kind of interesting. What we did in this case was we got a sample, first thing we did was we got a sample of the dog food, and we tested it, and it tested positive for pathogens salmonella, and that kind of thing. And that caused the FDA, which is the Food and Drug Administration, to do a recall, which ended up being most of the products, the dog food products or major products. And then we went in there with our camera and documented a spent dairy cow. So these are animals that you know, are no longer profitable within the dairy industry. And they’re sent to slaughter. In this case, the animal was dragged by a chain out of the trailer, and then they use what’s called a captive bolt pistol, which is like, the best way I can describe this to people it’s like, it’s like from No Country for Old Men. Have you seen that movie that that’s what the villain in the movie carries around? It’s this, it’s in a big slaughterhouse, it will be attached to like a hydraulic system. But there’s also the handheld version, which essentially is a gun that shoots out a bolt, but then it captures the end of the voltage doesn’t actually stay in an animal’s head. And you have to be pretty skilled. I mean, there’s diagrams and stuff, this is the kind of thing I’ve done my time when there’s diagrams and stuff you can look at to see exactly where you have to, you know, shoot a cow in the head, it’s very difficult to hit find the right spot. So it’s a pretty skilled thing to be the person who’s called the knocker the person who actually shoots the cow. So in this case, they ended up shooting the cow multiple times, several times, and over the course of many many minutes. So under the federal humane methods of slaughter act, you were supposed to knock them once and then that’s it, it’s effective they’re you know, unconscious, they don’t wake up. In there are cases where the federal humane slaughter act has been enforced against multiple knocks. So a few seconds in between is bad, like you really shouldn’t be doing that if worst-case scenario you miss mess it up the first time, you should be doing another one immediately, because it’s really bad for them to you know, still be conscious on suffering through it. In this case, it was many, many minutes in between multiple knocks, and there was a dragging, and it was also really dirty and disgusting. So we argued that that is a violation of federal and state law. And there’s a number of agencies that are involved. So we’re still working on that we’re looking into some other you know, sort of similar places too, but you know, the whole reason that this area like we’re getting a lot of bouncing between one agency saying it’s not them and going to another agency. And I think that is indicative of one of the big issues with pet food is that the USDA interprets humane methods of slaughter act which is the inspection people that would do human consumption to not apply to them. I mean, we argue that at least the humane treatment side of what’s in the HMSA is a should be and does apply to the pet food slaughter, or the non-human consumption slaughter. But it’s FDA, the Food and Drug Administration that has the major enforcement authority here. So there’s no like inspectors in the slaughterhouses for this kind of slaughter. And you know, okay, so now I’ll kind of zoom out a little bit and say this, yes, pet food is a really big source of meat consumption, that the statistic I see here is, dogs and cats in the U.S. eat as much food as all the people in France, and contribute to 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption, that’s from science daily. But I think what’s important to understand is we’re talking about a lot of this being condemned meat. So this is meat that is coming from animals that are either, so there’s a system called for deeds stands for dead, dying, diseased or disabled. And so those animals cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. Although they play fast and loose, sometimes with what’s considered a downer because they can get them back up and then put them back in the food supply. There’s a whole bunch of litigation around this and laws and fight around this with the pork industry. But when it comes to these animals that are arriving at slaughterhouses, or they go down at a slaughterhouse, those are the animals that are most likely to be already suffering, and then treated horribly, once they, you know, are in that in that boat. So we saw, for example, at Central Valley Meat, which is a spent dairy cow facility, slaughterhouse in Northern California. So what we would see is animals either, you know, they’re in bad shape on the truck, they might be able to get them up off the truck, they go down in what’s called the yards before they are put through like the chute to get into the slaughterhouse to be slaughtered for human consumption. And then, you know, there’s an effort made to, you notice they shock them, they use their tail to push them up, there’s all sorts of ways if they try to get them up, if they can’t get them up, they’re using the captive bolt pistol. And in that case, we also have multiple knocks over multiple minutes, you know, a long period of time. And then in that case, also, which was completely bizarre. After the multiple knocks, you know, over a course of minutes, the workers would sometimes be standing on the nostrils of the cows to make sure that they were suffocating to death. You know, which actually, we did get enforcement and means sort of law on that case, but not for that, not for any of those kinds of issues. Um, so anyway, once they’re dead, they are then injected with a dye, I think it was like blue, a blue dye, there’s like a syringe, and then a little Bobcat tractor comes along, drag them off to the rendering area, and then that’s, you know, going to go to something like pet food. So it’s important, I think, to if you take away nothing else from this conversation about pet food, to really recognize the relationship between some of the worst treatment of animals and the pet food industry, and I don’t think that, you know, I don’t think the pet food industry itself is propping up the necessarily the, you know, the animal ag industry, but certainly, it’s allowing for an incentive structure that does not say you have to treat these animals well, or does not say, you know, if you know, this, this animal is just going to be subject to a horrible misery and dragged around and, you know, poked and prodded and their tail broken to try to get them up, that, you know, you should maybe do something different about it, like, certainly the pet food industry, the fact that they can sell that over to rendering I think is, you know, we really should be examining the incentive structure that’s there. But it is, you know, it is a byproduct of some of the worst treated animals in the worst treated industries, you know, egg industry, this thing, laying hands and the dairy industry.
Ana: But you’re also like saying that in the U.S. 20 to 30 percent of you know, that the animals are diseased or dying, right.
Cheryl: I don’t know if we can say that. I think they’re saying 25 to 30 percent of environmental impact. So I think the environmental impact is disparate along mammals. I mean, of course, birds have a huge environmental impact, too. I think the question you know, how many animals versus How much poundage are we looking at? I just don’t know, I don’t know if we sticks on anything like that. But I would say, I mean, my strong guess would be that it’s heavily dairy and eggs industry by-products that we’re looking at, and pet food. And I’ll just say, like, you know, this is not to, of course, I’m an animal lover, I have a dog, I’ve always had dogs, and, you know, there is such a thing as vegan dog food, like, we want to make this really complicated, you know, you can just go to the store and get vegan dog food. So it’s not like, you know, we have to sort of sit here and do a lot of hand wringing around, you know, is this ethically acceptable? And once we sort of change all these things, but you know, it’s just sort of, you know, it’s a choice that we have just, like, it’s a choice that we as people have to be vegan, I think,
Ana: Yeah, and, you know, I, I don’t know where I am on the fence is like cell-based meat and things like that. And particularly, like, as a, you know, more of a whole food leaning vegan, I don’t, I’m not gonna eat or, you know, I’m not gonna eat cultivated meat, things like that. But for the pet food industry to be replaced, you know, for cats, if we could get, you know, a meat that is, you know, has the right nutrition levels that can feed, you know, animals that can’t live off a plant-based diet, like a cat or whatever, then, then that would be an amazing win. I reckon. On our side.
Cheryl: I think this may be, I don’t know, updated years been years since I’ve heard this, but there was some cell culture meat company that was making mouse, cat treats mouse mice.
Ana: Something about that recently, actually. Yeah, that’s right. There is.
Cheryl: Yeah, so it’s kind of fascinating thinking about, like, you know, what applications that might be for things like that?
Cheryl: They have cat vegan diets, just, you know, fortified with taurine and all that. I mean, that’s a whole other topic. But I think it’s just one of those things where it’s kind of like, yes, you can wade into that conversation. Yes, there are these choices. So, you know, it’s just something to kind of consider as part of otherwise a very hidden industry. I mean, the, you know, the FDA also delegates authority to a private entity for nutrition. That’s this AAFCO? I think, is the acronym of it, but it’s a totally private entity. So we don’t know what’s going on there. You know, FDA is not there with the actual slaughter, USDA is not, it’s such an oddly hidden thing. And I think at least, you know, as advocates, as people who care about animals, as people who care about, you know, the other negative impacts of factory farming, I think we have to look at like, these are the worst of the worst that are then being dragged off and literally, literally, you know, dragged to a corner, you know, and then they show up again, and as kibble, you know,
Ana: I mean, I have so many million questions for you, I could just keep talking to you all day. But I think I should probably let you get back to back to your, to your main to your day job, as it were. But I had like two more things that I’m like burning to ask you if that’s okay. So one topic. I mean, obviously, this week, we’re focusing on animals in society as part of our theme week. And one topic that we know, throughout the last couple of years, and particularly I think, through COVID, when everyone’s kind of locked in at home and you know, uptake of TikTok and things like that, is the use of animals in gifts, and on social media platforms. So, you know, creating these funny videos, and actually, some videos, you know, for selfies, you know, you’ve heard the stories of these rare dolphins who have, you know, the calf has been passed around, you know, different tourists taking a photo with this little dolphin and the dolphin dies, and, you know, all these kind of things in the name kind of social media and creating influencers who get, you know, paid X amount of dollars per view. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to track and trace and to find the people who actually created the footage, etc, etc. And yeah, just day after day, you see more and more of these stories coming out. I was wondering if you know, of any law or any research or work or investigations that have been done in that particular space in terms of figuring out who created, you know, whichever gif or which influencers get, you know, etc. Like, is there anything that you know, of what’s going on in that space?
Cheryl: Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting there’s a very famous U.S. Supreme Court case about this. And it’s not, it’s not about anything nearly as sort of innocent or clueless as what you’re describing, right? I mean, I think you can make the argument that, you know, this is just sort of what you’re describing, just sort of, you know, thoughtlessness kind of getting out of hand, right. And I think that that, that would be a much milder version. Then a much more kind of acceptable or excusable version than what I’m about to tell you, which is about the history of trying to criminalize crush videos. Is this something you’re familiar with?
Ana: Yes, I’ve never watched one.
Cheryl: That’s good. Um, yeah. So I mean, in a basic sense, these are like, these are fetish videos that are meant to. Basically, they’re, they’re commercial vehicles, right? I mean, they’re people are trying to make money on these vehicles on these videos. And it’s often things like a woman in a high-heeled shoe, slowly crushing like a rodent or even a larger animal. I want to say I’ve heard that there’s like kittens and somethings videos, I think most of them are also smaller animals, like, you know, rodent size animals.
Ana: I’ve definitely heard of kitten ones, as well.
Cheryl: It’s one of those things that I know I like heard in that context. And when I wanted to just be like, I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t, I didn’t hear that. Um, but, um, so there was a law that was meant to criminalize these videos or knowing, you know, distribution or depiction of these videos for profit. And there was a First Amendment free speech, constitutional argument made against them, and litigation around this and then went up to the Supreme Court of the United States. Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that it was, you know, it was unconstitutional, it was too broad, it was not clear that, you know, the way that the law would be applied, would not apply to constitutionally protected speech. And you know, that there, it’s very different. It makes a lot of sense, if you kind of look at first amendment law, although I think it’s very interesting if anyone is sort of so inclined to pull up the opinion and some of the briefing on the case, including an abacus from HSUS, us to get into kind of the distinction about is this about restricting their speech, or is about preventing a practice? And I think a lot of the law around first amendment is, is that debate essentially, like, yes, something is speech, but is it more a practice in speech? And this is why we have obscenity laws around things like child pornography and stuff, like it’s not about the speech, you know, it’s about the crime that’s taking place. So there, yeah, there’s a lot of interesting debate about that. But what I think was actually most interesting about that case, is that the discussion among the court around what is cruel, is basically, we don’t know there can be something in one state, That’s cruel, and another state is not considered cruel, there’s no, you know, there’s no way to say upfront, what is, you know, actually considered, you know, something that can fall under this. So then you could imagine, realistically, applications of the law that would cover a protected space. So they, you know, give an example, like, I think their example was something like, you know, there’s certain kinds of hunting or hunting at all the content is not allowed in the District of Columbia, but it may be allowed in, you know, Virginia, which is right next door, or certain types of practices. So usually, what they’re saying is, you know, we have this very inconsistent and sort of irrational relationship with animals as a society. And our law kind of reflects that, right? We don’t know exactly, you know, what kind of stance we want to take about a given practice here or there. And there’s, you know, it’s all kind of a mismatch, different states laws around different things, and different people’s opinions around different things. So, you know, this level of confusion that we have really makes trying to regulate, you know, something that’s obviously quite bad, you know, that obviously, is animal cruelty across the board, really kind of a quagmire, you can’t totally create kind of a black and white law on quicksand. Right, we need to become I think the lesson for us to take out of this is we need to become less confused as a society about what we consider to be problematic to animals. So basically, I think the answer to your question is, there’s really not practically that I can see practically anything to be done about this in terms of, you know, legislating about it. But I think certainly it should be part of the conversation, in terms of creating a clear ethic that’s reflected in the way that actually is a reflection of values. Right. I think the law as it currently stands, you know, especially for farmed animals is terrible in terms of its, you know, its actual application, but I think that’s because it’s controlled by a few powerful people who want to be able to continue exploiting animals. I don’t think we should look at that and see it as a reflection of societal values. At the same time, I think we have work to do, making sure that those societal values are reflected in the law. Otherwise, we’re Our hands are tied in situations like this.
Ana: Yeah. Okay. So All of that kind of horribleness aside, what’s the dream investigation for you? Like? What, what would the vision be? What would you love to do that you just haven’t been able to do yet?
Cheryl: Well, I think, you know, for every investigation, we need, you know, we read resources, we need sort of skill, but we also need a lot of luck. Right? Like, like, it’s not, it’s funny, because, you know, these places don’t want us in there. It’s not like, we can just sort of have our pick of wherever we’re gonna go. I think there’s two areas that to me, really make a lot of, you know, a lot of sense to, to continue to focus on and to and to try to build on one is, as I mentioned, those few actors that control everything, right, that’s controlled the lion’s share of things. And in order to be in a position where we can maximize our potential impact of an investigation, I think keeping the sort of through-line as direct as possible between the investigation and one of these big players is, is really important to do or has a lot of potential not to say that we don’t investigate these smaller places. And, you know, I think small, large, you know, they’re all we’ve seen a lot of issues with every level. But I think, really being able to get into some of those places and saying, No, you can’t walk away. And you can’t just say, Oh, this is a supplier, I didn’t know what they were doing. Can put us in a position where we could do a lot with that. I also think there’s a lot of areas in animal agriculture that we don’t know anything about. I cannot tell you I literally woke up in the middle of night recently, just suddenly occurred to me that I have no idea what happens to the pigs after that are used for breeding and the pork industry after gestation crates and bearing crates, we’ve never seen that we’ve never seen it, are they depopulated? Do they go to slaughter? Are they like, you know, killed in some way and visually, like, I just I don’t know, you know, and there’s other things like that, that we really have never seen, you know, a breaker facility and the egg industry. You know, that’s, that’s even worse than regular battery cage facility. We know that from little bits and pieces, but we’ve never seen an investigation of it. And I think there’s there’s other things we’ve seen one ever investigation of a real slaughterhouse, for example, there. And Animal Equality just did a really interesting investigation where they caught the fetuses of slaughterhouse spent dairy cows going to a slaughterhouse. And what happens to the fetuses and how they’re kind of delivered and killed. And that’s horrifying. And we kind of knew that that existed, but I’ve never seen it in an investigation before. You know, those sorts of things, I think there is a systematic kind of hiding that’s going on. And we’ve really in some ways only scratched the surface. I mean, in some ways, we know exactly what we’re going to see when we walk into these places. And in some ways, we don’t, you know, there’s always something new, there’s always something different. So I think when it comes to investigations, our job first and foremost, is to be accurate and complete reporters of what is going on and to give people that window into these places, and to really give them the chance to sort of see for themselves, what’s happening. And then our sort of second responsibility is to be as you know, as thorough as possible, as complete, as are there is there corners of this world that we have not seen. And then of course, the more we can use that as a vehicle to advance cultural change, and, you know, create corporate accountability. I think that’s, that’s kind of the sweet spot of where we want to be.
Ana: And it would be, you know, I’m sure my team would be very angry with me if I didn’t ask, what do you do from like, a self-care perspective, because the content and the investigations and everything that you know, have to witness and think about and talk about, and you’re waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it, you know, is there anything that you do that helps you be able to kind of manage this kind of onslaught of stuff that you have to witness?
Cheryl: Yeah, you know, what’s interesting. I don’t know if this is self-care, but I’ve gotten to the point with investigation footage, where if it doesn’t if I feel like I can do something with it, it doesn’t like traumatize me. I understand that it traumatize other people and it really certainly it has a huge impact on the investigators. But there’s something that to me, there’s something so powerful and so frankly positive about the potential from investigations that you know, that sense of kind of transformative potential that I really feel like when we get something strong. I feel that that sort of like burst of energy. We can do something with this I want to get this in front of people I want to make sure people understand I want to do right by the investigator, I want to make sure that investigator is is you know, really you know that their efforts And they’re sort of, you know, all of the trauma that they go through really is, is kind of, and of course, what they’re trying to do is be a voice for those animals, you know, they have to sit there and stand by while those animals are being mistreated. So I’ll tell you for me, and I think I’ve heard this from people who spent a lot of time with investigation footage or who have actually been into these places. Most people do not go through this process. It is available to anyone who wants to do it, but I totally understand why most people don’t do it. If you sit with investigation footage long enough, if you get past the trauma, past the blood and the violence and the intensity and the kind of flinching you know, your your, your brain does this sort of interesting thing. Where you get into this, like detachment and this kind of there’s a, there’s a certain clarity around the fact that what we’re doing here is so wrong. It’s so off. And I’ll tell you like what happened with me, it was actually the Central Valley Meat investigation when I was talking about with the blue dye in this in the standing of the nostrils of the of the cows. I can’t tell you how many probably I probably spent one day we’re really trying to get it out to the enforcement. I probably spent 14 hours in one day watching footage, which was mostly slaughter line footage of that investigation. And then I went outside. And I was driving around and I saw some people playing kickball in the park and I live in Southern California, it’s super sunny. It’s like beautiful. There’s palm trees. And it’s you know, and it just occurred to me, okay, well, some people spend their days playing kickball in the park, some people spend their days, like blasting the brains out of cows with a captive bolt pistol, right? I mean, the fact that we do that, you know, and again, like you make that face because you shouldn’t, it’s like you’re feeling human being. But at that point, because I’ve seen the footage for so long. I was I had this like this sort of calm detachment from it and thought to myself, like, if anyone could come and observe this, that this is what we do as a species to our fellow species on the planet, they would think we were just the most absolute bizarre, like, we go around, teaching our children, you know, and telling each other to be kind to each other to be respectful of autonomy and rights, you know, to not mistreat people or treat people differently based on the way that they look, or you know, that the where they come from, or any of these things, right, like we have all these values we really hold dear, we have a sense of justice, we have a sense of order and accountability and all that stuff, right. And then we have this going on, you know, which is completely a gaping wound, and that whole way of looking at things like we can’t have a society where meat-eating is normative. And we can continue forward with these institutions and these values that we purport to hold. And I remember just thinking like, you know, what, why are we doing this? Like, why do we as humans do this to other animals, like it’s so rotten, especially cows, cows had this very trusting sort of body language, they’re very gentle. They’re very sweet. In fact, I think that’s why they’re exploited to the degree that they are. And then, you know, it really left me with this question of Like, who do we think we are? You know, at first, it was like, anger, like, what do we think we are? Like, why do we think it’s okay to go ahead and do that? But really, like, who do we think we are? And like a bigger sense, right? Like, who do we think we as humans are in terms of our relationships with, you know, this, this world that we’re living on these other animals, and just, it just sort of, kind of all came together for me, in that moment of kind of, like, you know, seeing all these people in the park and the sunshine, and then just all this, like, over and over again, all this violence and killing? You know, it’s like, yeah, we can’t, we can’t be doing this. Like, we can’t be continuing to kill animals as much as you hear justification. And you must hear people avoiding the topic and stuff, like, the reality is that it’s violent. And it’s, you know, really against the way that, you know, that we want to build society, and we want to live as people and I just, yeah, I think I think that, in itself, is the thing that kind of keeps me attached and going and using these investigations to the best way that we can.
Ana: I mean, I yeah, it makes a lot of sense, like, and I can see that from the work that you do, and you know, the unstoppable nature of what you’ve all been doing Animal Outlook, just making sure that these investigations get into the right, you know, places, whether it’s the general public or you know, whether it’s the corporations or the suppliers, you know, the people who are selling the products, etc. Incredible. Thank you so, so, so much for your time today. It’s been really insightful. I’ve learned a lot. And yeah, I hope everybody listening has as well and I’m sure people are gonna want to know How to find you and find the work that you’re doing. Like where should they head to?
Cheryl: Well, thank you so much. I’m a huge fan of Sentient. And I really, you know, really appreciate the opportunity to come on here. I think what you’re doing we’re doing is really, really wonderful. We are at animaloutlook.org. You can do what I just described and going through a bunch of investigations there. If you want. You can also sign up for our e-newsletter and keep in keep apprised of what we’re doing there, you can become a monthly donor, which is a really crucial role you can play. You can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and please subscribe to our YouTube, which is where some of our best content is as well.
Ana: Thank you so so so much Cheryl have a well have a good day, hopefully, either watching footage and feeling good about it or maybe go and kick a ball for a minute.
Cheryl: Thank you so much.
Ana is the Executive Director at Sentient Media. Her background is in content production and startup consultancy.