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The free market

How long-term corporate campaigns are paying off big for animals

All Animals magazine, September/October 2016

by Karen E. Lange

Because of long-term campaigns and consumer demand, big changes are happening in the arena of animal welfare. Illustration by Aleks Sennwald.

For decades, elephants drew Americans to the circus, parading trunk to tail in the ring, sitting awkwardly on little platforms, standing on their heads, 4 tons of weight bearing down on their skulls. Orcas entertained rapt crowds at SeaWorld, soaring up from tiny pools in forced imitation of leaps they might have made in the wild. Grocery store eggs, cheaply bought, provided what seemed a farm-fresh breakfast, clean and blemish-free in cheerful cartons. And fur in fashion projected luxury and glamour, detached in the public’s mind from the animals who died for their pelts.

Change came as The HSUS and other groups forced society to confront the hidden suffering of the animals involved in entertainment, food and fashion. Slowly, the eyes of the public were opened. There were undercover investigations, protests and petitions, ballot measures, state and federal bills, local resolutions and lawsuits. There was outreach to corporations and lobbying of legislators. There were books and documentaries, celebrities speaking out and ordinary people testifying, shareholder resolutions and social media campaigns. There were victories and losses and constantly evolving strategies— HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle likens it to playing 200 games of chess at the same time.

I truly believe we've reached a tipping point in our society in our relationship with animals."
- Wayne Pacelle

“We’re not always trying to take the king of our opponents,” explains Pacelle, author of the New York Times best-selling book The Humane Economy. “Sometimes we’re satisfied if he concedes and we can work together.”

This year brought major breakthroughs from big companies: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants in its shows (keeping clowns and acrobats and, unfortunately, animals like tigers). SeaWorld stopped breeding its orcas and phased out theatrical shows for more natural visitor encounters. Fashion designer Giorgio Armani said he will no longer use animal fur. And Walmart pledged to switch to selling only cage-free eggs.

The HSUS has the strength to engage with the largest companies to bring about these sorts of unprecedented reforms, says Pacelle. “There are many pathways to animal protection, and convincing the biggest corporations to mend their ways is one of the most powerful,” he says. “I truly believe we’ve reached a tipping point in our society in our relationship with animals.”

Illustration by Aleks Sennwald.

McDonald’s decision to revamp its menu in 2015, introducing all-day breakfast, turned out to have a major beneficial side for egg-laying hens, thanks to a decade-long campaign by The HSUS. The strategic shift that revived the fast-food giant’s flagging fortunes also, indirectly, freed hens. That’s because after 10 years of work by The HSUS, the public—as well as McDonald’s—had become aware of the conditions in which factory farm hens are raised, crammed into battery cages so small they cannot spread their wings. In order to avoid the association with cruelty, McDonald’s in September 2015 made an announcement that transformed the industry: It would be switching entirely to eggs from hens raised without cages.

What followed was, Meat & Poultry magazine wrote, “a virtual tidal wave of announcements,” as other restaurants and grocery stores pledged to make the same transition. Twenty-four of the top 25 grocery chains in the U.S. are now going cage-free (Publix is the sole holdout). In April, Walmart, the nation’s largest food retailer, joined the trend, with a plan to phase in the switch and complete it within nine years. Paul Shapiro, HSUS vice president of farm animal protection, calls Walmart’s announcement “the nail in the coffin” for battery cages and the greatest achievement of the campaign. This year alone, there will be 15 million fewer egg-laying hens in battery cages, and by 2025, nearly all of the laying hens in the U.S. will be raised cage-free.

It’s the product of persistent effort, Shapiro says. “I liken it to stone cutting. You hit the rock, you hit the rock, you hit the rock, and then one day the rock will crack open—a decade’s worth of work finally cracked it open.”

From 2005 on, The HSUS has worked to end the confinement of hens in battery cages. A series of undercover investigations at egg farms revealed cruel and unsanitary conditions. The passage of Proposition 2 in California in 2008 was a major step forward, effectively outlawing the use of battery cages by requiring egg-laying hens to be housed so they can spread their wings. The HSUS also talked at length with corporations that buy eggs. Each year, Shapiro attended McDonald’s shareholder meeting and spoke for the alloted two minutes.

This spring, Matt Prescott, senior food policy director for The HSUS, went to Chicago to attend the Egg Forum, an annual event led by the Egg Industry Center. He discovered high interest among lenders in funding cage-free conversions, and found egg producers reorienting themselves. “There was a recognition that they have to go cage-free,” he says. “The question now is how to get that done.”

Illustration by Aleks Sennwald.

When a wild-caught orca named Tilikum killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, the public’s illusion that the park’s orcas were happy, joyful creatures was destroyed. Tilikum, who had once ranged with his family in the open ocean, hunting and swimming hundreds of miles a day, had for years endured boredom, frustration and loneliness. At the end of a show, as spectators watched, he dragged trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water and repeatedly attacked her as she drowned. Suddenly, what was in front of the crowds all along—the cruel mistake of confining the world’s largest predator in tiny concrete pools—was on horrific display.

People are starting to question everything.
- Nicole Paquette

Brancheau, an experienced trainer, was the third person Tilikum had killed. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist for The HSUS at the time, said Brancheau’s death meant the orca shows had to end. Rose had been arguing against keeping orcas in captivity since the 1990s, when public pressure and the movie Free Willy led to an orca in another park being moved to a sea pen and eventually released. In 2013, her voice was amplified by the documentary Blackfish, which carried the story of Brancheau’s killing and the daily suffering of captive orcas to millions of viewers. SeaWorld’s attendance and stock price dove. A campaign designed to win back public support failed.

In late 2015, the California Coastal Commission banned breeding at SeaWorld’s San Diego park as a condition of a permit to expand the orca enclosure there. Faced with the new rule, CEO Joel Manby, who had been brought in to restore the company’s image, was ready to talk to Pacelle about reform. This spring, the two announced an agreement that ended SeaWorld’s breeding of orcas (wild capture had already been discontinued) and committed the company to spending millions more on marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation. The company will also join The HSUS in advocating for better protections for oceans and their creatures. SeaWorld is still breeding other marine mammals, but no more orcas will be born into lifetimes of captivity in its parks.

As with SeaWorld’s orcas, the cruelty Ringling Bros.’ elephants suffered was visible all along, if circus-goers knew where to look. Even if they didn’t see the elephants separated from their families, chained for the majority of their time and loaded every few days into boxcars for the journey to another city, the mistreatment was on display during every show. As the elephants performed, they were accompanied by handlers carrying bullhooks. The industry calls these tools “guides,” but they are instruments of fear, designed to break, coerce and intimidate the animals by inflicting pain on sensitive areas—behind the ears, under the chin, on the trunk, back and legs.

It’s a perversion of what people who know elephants say they require. “They are such gentle, intelligent, perceptive, sociable, keenly aware, creative, emotionally complex and sensitive animals, they need always to be in an atmosphere of complete trust and of mutual admiration,” writes expert David Hancocks. “They deserve, in other words, to be deeply loved.”

In 2015, encouraged by The HSUS and others, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, outlawed the use of bullhooks, threatening to disrupt the circus’s tour. “The Greatest Show on Earth” was abruptly recast. Ringling Bros. decided to no longer travel with its elephants, who will instead live year-round at a compound in Central Florida.

With pressure from the public, momentum is building for change in the treatment of elephants, orcas and all captive animals, says Nicole Paquette, HSUS vice president of wildlife protection. “People are starting to question everything,” she says. “It’s the beginning of a new era, one that should lead to an end to wild animal acts.”

Illustration by Aleks Sennwald.

Giorgio Armani counts two cats among his close companions and says he loves all animals. In 2008, the renowned Italian fashion designer was thought to have eliminated all fur from his luxury line but continued to use rabbit. Then in March, after years of talks with The HSUS, the news broke that starting with its fall/winter line, the Armani label would be entirely fur-free. The announcement got attention around the world, from China to Lithuania to Brazil. “Technological progress … allows us to have valid alternatives … that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary,” read the company statement—careful, quiet words that shook an industry.

Armani’s clothes can be expensive and are generally sold only to small numbers of consumers who can afford them. That’s why, in a way, it took so long for the designer to change and why the move is so significant, explains P.J. Smith, HSUS corporate outreach manager. “In the luxury market, it’s very difficult to get a company to go fur-free, because fur is believed to mean luxury,” says Smith. “Having the leadership of somebody like Armani is very important: One of the cruelest forms of fashion is unnecessary now, and you have the biggest name in fashion design saying that.”

HSUS investigations have shown that the association of fur with luxury is absurd. Animal fur can be cheaper than faux fur and is frequently falsely advertised or labeled as fake.

Pacelle met with Armani in 2009 and learned that the use of fur in his fashion line weighed heavily on his conscience. Smith continued the discussions, helped by the Fur-Free Alliance, a coalition of 40 animal protection organizations (including The HSUS and Humane Society International) from 28 countries. “It was clear that Mr. Armani was an animal lover; it was always a difficult thing for him. But he thought he had to sell fur to be considered luxury,” says Smith.

Time after time, Smith offered faux fur as an alternative, arguing that it looked like animal fur and could be used in the same ways, preserving Armani’s creative freedom. As with the brand Hugo Boss, which went fur-free in 2015, Armani searched for humane sources of fur and found none. There was only one solution. Giorgio Armani has a motto, borrowed from Albert Einstein: “We can’t expect things to change if we keep doing the same things over and over.”

The company’s fur-free announcement marked the end of an era. “Loved by the A-list and feted by the fashion community, this is a brand steeped in heritage, quality and class,” wrote Shelly Vella, former fashion and style director for Cosmopolitan. “The decision will have a powerful effect.”

The reforms keep coming. In June, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced it will move its dolphins, who perform for visitors, to an oceanside sanctuary, and the Georgia Aquarium said it will no longer import wild-caught beluga whales or dolphins from overseas. Rhode Island is poised to become the first state to ban the use of bullhooks, with a bill passed by the House and Senate and awaiting the governor’s signature. And following negotiations with The HSUS, Perdue, the United States’ fourth largest producer of chicken, announced it will give its broilers sunlight and more space.

Change begets change as people look at the world in a new way. It’s just the start of a process that will revolutionize our treatment of animals, Pacelle writes in The Humane Economy. “We are in the midst—much closer to the beginning than the end, I believe—of an epic political, cultural, and economic realignment. … An older order is passing away.”

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