Fighting for Farmed Animals
- November 23, 2021
- Alex Hershaft, PhD | President — Farm Animal Rights Movement
FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) is the oldest U.S. animal rights organization and the only one fighting for farmed animals during our movement’s first two decades. It organized our movement’s first conference in 1981 and its grassroots campaigns in the years that followed. Join us for a brief ride through history.
How It All Began
Attending the World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, Maine, in August of 1975 became a truly life-changing experience. After years of struggling as the lone vegetarian, I had finally found “my people.” I resolved that I would be spending the rest of my life opposing the use of animals for food.
Our very first event was a public vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner at a Washington restaurant near the White House. That 1975 event gave birth to a new tradition and hundreds more similar events throughout the U.S.
The following year, we launched the Vegetarian Information Service to disseminate information on the various benefits of plant-based eating. VIS participated in hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, leading to publication of the original Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1977.
A Movement is Born
VIS also organized a couple of small conferences, where we met people who had read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and were advocating for the then bizarre concept of animal rights, but agreed that animals should not be used for food. We were also most impressed by the dedication of animal rights activists like Henry Spira protesting cat blinding experiments by the American Museum of Natural History and Paul Watson launching a ship to confront Russian whalers.
So, in August of 1981, we invited all vegetarian and animal rights activists to a conference at Cedar Crest college in Allentown (PA). This Action for Life conference became the birthplace of the U.S. animal rights movement. We continued for six more years, until National Alliance for Animals took over animal rights conferences in 1987. Ten years later, the National Alliance suddenly disappeared, and we resumed, hoping that other organizations would step in, but none did.
Finally, in the momentous year 2000, we launched the celebrated Animal Rights National Conference. Over the next two decades, the conference would inform, train, and inspire tens of thousands of animal rights activists. The annual event was suspended in 2020 by the Covid pandemic.
Our National Grassroots Campaigns
Aside from running our movement’s national conference, FARM was always known for its national grassroots campaigns, involving local activists.
We began in 1982, with the Veal Ban Campaign, the very first national campaign on behalf of farmed animals. The campaign exposed the practice of chaining dairy calves in tiny wood crates to keep their flesh tender and pale. It has been credited with largely bringing down the veal industry.
The following year, we launched World Day for Farmed Animals to mourn and memorialize the world-wide suffering and slaughter of billions of sentient animals for human gluttony. The date selected was October 2nd — birth date of Mahatma Gandhi. Observances throughout the world have included funeral processions, die-ins, mock slaughter lines, and other dramatic events.
We launched the Great American Meatout in 1985 to encourage transition to plant-based eating. The March 20th date was chosen as the first day of Spring, symbolic of renewal and rebirth. Worldwide activities have included information tables, exhibits, food samplings, cooking demonstrations, and festivals. We treated Congressional staffers to an annual plant-based lunch. Dozens of governors and large city mayors issued Meatout proclamations.
We followed up on our pioneering 1975 vegetarian Thanksgiving event by holding more dinners in our nation’s capital and encouraging similar events throughout the U.S. Our Compassionate Holidays website contains lots of tips. When the National Turkey Federation began staging their annual presidential turkey “pardoning” in the late 1980s, we seized on the occasion to picket the White House ceremony.
In light of animal agriculture’s enormous role in promoting global warming, air and water pollution, and habitat destruction, we have encouraged our supporters to take part in local Vegan Earth Day observances. This year, we sent a team to help link global warming to animal agriculture at the COP26 conference in Glasgow.
Our most intense national campaign was 10 Billion Lives. It involved two vans with kiosks that screened factory farming and slaughterhouse footage and collected thousands of vegan pledges at college campuses, rock concerts, and street fairs between 2011–2017.
Discomforting the USDA
One of the inducements for locating our organization in the nation’s capital was the easy access to government buildings and their occupants in our struggle to save animal lives. The building of particular interest to us was the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
We began trying to get their attention by erecting displays of signs and posters, calling for an end to animal abuse directly in front of the headquarters building. We followed up by street theater, with “blood”-splattered human bodies in giant cellophane-covered trays. We picketed the USDA to protest their 1986 decree that dairy farmers withdrawing their cows from production had to mark their faces with a hot iron brand.
Eventually, we shifted to a more dramatic strategy. In 1988, we staged a sit-in in the office of the secretary of agriculture. Four years later, we blocked entry to the USDA headquarters building with a banner proclaiming “Stop Abuse of Animals in Factory Farms.” We disrupted a Congressional hearing on contaminated eggs with a banner proclaiming “All Eggs Kill.”
In 1986, we ventured outside our Washington comfort zone to visit a sheep slaughterhouse in Timberville, VA. We found that the slaughterhouse was struck by the local union, so we invited the striking workers to a vegan picnic at a nearby park, where we shared our views on killing animals for food.
Three years later, we staged an-all-night vigil at a pig slaughterhouse in Smithfield, VA. At dawn, five of us got arrested for blocking pig-laden trucks from entering the plant. We went back to Smithfield three more times. On a couple of occasions, we conducted vigils at the Perdue chicken slaughterhouse in Salisbury MD.
On the West Coast, we staged the first ever vigil at the Farmer John pig slaughterhouse in the Vernon district of Los Angeles. That vigil began with an assembly at the local police station, followed by a march to the slaughterhouse. We visited Farmer John several more times in ensuing years.
But There is More…
One of FARM’s least known, oldest, and most effective programs has been writing letters to the editors of hundreds of newspapers throughout the U.S. These letters are widely read and represent a trusted tool for conveying our vegan message to the general public. The occasions are national holidays or pertinent national news developments.
Between 1982–1992, our Compassion Campaign visited a half dozen national political conventions, which culminate every presidential election process. These events offered an unparalleled opportunity to present the case for animal rights to America’s power brokers and the media that cover them.
In 1986, we assisted Burger King in finding Herb, a fictional character they created who had never tasted one of the whoppers. Our Herb, of course, quoted ample reasons for shunning Burger King’s offering.
In the next decade or two, development and public acceptance of plant-based meat and dairy products will provide a sea change in popular consumption. When people no longer see the need to use animals for food, they will be happy to actualize their natural affinity toward animals by supporting animal rights and vegan ideology.
We can help accelerate this trend by demanding more plant-based options in our supermarkets, favorite restaurants, schools, and company cafeterias. We can present the animal rights and vegan message to those who are ready to receive it. These are indeed FARM’s present and future roles.
Here are some new programs FARM is developing:
Ask Veli — a sophisticated search engine for finding vegan videos that meet detailed user criteria
Vegan Vision — a feasibility study of securing vegan pledges through a sequence of boosted videos on Facebook
Vegan Commons — a directory of search engines and other sources of useful information on veganism.
For the past 45 years, FARM has led the way for our movement and has helped to inform, train, and inspire tens of thousands of activists to stand up for animals.
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement