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SILENCING THE LAMBS Fundraising for the Animals by Serving
Them for Dinner: The Myth of Humane Agriculture in Today's
Animal Advocacy Movement

On “Silencing the Lambs”
Published July 29. Expanded and updated July 31.

Thank you to all of you who have expressed support for our releasing “Silencing the Lambs.” We found making this video a painful, though unavoidable, matter of conscience. We’ve been heartened by the level of response it has generated, which has been mostly positive.

Our goal in making this video was to spark discussion and rational debate on matters of great importance to the animals’ cause, matters that are too often being discussed and decided by a handful of people behind closed doors. Since it was released, several people have asked me to respond to criticisms made by Farm Sanctuary, one of the two organizations mentioned by name in the video. We believe that some of the things being said by Farm Sanctuary are inaccurate, and equally important, run the risk of shifting the discussion in a far less productive direction. We request that those on all sides of these issues avoid making wholesale judgments and/or directing harsh language toward any individual or organization. It is far more helpful to use this as an opportunity to encourage organizations to be accountable to the values they have publicly stated.

Certified HumaneFor the last several years, many of us have watched with growing concern as the language, affairs and public message of animal advocacy organizations and the animal-using industry have become increasingly intertwined. The public understandably becomes confused, and the industry takes advantage of this confusion. For example, an animal farmer named Joel Salatin, famous for slaughtering chickens in the movie Food, Inc., recently said in the media that he is in the “healing industry” and called his farm a “sanctuary”. Contributing to this confusion, some animal protection organizations now use romanticized imagery of animals on bucolic "humane" farms which can easily give the public the impression that voting for a given legislative initiative or purchasing the "right" kind of animal products will lead to a life for exploited animals not much different than that at a sanctuary. Many of us working in animal advocacy feel that this trend is disastrous, and represents an ongoing victory for the meat industry in its effort to co-opt animal advocacy by steadily shifting the public dialogue away from whether or not it is right to use and kill animals to what is the right way to use and kill animals.

We have now reached a point where serving meat and other animal products to raise money to “protect” farm animals is something that the largest animal advocacy organization in the US will not only promote, but do so using the photo of an individual animal over the phrase “Respect our Food” on an invitation with their logo. We feel the time has come to ask ourselves, how much is too much? How deeply must animal advocacy organizations become enmeshed in the affairs of those who make profits from using and killing animals before more of us stand up to object?

Read Humane Myth analysis of this video here
Read HSUS Press Release here

In 2005, when executives of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) met behind closed doors with egg producers to collaborate on the promotion of "cage-free" eggs, leading industry attendees to reportedly anticipate a "business bonanza", was that going too far? In that same year, when several nationally-known animal advocacy organizations, including two sanctuaries, participated in the development of Whole Foods’ new “compassionate” standards for using and killing animals, was that going too far? When 17 animal protection organizations publicly endorsed these standards in a letter widely distributed by the Whole Foods PR department, was that going too far?

In 2007, when HSUS, in collaboration with Farm Sanctuary, helped develop and publicly endorsed Wolfgang Puck’s new standards for the raising and killing of the “right” kind of veal used in his restaurants, was that going too far? When several individuals who make a living killing thousands of animals a week were given the podium at the 2007 Taking Action for Animals conference, an event sponsored by six animal protection organizations along with Whole Foods, one of the nation’s largest meat sellers, was that going too far? In 2008, when Wolfgang Puck was the guest of honor at the HSUS Genesis Awards, which recognizes the work of people in the news and entertainment media who have raised the public’s awareness of animal issues, was that going too far?

Since releasing “Silencing the Lambs,” it’s been an education to watch the online response unfold. On the positive side, many more people are talking and thinking about two important questions: 1) Is it right for farm animals to be served at fundraising events for farm animal protection; and, 2) What does it mean when sanctuaries and organizations with public commitments to animal rights and veganism lend their credibility to programs and initiatives that by their very nature communicate to the public that it is possible to use and kill animals in a way that can be fairly described as compassionate or respectful or humane (the Humane Myth)?

On the less positive side, the response of some of the involved organizations has been a disappointment. Rather than taking this opportunity to participate in a much-needed public discussion of these important issues, they have sent some of their employees on a regrettable mission of disinformation. Online discussions prompted by the “Silencing the Lambs” video are being methodically disrupted. For example, employees of Farm Sanctuary have been pasting the full text of a lengthy PR department response to the video into person-to-person dialogues, with the clear purpose of redirecting focus away from the substantive questions raised by the video. Bloggers have been contacted, as have individuals who posted the video on their Facebook pages, and as a result, some have been persuaded to take down the video and the comments it has generated. Meanwhile, many concerned activists have been put in the uncomfortable position of arguing for or against people and organizations they care about, rather than the ideas that are at the heart of this debate.

The nature of this response only validates our biggest underlying concern: That a diverse social justice movement is steadily being converted into a corporate advocacy machine, including aggressive control of public dialogue and active suppression of dissent. What makes for success in the corporate world is increasingly being confused with what makes for success in a justice movement. The most useful response we know to this phenomenon is to apply the practice of critical thinking. For example, consider this paragraph from Farm Sanctuary’s statement:

“Farm Sanctuary would never promote or serve any animal products at an event that we organized. Our events have always been and always will be vegan. The event referenced by James LaVeck in his video was not attended, organized or sponsored by Farm Sanctuary. It’s unfair and misguided to characterize Farm Sanctuary as he has.”

A reader of this paragraph would quite naturally conclude that the video we released stated that Farm Sanctuary "attended, organized or sponsored" the fundraising event discussed. However, as anyone who takes the time to watch it will learn, nothing to this effect is ever communicated. It was made clear within the first thirty seconds of the video that the event was being held by a coalition called Ohioans for Humane Farms, and HSUS is the only organization mentioned as promoting the fundraising event, to which they sent the online invitation on their letterhead. But by positioning Farm Sanctuary as the recipient of unfair treatment, of being "mischaracterized," the author of this statement distracts the public from the portion of the video that did in fact mention Farm Sanctuary by name. That would be the section that questioned the message sent to the public when sanctuaries and other animal advocacy organizations with a public commitment to veganism and/or animal rights join a coalition that includes companies that use and kill animals, a coalition which clearly validates this exploitation as "humane" by way of its very name: Ohioans for Humane Farms.

As I stated in the video, the listed organizations are connected to the fundraising event because of their endorsement of the coalition that held it. By putting their names and reputations behind the coalition, they are giving a valuable public relations boost to all animal exploiting companies in Ohio that market their operations as humane -- including those who provided the animal products consumed at the event.Were Silencing the Lambs to have featured footage of the killing of individual animals by the animal-exploiting companies in the coalition for this event, or for any other purpose, the painful contradiction presented by the animal protection organizations endorsing this coalition would have been obvious to anyone. Regardless of any good intentions that might motivate it, is there any way to label the taking of life for the sake of profit as "humane" that can be fairly described as respectful to the animals, the cause of justice, or the intelligence of the public?

It’s important to ask why the very issues raised in the section of the video that actually mentions Farm Sanctuary by name are not addressed at all in their response. Also, why is it that nowhere in the Farm Sanctuary response can one find a direct refutation of any factual statement from the video, accompanied by a demonstration of why it is false or incorrect? Instead of responding to what was actually said, they imply that something else was said, and then respond to that, leading to a cascade of unproductive dialogue amongst activists about something that never even happened, to the detriment of the real issues that would benefit the movement by being discussed. One Farm Sanctuary employee wrote that the video is “the worst kind of witch hunt and represents horrendous guilt by association.”

The Farm Sanctuary statement continues:

“LaVeck never once contacted us for clarification or to express any concerns about this event, nor is he willing to meet to discuss his ongoing criticisms of Farm Sanctuary despite several requests on our part. Instead, he’s taken a course aimed at creating divisiveness within our broader movement to end animal exploitation.”

Summerfest James LaVeck and Farm Sanctuary President  Gene Baur discuss the Ohioans for Humane Farms coalition at the Vegetarian Summerfest. July 9, 2010  

The implication is that I irresponsibly released the video without first communicating with Farm Sanctuary, and worse, my course of action has as its very goal "creating divisiveness". Notice carefully how this is worded: “never once contacted us for clarification or to express any concerns about this event, [emphasis added].” But as pointed out above, only HSUS, not Farm Sanctuary, is mentioned in the video in connection with the promotion of the fundraising event. Readers of the Farm Sanctuary statement would likely be surprised to learn that, just two weeks before the video was released, I had a detailed public dialogue with the organization's president, Gene Baur, during the Q&A section of a talk I was giving at the Vegetarian Summerfest in Johnstown, PA. During this interchange, I specifically asked Mr. Baur to explain how it made sense for a sanctuary to be in a coalition with the Great American Lamb Company, and what message was sent to the public when that coalition was called Ohioans for Humane Farms. In the talk, I had highlighted the same quote from the Farm Sanctuary web site that was used in the video, in which statements were made to the effect that humane animal farming was a fallacious concept. My dialogue with Mr. Baur was witnessed by dozens of attendees at this presentation, some of whom were activists from Ohio involved in the debate over the initiative and the tactics being used to advance it. Hence, the issues explored in the part of the video that specifically mentioned Farm Sanctuary were actually discussed with the president of that organization prior to it being produced. Yet their statement does not disclose this basic fact, again serving to distract from the important issues at hand.

Lastly, I would like to restate to Mr. Baur what I said to him then: If he, or if Farm Sanctuary as an organization, disagrees with the facts or the logic of those of us who have, since 2006, published writings and presentations on the problems caused by industry-advocacy collaboration, why doesn't he simply publish a point-by-point refutation in written or video form? This would go a long way toward helping those of us working for justice for the animals understand specifically why he believes our concerns about the co-option of animal advocacy are unfounded. These are issues of policy, philosophy and ethics that are of concern to many people, and this is a situation that cries out for public dialogue, not more closed-door meetings between a few people. A lack of democracy and transparency is at the root of the problem.

I would also point out that the developments that preceded the production of the video included a concerned Ohio activist contacting a senior HSUS staff member and raising many of the same questions raised in the video. I also had detailed communication with another Ohio activist who actually attended the fundraising event and personally documented what was being served there, along with the menu with all the items listed in black and white. So the statements made in the video were indeed checked for accuracy and verified before its release.  

Ohioans for Humane FarmsWe did not contact the many other sanctuaries and animal advocacy organizations listed as members of the Ohioans for Humane Farms coalition as their individual involvement was never discussed in the video. We did not believe it necessary to verify that they knew the name of the Coalition to which they were listed as belonging, nor that they knew the Coalition included animal-using companies, as this was prominently displayed on the Coalition’s well-trafficked web site. The video never stated that any of these organizations, other than HSUS, were involved in promoting the fundraising event. The founder of one these organizations has recently stated that had she known about the event, her organization would have never signed on to the Coalition in the first place. This only underscores the damage done by this sort of industry-advocacy coalition. In many cases, smaller organizations, following the lead of the larger ones, are placed into situations that may lead to damaging value conflicts. When organizations give endorsements and form coalitions with those who profit from the deaths of those they are pledged to protect, disillusionment seems inevitable for those who in their hearts serve the cause of justice and those who are committed to being honest with the public.

In terms of Farm Sanctuary’s claim that my aim was “creating divisiveness”, to this I ask, which is divisive? 1) Forming legislative and public relations collaborations with companies that use and kill the very individuals that you are pledged to protect and respect, or 2) Pointing out that this is happening and discussing its implications, with the hope that a public dialogue will result in a more helpful course of action.

Imagine organizations involved in any other justice movement engaging in collaborations of this sort. Would it be considered logical, morally acceptable, or helpful? Or would it be considered inherently destructive to the justice movement’s integrity? Would civil rights activists, who contended that separate, by its very nature, could never be equal, have formed a coalition with segregationists called Americans for Separate But Equal? How is this contradiction any different from the contradiction created when animal organizations on the one hand formally state that animal farming can never be humane, but on the other hand, join a coalition called Ohioans for Humane Farms?

We live in difficult, confusing times, and on top of that, the PR industry continually supplies the meat industry with access to the latest methods for disrupting and disempowering grassroots movements for change. The issues raised by the video go deeper than differences in philosophy and strategy, presenting us with questions of basic public integrity. Will we knowingly validate messages that we know to be untrue? Will we collaborate with, and lend our credibility to, the people and corporations who profit from taking the lives of those for whom we wish to advocate? Any knowledgeable activist or educator who asserts that these things are necessary to create meaningful change, or that we will not see significant change around these issues in our lifetimes, is mistaken, and quite likely has either fallen prey to cynicism or succumbed to despair. Rising population, habitat destruction and climate change alone are going to ensure that momentous change occurs within the lifetimes of most of us now on the planet. It's up to us whether that will be negative change imposed on us by the consequences of maintaining a destructive relationship to our fellow beings and the environment, or positive change brought about by vast numbers of people waking up to the injustice and destruction being wrought planet-wide by the animal-exploiting industries. Those of us who are aware of who animals are and what is happening to them, and who understand the causes of our global predicament, carry a tremendous responsibility. We are in possession of an unprecedented opportunity to be of service to all who dwell upon the earth. As have others who came before us in previous movements for justice and environmental sanity, we can choose a better path, one which inspires us to share with the public the same undiluted truths that have transformed our own lives.

James LaVeck
Documentary filmmaker and
site co-sponsor of HumaneMyth.org