February 14, 2011

Farm to Fridge: Interview with Nathan Runkle.

Mercy for Animals released a new 12-minute video on Monday called Farm to Fridge that exposes how animals are treated within the food industry from factory farms, slaughterhouses and hatcheries. Farm to Fridge is a comprehensive look at how animal foods get to the supermarkets.

Farm to Fridge is the video I wish Oprah had shown, rather than the sanitized version of a slaughterhouse owned by Cargill.

Nathan Runkle, executive director of MFA, was nice enough to answer a few questions about the new video as well as offer advice about how vegans and animal rights activists can use the video for outreach.

What inspired you to create Farm to Fridge?

Video footage illustrating the graphic plight of farmed animals is often the most powerful, effective, and compelling tool we have to open the hearts and minds of others to their suffering, and inspire change. Mercy For Animals has been conducting investigations for over 10 years – pulling back the curtain on the routine abuses endured by animals at the hands of the meat, dairy, and egg industries. We felt it was time to create a comprehensive, yet short and absorbable, film that revealed the often-unseen journey cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and fish take from farm to fridge. Farm to Fridge is a “silver bullet” – giving a no-holds-barred look at the hidden costs of animal agriculture. We hope all animal advocates will add it to their tool kits for education and outreach.

James Cromwell’s voice is perfect. How did he become involved in the project?

James is an ethical vegan and passionate, dedicated, and longtime animal advocate. He was our first choice as narrator and we were thrilled when he gladly accepted our invitation to narrate the film.

This is the most comprehensive film in terms of “food animals” that I have seen. Thank you for including fish. How can vegans use this film as an advocacy tool?

Thank you! That was exactly our goal – to give a complete, honest look at how “food animals” live and die in American factory farms, slaughterhouses, and hatcheries. No sugarcoating or fluff.  We felt it was crucial to include fish and other sea life in the film, as they outnumber all land animals killed for food. These animals, who are incredibly intelligent and equally capable of experiencing pain and suffering as any other animal, are oftentimes overlooked by our society, and even the animal protection movement.  Fish aren’t swimming vegetables – they have needs and interests just like land animals. It’s time we give them their due respect and attention.

There are so many ways vegans can use this film as an advocacy tool. Our goal is to have Farm to Fridge viewed by at least one million people in the next 12 months. I’m confident we can have this impact, with the support and dedication of the vegan advocacy community. One of the easiest ways to promote the film is simply to share it on Facebook. On the Farm to Fridge website, you can easily “share” the video with a click of a button – exposing all those in your social circle to this important film. Advocates can also order a free DVD of the film for outreach. We suggest people hold house parties to view and discuss the film, air it at tabling and exhibit events, donate copies to local colleges and libraries, or order DVDs in bulk and leave stacks at health food stores, coffee shops, etc. If you have a website or blog, we encourage you to report on the film and embed it for easy viewing. Mercy For Animals will also be running national TV commercials promoting the film, so supporters can make tax-deductible donations in support of this important campaign, too.

Is the footage taken from MFA’s previous undercover investigations?

Yes, the vast majority of the footage is from previous MFA undercover investigations. There is also footage from other organizations included, such as Compassion Over Killing, PETA, HSUS, and the Humane Farming Association. We are grateful to all of these organizations for allowing us to include some of their footage in the film.

A lot of people will say that the undercover footage is either manipulated or use the excuse that the workers caught on film are “bad apples.” Can you address this?

Most of the people making these claims are PR representatives for animal agribusiness. These are folks who have a vested financial interest in keeping the abusive practices of their cruel operations secret. When undercover investigations come out exposing the routine abuses that occur in their industry, they spill their misleading statements of “isolated incidents” and “bad apples” in an attempt to reassure the public that “all is well.”

The sad truth is that undercover footage reveals exactly what happens to farmed animals when producers don’t think they’re being watched. When factory farmers don’t think they’re on-camera, they will often subject animals to shocking abuses.

Further, as Farm to Fridge illustrates, the worst abuses farmed animals endure are those that are completely standard, acceptable, defended by farmers, and deemed legal in most states. Cramming animals into cages so small they cannot comfortably stand up, turn around, lie down, or extend their limbs – the fate endured by the vast majority of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves – is the industry norm, not exception. Further, mutilating animals without painkillers – such as castrating piglets and steers, inflicting third degree burns during branding, cutting off the beaks of chickens and turkeys, chopping off tails, and tearing out teeth – is widely practiced, and passionately defended by animal agriculture.

In terms of malicious and sadistic abuse, such as that uncovered during our investigation at Conklin Dairy Farm, we believe this abuse is much more common and widespread than the agribusiness industries would like us to believe. For example, Conklin was a small dairy operation selected completely at random. There is a culture of cruelty within animal agriculture – whereby animals are viewed and treated as production units and commodities, rather than living, thinking, feeling individuals with needs and interests. Most factory farm workers grow to view the animals as “obstacles” and “challenges” in getting their work done. In factory farm and slaughterhouse environments, workers quickly become frustrated and desensitized to cruelty, and abuse runs rampant.

What is your goal with Farm to Fridge?

We want to create an honest conversation about our treatment of farmed animals. Consumers have a right to know how these animals are treated, and the animals have a right to have their stories told. All too often, the discussion about our treatment of farmed animals is hypothetical or sugarcoated. Farm to Fridge cuts through the industry’s talking points, intended to reassure and to sanitize its cruel and violent practices, and paints the disturbing, shocking and true picture of industrial animal farming.

It’s our hope that once consumers see for themselves the hidden cost of meat, dairy, and eggs, they will take to heart the film’s closing message – adopt a vegan diet – and begin moving toward a diet that is healthy, humane, and environmentally sound.  The only way we will end the abuse of farmed animals is with a massive uprising of consumers who say, “enough is enough” and withdraw their financial support from this morally bankrupt industry.

I love the line “We can put our ethics on the table.” Could you talk about what this means?

Being vegan is really all about putting our ethics on the table – literally. Most Americans hold kindness, fairness, justice, compassion and non-violence as core values and ethics, yet they live out of line with these basic beliefs each time they buy meat, dairy, or eggs. When we purchase animal products, we “hire the hit man” to subject animals to all the horrors exposed in Farm to Fridge. As moral, ethical people, we must extend our circle of compassion to include non-human animals. Going vegan is the single easiest and most powerful action we can all take to bring our actions into line with our values.

Where can people go who have been touched by the film and want to make a change toward veganism?

This is Mercy For Animals’ all-in-one vegan resource site. In addition to containing lots of compelling information, facts, and videos on the health, ethical, and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, it has hundreds of vegan recipes, cooking videos, tips, and resources. Visitors can also order a free Veg Starter Kit.  Also, here is another incredible resource for veteran vegans and newbies alike. This site lists over 10,000 veg-friendly restaurants and health food stores around the globe.

How can readers of The Thinking Vegan support the work of Mercy for Animals?

Mercy For Animals is a non-profit organization that relies on the generous financial support of caring individuals who support our efforts. I encourage readers to become a member and make a tax-deductible donation. We also hope readers will “like” us on Facebook, sign up for our e-newsletter, follow our work, promote our efforts, order merchandise, and volunteer.

We believe everyone has a place in the animal protection movement, and we can all put our unique talents and skills to use helping build a kinder future for animals.

*Courtesy of The Thinking Vegan.

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