Saturday, August 28 marks the 15th anniversary of Animal Outlook’s Executive Director Cheryl Leahy. We want to say thank you and congratulations to her for years of tireless work to make the world a better place for farmed animals.
Cheryl joined Animal Outlook in 2006 as general counsel, using her legal expertise to stand up for animals in the courts. She is now Animal Outlook’s executive director, a role in which she guides the strategic direction of the organization, focusing on the use of undercover investigations as a mechanism for high-impact advocacy, targeting the abuse of farmed animals through proactive litigation, and bringing vegan into the mainstream.
We asked Cheryl about Animal Outlook’s top 15 highlights from her time here. Here’s what she had to say:
Investigations and Legal Advocacy
- We’ve done so many powerful and heartbreaking investigations in the last 15 years. One that holds a special place for me is the investigation of Cal-Cruz Hatcheries in 2009, which exposed shocking abuses of newly-hatched chicks and ducklings. This investigation and subsequent lawsuit led to the rescue of dozens of ducklings and a settlement ensuring the permanent closure of this facility.
- In 2014 we investigated a chicken factory supplying Pilgrim’s Corp which revealed violent abuse and live birds buried alive in pits dug into the ground. This was the first investigation of a broiler grow out facility in a decade, and drove huge public outrage for the live dumping. The facility ultimately closed.
- In 2016 we investigated Tyson Foods which revealed violent abuse and exposed the cruel practice of ‘boning’, where a plastic rod is stabbed through the male birds used for breeding’s sensitive nostrils to deny them access to in order to curb their growth. Our investigation and campaign led Tyson and 17 of the top 20 chicken companies to discontinue or commit to the non-use of this practice and led to dozens of criminal animal cruelty charges, including the first-ever charge and conviction for cruelty associated with standard industry practice.
- In 2013, our investigation captured hideous abuse of newborn calves at Quanah Cattle Company. We brought our footage with law enforcement, which led to criminal cruelty charges against three abusers. Unexpectedly and without legal merit, charges were also leveled against the investigator, alleging cruelty for not reporting what she witnessed in a “timely manner.” These charges were later dropped and our brave investigator went on to win the “Whistleblower of the Year” award and an “Animal Rights Activist” award.
- Our 2012 investigation of Central Valley Meat Co. led to the USDA enforcing federal humane slaughter law and temporarily shutting down this facility, citing ‘egregious inhumane handling of livestock.’ Subsequently In-N-Out Burger, McDonald’s and Costco all severed ties with this supplier.
- In 2015, we investigated Hormel supplier Quality Pork Processors. At the time, this facility was one of five pig slaughterhouses in the U.S. operating under a USDA pilot program allowing for high-speed slaughter of pigs (up to 1,300 pigs per hour). Our investigation showed animals beaten, shocked, dragged and improperly stunned before going into the scalding tank. In late 2019, we filed a lawsuit challenging high speed pig slaughter and its nationwide expansion, which would cause the extreme suffering of millions of additional pigs. In 2021, the court rejected an attempt by the USDA to dismiss the lawsuit, so we are still actively litigating.
- In 2017, we exposed horrendous animal cruelty and alarming labeling practices at Superior Farms, the largest lamb meat producer in the U.S. and a supplier of Walmart and Kroger. We alleged violations of humane slaughter law and ineffective stunning, with animals moving as their tails are cut off. Superior was selling to the federal government, which led us to file a lawsuit under the False Claims Act; in a rare move, the Department of Justice intervened over humane handling allegations and resolved the case in a settlement and consent decree requiring compliance with federal law.
- In 2006, we released video footage from our investigation at Esbenshade, an egg factory farm, resulting in the farm owner and manager each being charged with with 35 counts of animal cruelty. These were the first ever chargers filed for neglect at a commercial egg facility.
- We conducted the initial research and concept development for what became a class action lawsuit filed in 2011 on behalf of consumers against dairy cooperatives representing most of the industry, which conducted a price-fixing scheme that inflated the price of milk by killing hundreds of thousands of young cows. This case led to major outrage and ultimately a $52 million settlement for consumers.
Campaigns and Outreach
- I have always really loved our DC Veg Fest which we began leading in 2009. Through this event we have engaged with thousands of people over the years about the benefits of going vegan, and helped to foster a growing and diverse vegan community in the nation’s capital.
- VegWeek, which we also launched in 2009, has also been a great way to reach thousands of people to support them on their vegan journey with a simple but powerful approach: asking people to go vegan for at least one week and supporting them in their journey proves to have long-lasting and widespread impact.
- After a years-long campaign, in 2020 we celebrated the introduction of a fully vegan menu item at Starbucks, the Chickpea Bites & Avocado Protein Box.
- In the wake of our shocking 2019 investigation at Martin Farms, a Pennsylvania dairy factory farm that supplied the world’s largest food company, Nestlé. Nestlé dropped Martin Farms as a supplier and began introducing more vegan options to their product range..
- As a result of our campaign in 2008 Morningstar committed to reducing their annual egg use by one million eggs, resulting in nearly 4,000 fewer laying hens suffering in factory farms each year.
- After our campaign, Lightlife reduced the use of eggs in their line of vegetarian foods by 166,000 eggs annually and introduced three new vegan items. This was great, but even better, they announced in March 2017 that all of their products would be 100% vegan by the end of the year.
- I’m particularly excited about one of our newer programs, Farm Transformations, which we began in 2017 to transition animal farms to plant farming with a comprehensive approach to impact large numbers of animals. We are growing this program now and into the new year.
Your support can help us continue to expose the truth and inspire change through groundbreaking investigations, innovative legal advocacy, strategic corporate engagement, and creative and effective outreach. Will you help achieve so much more for farmed animals by making a one-time donation or by joining our United for Change Monthly Giving Program?
Thank you. With you by our side, we work today to build a better tomorrow for all animals.