Investigations: Our most powerful tool in righting the wrongs inflicted upon billions of animals each year
Animal Outlook has undergone a lot of changes and growth in our 25 years as an organization. One thing that has remained constant is our commitment to going inside the factory farms and slaughterhouses that use the large-scale industrial methods representative of functionally the entire meat, dairy and egg industries. Our investigators bear witness to the day-to-day realities of life and death for countless animals, capturing video footage so each of us has the same opportunity to see what the animal agriculture industry doesn’t want us to see.
These investigations are difficult, dangerous, regularly uncover content that is traumatic for the investigators and the viewers alike, and are under years-long siege by the industry, which is passing laws to criminalize these investigations. So why do we continue to do them? After years of working with our brave investigators and watching countless hours of footage, I believe investigations are our most powerful tool in righting the wrongs inflicted upon billions of animals each year. Here are my top five reasons:
1. They provide raw data everyone fighting for animals must start with to understand even a glimpse of the reality of the issue. Investigation videos give us a window into the stark truths of what is happening each day in these massive industries. For me, these videos are always difficult to watch; always fascinating; and, although the prevalence of violent abuse and cruel standard practices are sadly predictable and expected for us, something new and unexpected comes from each investigation. Sometimes it is a cruel standard practice like the forced cannibalism of pigs, or a type of abuse we hadn’t seen before, like the use of a “hip clamp” to drag and hoist sick or injured cows. Sometimes it’s something simpler that’s more poignant. Small, human moments like a worker’s admission to his own desensitization or caring amidst the cruelty. These are the things that often linger longest in my mind.
2. They are the counterpoint to industry speech. There is a reason the industry fights so hard to make investigations illegal through “ag gag” laws and to discredit investigation videos in the media. It’s because if it weren’t for these investigations, the industry would essentially have a monopoly on speech about meat, dairy and eggs. Each of us has grown up in an environment where we are constantly bombarded with messages about these so-called “foods” while the animals whose lives are at stake are notably absent from those messages. This is because almost all of the speakers of those messages are trying to sell us more animal products. The advertising budgets alone of one of these major animal ag corporations dwarf even the largest animal advocacy organizations’ entire budget. Investigations break that spell.
3. They’re changing the way business is done. Investigations play a crucial role in Animal Outlook’s corporate engagement, bringing more vegan products into the marketplace, like when Nestle added increased vegan offerings following our investigation of one of its dairy suppliers, and less suffering for animals, such as when 17 of the top 20 poultry producers committed not to engage in the use of “nose bones” after our investigation of a Tyson broiler chicken facility.
4. They enable us to take these injustices to the courthouse – and win. It is the unfortunate reality that the abuse uncovered in our investigations is often simultaneously business as usual and so cruel it might violate even the limited laws that are in place. Our legal team uses investigations to bring innovative new causes of action and enforce laws that otherwise would not be enforced to protect farmed animals. For example, our investigation of the largest lamb slaughterhouse in the U.S. led to a settlement and consent decree in a federal False Claims Act lawsuit.
5. The potential power of any one investigation is unlimited. A small but dedicated handful of social justice advocates in a variety of movements have been conducting undercover investigations since the Industrial Revolution. Major advances have come from these investigations in labor rights, anti-slavery efforts, poverty alleviation and food safety – including Upton Sinclair’s famous slaughterhouse investigation more than a century ago that led to The Jungle and ultimately the creation of the FDA. Taken together, our dozens of investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses comprise an archive of animal agriculture. But each investigation has its own transformative impact — whether it’s earning widespread media coverage, yielding legal or corporate changes, or resulting in the halt of operations at the investigated facility. Perhaps most important, though, is the impact on each person who is touched by a video or the story of an animal in an investigation. Each person who picks up and carries with them the experience of watching one of these investigations brings their unique perspective and strength to the shift that is happening in our culture. In this way, each investigation inspires someone to change their own story and bring that change to others.
Cruelty is the standard in the meat, milk and egg industries. Investigations are the rare opportunity to truly see the unfiltered reality of the way our species treats others. Factory farming is a collective experiment gone wrong in a massive way, and investigations give us just a glimpse of the enormity of the issue.
It’s up to each of us to make these investigations count, and we need your support. Your donation will help keep undercover investigators in the field, exposing the cruel realities of the factory farming industry. These are the stories that will drive the change to make all of our lives better – human and nonhuman animals alike.
You can stand up for animals every time you sit down to eat by leaving them off your plate. Join us for VegWeek by taking the seven-day VegPledge and receive daily emails for the week of April 19 – 25 containing recipes, tips, resources and more to support you on your vegan journey. By pledging, you’ll be automatically entered to win some amazing vegan prizes, too.
As Executive Director of Animal Outlook, a national nonprofit animal protection organization, Cheryl is responsible for development and oversight of investigations, litigation and policy, and effecting mainstream corporate and cultural change to shift away from animal products and reduce the suffering of farmed animals.
Cheryl and her work have been featured in media outlets including NPR, The Washington Post and many others. She is a regular speaker at law schools and conferences.
Cheryl received a J.D. from UCLA School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Chicago in Environmental Studies. She is a member of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and California bars and is based in Los Angeles.