I’m Phil Letten of Mercy For Animals. We conduct undercover investigations into factory farms and last year we went into a Walmart pork supplier where breeding pigs were intensively confined in gestation crates, which are 2 x 7 ft. metal enclosures so small the pigs can’t even turn around for months at a time (this is a gestation crate). There were other abuses found, too; watch the investigation here.

Last year, 40+ major food companies committed to phasing out the crates, nine states have banned them, but Walmart hasn’t budged. So, I’m on tour to raise awareness. So far we’ve been in 92 cities and at almost every stop the media comes out; here’s some news clips: 1, 2, 3, 4.

We’ve been into a lot of small towns so I have a lot of good stories from the road, AMA!

Proof: pic of me (and watch news clips above)

PS – if you’re interested, one of our former investigators did this IAmA a few months ago.

Comments: 1743 • Responses: 70  • Date: 

Stones25177 karma

Are you a vegetarian or just make sure your food comes from places like free range farms?

Phil_Letten167 karma

I think that there are less cruel methods of getting meat. But in the end I feel the absolute best action we can take for the animals sake is to go vegetarian. I also want to add that even when a package says free range or cage free mutilated without painkillers. Piglets are castrated, have their teeth ripped out with pliers, etc.)

As far as with Walmart, all we are asking them to do is stop confining pregnant pigs in crates so small they can't even turn around.

hiberniangorilla25 karma


Phil_Letten38 karma

"...or cage free the animals are usually still mutilated.."


TestCommentPlsIgnore-10 karma

I haven't eaten red meat in 25 years because I just don't like it. I guess I don't understand your motive though. If we are raising animals for the purpose of slaughtering and consuming them and their children, does it matter much how many times they can turn around in a cage? Their life is going to be a hellish torture no matter what we do so long as people continue to eat meat.

EDIT: downvote away I don't care. I don't even have a proverbial (or literal) horse in this race because I don't eat red meat. But it sounds hypocritical of meat eaters to turn a 1-10 torture scale from a 9.9 to a 9.7 and celebrate their great humanity.

Phil_Letten1 karma

In almost every poll over 90% of Americans agree that animal cruelty is wrong. Even people who eat meat say they oppose animal cruelty and want to see stricter laws protecting farmed animals.

bcstoner-28 karma

I didn't battle my way to the top of the food chain to eat grass.

Edit: obvious lack of protein in your vegetarians diet seems to be affecting your sense of humor.

Phil_Letten10 karma

When I first went vegan I thought my pallet would shrink. But it actually expanded. I began trying foods I had never eaten before. ie. indian, thai, ethiopian, mediterranean, etc. Boca, Gardein, Morningstar Farms, and others also offer very good meat alternatives if you still want that meaty texture.

McPiggy-1 karma

Agreed. But I do feel bad sometimes that I've never killed and cut my own meat. I think if I took down and butchered my own cow just once, I wouldn't give the little tiny crap that i do about what vegetarians think.

Phil_Letten2 karma

I actually have more respect for someone who kills the animal themselves. What is the difference between doing it yourself or paying someone to do it for you?

palealepizza-12 karma

And why only Walmart, why not Target or any of the other hundreds of grocery stores? Although, I guess it makes sense, it's pretty cool/popular to hate Walmart - a nice place to start and bring in the blind followers.

Phil_Letten3 karma

Target and a long list of other major food companies have already committed to phasing out gestation crates. Walmart is basically the only one left to do so. And because of how big of a company it is Walmart has the power to basically end these crates completely.

salsasalt130 karma


Phil_Letten223 karma

Basically every other major food provider in the country has already committed to doing away with these crates. And Walmart is such a big player in the industry. So when they change on this issue, it will basically be the end of gestation crates.

Phil_Letten80 karma

The answer to your first question is: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/19kxrg/ive_been_touring_across_the_country_with_a_10_ft/c8oz9w6

Walmart has a lot of power over their pork suppliers. If they give their suppliers the ultimatum to either change or stop selling to Walmart, if their suppliers want to keep doing business they are going to have to change. This isn't a matter of one single farm failing to meet Walmart standards, it's a matter of Walmart standards allowing this blatant abuse to happen at farms all over.

Dmcx3585 karma

  1. What was it like being undercover at the pork supplier?

  2. How did you manage to get your video and evidence?

  3. What was Walmart's reaction to the release of your findings?

  4. What other undercover investigations have you been a part of?

Thanks for the AMA!

Phil_Letten67 karma

  1. I have never gone undercover. One of our former investigators did one of these. It can be found here. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/147bjg/i_was_an_undercover_investigator_documenting/

  2. Our investigators take a job at these facilities and go to work everyday wired with a pinhole sized hidden camera and audio equipment. They basically just document what they see.

  3. Walmart is dragging it's feet. They have made no commitment to phasing out gestation crates even though almost every other major food provider has already done so.

  4. Our organization has done over 20. You can learn more at www.mercyforanimals.org .

GammaGrace77 karma

How do you get from place to place and why are you dressed so fancy?

Phil_Letten235 karma

We have a little Toyota Corolla that we drive around the country. It's packed to the brim. I also want to add that we almost never stay at motels. We have done 92 stops with this campaign and have probably stayed at a motel 4 times. We stay with local volunteers and people I have met over the last couple years on my travels. Every now and then we use the website www.couchsurfing.org.

We dress up because people take you more seriously when you are dressed up. And since we feel this is a serious issue I wear a suit and tie everyday.

thodgetts55 karma

Well done, factory farming is possible the worst mass-scale animal abuse in the 21st century. Do you think people still shop and buy meat from Walmart because of ignorance or because they know about it but don't care?

Phil_Letten29 karma

I think public knowledge about factory farming is growing which is why we are seeing lots of people going vegetarian, cutting back on meat consumption, and also seeing laws passed in some states to get rid of some of the worst factory farming abuses. But I think there are still a lot of people that really don't know. The meat industry does a pretty good job of hiding their animal abuse from the public.

A good video to show friends who don't know about factory farming is www.meatvideo.com .

duckyinahat51 karma

Has Wal-Mart tried to stop you?

Phil_Letten114 karma

All of our protests are set up on a public sidewalk, which means they are completely legal. Every now and then the management will come out and talk to us. And it's pretty awesome because they are almost always sympathetic to the cause!

pickupnote49 karma

Have any companies changed their practices specifically because of you?

Are there any companies who you feel are especially humane in their treatment of animals?

Phil_Letten91 karma

The Walmart pork supplier that we investigated was also linked to Costco and Kmart. The night before we were set to release the investigation Costco and Kmart both came out and commited to phasing out gestation crates. We were also recently successful at getting Kraft Foods to do away with tail docking, which is the practice of slicing off a calf's tail without painkillers.

I think there are companies that are making strides in the right direction, but none that I would promote as being humane. I think the only way to be 100% humane is to go simply stop eating animals. With that said, when it comes to the issue of gestation crates Costco, Kmart, Kroger, Safeway, Mcdonalds, Burger King, Wendy's and a pretty long list of others have committed to doing away with them. With that said, all that means is the pigs will be given enough space to turn around, lie down, and engage in some natural behaviors. Far from ideal. But still a big step in the right direction.

Lightbulb948 karma

Do you think the ag-gag laws that are currently being debated and passed will impact your work?

Phil_Letten61 karma

The main thing we are worried about them impacting is our undercover investigations. Without undercover investigations there are no effective watchdogs protecting animals on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. And we think that lawmakers should be working to prevent and prosecute cruelty to animals, rather than making it harder to expose.

B0wSer6930 karma

Has anyone ever bothered you while protesting, such as physical or verbal assault? If so, was it from the buisness you were protesting or people passing by?

Phil_Letten59 karma

The response from the public to our protests is overwhelmingly positive. We get a lot of honks of support, thumbs up, waves, etc. Every now and then we get an "I love bacon," or a middle finger. I actually think it's kind of funny.

drumsandotherthings20 karma

What do you vision for the future of the food industry, especially the fast food one. Do you see these big corporations exposed and forced to change or will things continue to get worse?

Phil_Letten31 karma

Most people are horrified when they learn about the tiny cages farmed animals live in, the mutilations they endure, and the brutal slaughter they are subjected to. When they learn this they don't want to support it. And a lot of corporations are realizing this, which is why many are beginning to offer more vegetarian options.

I do think things will get better. We just have to work smart and hard.

santa_cloud17 karma

what made you want to help the animals in the first place?

Phil_Letten29 karma

I grew up with a dog. She was my first connection with animals. And I saw in her first hand that she had her own personality. She experienced emotions. And she felt pain. When I got older I started questioning what the difference was between a dog and pig. I got a leaflet from Vegan Outreach a few times. And then came across a video similar to the one at www.meatvideo.com. After that I decided to go vegetarian and advocate on behalf of farmed animals.

iDabbleYes17 karma

How do the people working at a location usually try to handle the situation?

Phil_Letten32 karma

They usually don't even come out and talk to us. Every now and then they will. But after speaking with us for a couple minutes they actually end up being sympathetic. A lot of them are shocked Walmart is still using gestation crates after so many of their competitors have committed to doing away with them.

blakefoster16 karma

What can I do to help raise awareness to this issue? I am fresh out of giant inflatable pigs last I checked, but I think this widely-accepted abuse needs more attention.

Phil_Letten16 karma

Thanks for wanting to help out. You can share the link on your facebook. www.walmartcruelty.com . You can also sign the petition there as well.

mpcato14 karma

How do you think your strategies differ from those of previous activists who have had little apreciable effect?

Phil_Letten34 karma

One thing we do at MFA that I think is really important is maintain a professional image. People take us more seriously because of it.

valicool13 karma

What is your opinion on PETA?

Phil_Letten14 karma

Mercy For Animals is a completely separate organization. We see eye to eye with them on a lot of things but their tactics are sometimes different than the way we go about things. We try to maintain a professional image as well.

PairOfMonocles13 karma

What does this do to prices? I see lots of people protest things tags they don't like and assume that the buying public should absorb slightly higher prices to cover the change. Most of the actual improvements that seem to become widespread enough to be meaningful involve someone working with the industries to make sure that the changes are price neutral so that they're not just adopted by a limited crowd willing to pay for it. Any success on this front?

Phil_Letten21 karma

Iowa State University conducted a two-and-a-half year long economic analysis of the issue and found that that a group housing solution resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system.

But I really think we need to change the way we view animals. Animals are living beings with needs and wants of their own. If we are really opposed to animal abuse I don't think we should be looking at their welfare in terms of cost.

Imthecriticman12 karma

Blunt question but how do you grow to care so much about animals we are going to kill and eat anyway? Not condoning the gestation crates, just curious.

Phil_Letten31 karma

Farmed animals experience pain and suffering just like dogs and cats. I think the best thing we can do for the animals is go vegetarian. But in the meantime we can all agree that these animals deserve to at least be able to turn around. And since most people are opposed to animal abuse, I think most people are on our side with this issue.

Anbu_Attack12 karma

Are you familiar with the documentary "Food Inc."? I have changed the way I eat because of that, what's your take on that movie?

Phil_Letten13 karma

That's a really good documentary. And I'm glad it's become so mainstream. I have met so many people all over the country who have watched it. I do also think it's pretty tame and doesn't show just how bad the animals are treated on factory farms. If you ever have the time you should check out Mercy For Animals 12-minute documentary called Farm to Fridge. You can watch it at www.meatvideo.com .

msbubbles32611 karma

How do you know if you are buying meat from a source that treats its animals well? I have no intentions of becoming a vegetarian, I love meat too much, but I don't want to support of company that is okay with animal cruelty either. What should I know when buying meat?

Phil_Letten5 karma

Thanks. I was asked a similar question earlier and this was my response: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/19kxrg/ive_been_touring_across_the_country_with_a_10_ft/c8oz20l

SavannahVegan10 karma

Of all your encounters with individuals and the media, which stands out in your mind as the most successful? Why?

Phil_Letten20 karma

Both encounters were on different campaigns.

  1. I was leafleting at the university in Orlando, FL when a girl took a leaflet from my friend Vic, read it for a few minutes, then threw out the bacon and egg sandwich she was eating. She talked to us for a while and said she was going vegetarian.

  2. I was on the Farm to Fridge Tour a couple years ago. You can read more about it at www.farmtofridgetour.com. The local FOX affiliate in Fort Myers, FL did a pre-story on our demonstration there. They said it got more viewer responses than any other Sunday night story in the history of the station. So they came out again the next day, did a live shot earlier in the day, and then did another story at night. All 3 stories were amazing!

camelcaravan8 karma

Often times, I see organizations point out faults in a system, but come up with no solutions to the problem. What are some of your solutions to better animals' living conditions, while also producing at the same large scale farming that needs to be done?

Phil_Letten19 karma

Smithfield, one of the nations largest pork producers has already moved toward alternative housing with much success. We feel pregnant pigs deserve to at least be able to turn around. This is something a number of systems support, which would include group housing, outdoor hutches, or even just larger individual pens.

TritonMars8 karma

I applaud and fully support your campaign. Wal mart is becoming a powerhouse of impunity putting a monopoly on all business and crushing 'mom and pop' across the continent. In my hometown I have personally seen the impact of Big Blue in the form of closed privatw business and the arrival of 'smart centers' (plazas of smaller contracted businesses surrounding central Wal Mart Super Centers). Best of luck to you and your cause.

Phil_Letten3 karma

Thanks for sharing!

HD3D7 karma


Phil_Letten11 karma

It's a huge food safety issue. And animals on factory farms are usually pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. When we eat meat we are also consuming all that stuff as well.

Woopsyeah7 karma

I am a vegetarian, I have been most of my life thanks to my parents becoming veggies shortly before I was born. I sidestepped a few times in middle and high school but shortly after that decided that I wanted to be a vegetarian not because my parents were but because I love animals and see no need to endanger them just for a pleasurable eating experience. I think it's too easy to disconnect the prepared delicacies that we eat from living feeling creatures that really aren't THAT different from ourselves in their basic needs.

That said, I feel I am a bit of a hypocritic. I still love cheese and eggs. Milk kind of grosses me out so I don't really partake of it by itself anymore. I know these industries probably dont treat the animals much better than the meat industry despite my best efforts to go organic and cage free, so I'm fairly conflicted. I really enjoy imitation meats and soy milk but I have yet to find a suibtable replacement for cheese or eggs. Any suggestions from anyone? I know there is substantial work being done to create even better imitation meats, but I haven't really heard of much work being done on the dairy side.

Phil_Letten11 karma

That's awesome you've basically been vegetarian all your life. I would say don't beat yourself up, but also realize that cheese and eggs do cause animal suffering. When I first went vegan I didn't know of any vegan cheeses that I liked. There is a really good one that a lot of people like now called Daiya. I love it. Follow Your Heart is another one that seems to be liked by a lot of people.

I'm not much of a chef. I think egg replacer or something similar can easily be substituted for eggs in a recipe. If you eat scrambled eggs a lot I would try tofu scramble. Most of the tofu scramble I've had has been sub-par, but I have had some really good ones too. Check out www.chooseveg.com for more help.

Journalisto7 karma

Do you honestly think your campaign is going to make a difference? If so, how?

Phil_Letten17 karma

This campaign has been so successful with garnering mainstream media attention all over the country and getting public support that I think it's only a matter of time. The longer Walmart waits on this issue, the worse they look.

scrash7 karma

Do you have a gf?

Phil_Letten4 karma


jhenryf6266 karma

If it pops, will you just pack up and go home? Or do you have like closets of these things.

Phil_Letten7 karma

Since it is constantly being pumped with air by a blower a little hole probably wouldn't even do anything. I bet there are probably little holes in it right now that we don't even notice. If the hole is a decent size we would have to repair it.

yoshidino6 karma

Have you ever been harassed due to your views?

Phil_Letten6 karma

After having over 100k one-on-one interactions when I leafleted for Vegan Outreach I've gotten pretty good at dealing with people. If someone comes at me very antagonistic, within 2 or 3 minutes we are usually shaking hands, laughing, and becoming friends.

dou-dou6 karma


Phil_Letten4 karma

That's awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Toyota155 karma

Have you been to the Sioux Falls South Dakota location?

Phil_Letten6 karma

Unfortunately no. We tried to fit it into part-1 of this tour. But we had to decide to either go through ND or SD. We ended up going through ND. Hopefully we can make it through on a different campaign in the future.

offthehook5 karma

Where do you see the meat industry going in the future? Will more people decide to become vegetarian?

Phil_Letten13 karma

People are going vegetarian in droves now. Even professional athletes and celebrities are doing it. We've also got tons of people cutting back on their meat consumption. Here are a few links that further explain why I think the future is looking brighter:




joebudden5 karma

Do you get an income doing what you're doing?

Phil_Letten6 karma

Yes. I'm not raking in the big bucks though. I do this work because I'm passionate about reducing the amount of suffering in the world.

Papero7k5 karma

Any other retailers we should be wary of when buying meat products?

Phil_Letten7 karma

The investigation into the Walmart supplier did find pretty awful stuff, but the reality is that the practices done there are pretty common in the pork industry, e.g. ~80% of pig farms use gestation crates (extreme confinement), it's completely legal to slam piglets to death, castrate w/o painkillers, clip teeth, and so on. So the easiest way to ensure you aren't supporting this horrific animal abuse is to simply not eat meat.

omittingpit5 karma

I did an analysis paper on Food Inc. and animal abuse. It absolutely broke my heart to see the piglets and what they go through.

Phil_Letten6 karma

That's awesome. I am huge fan of Food Inc. It has really raised awareness among a lot of people. Have you watched any of our investigations yet? Our latest investigation at a Walmart pork supplier can be found at www.walmartcruelty.com. That video is just 3-minutes long. You can also see our 12-minute documentary Farm to Fridge at www.meatvideo.com. Farm to Fridge shows how animals are treated on factory farms and slaughterhouses.

SexClown5 karma

Yah we saw you in Nashville last week, right? Can't be too many fellers going around with a giant pig.

Thanks for fighting for the wee critters!

Phil_Letten2 karma

That's awesome! Did you drive by? Or see us on the news? We got a lot of media attention that day.

nmgoh25 karma

Who's paying you rent? It seems protesting is your full time job now, which is admirable, but not very profitable. How are you getting by?

Phil_Letten11 karma

I no longer have an apartment. I'll be subletting from someone anytime there is a break between tours.

mtzjordanb4 karma

What do you hope happens from your protesting?

Phil_Letten10 karma

We're just calling on Walmart to follow the lead of Costco, Kroger, Safeway, and a ton of others and commit to phasing out crates that prevent pregnant pigs from even turning around.

burkeboise4 karma

Does it bother you spending so much of your time and energy working for better treatment of animals when there are humans who are hungry?

I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm seriously curious. I'm not saying your priorities are wrong, they're just so different from mine that I would enjoy elaboration.

Phil_Letten7 karma

That is a really good question One of the reasons I'm a vegetarian is because I care about human rights. It takes numerous pounds of corn and grain to produce one pound of meat. But rather than feeding that food to people who are starving we are feeding it to farmed animals so the global rich can eat meat. I don't want to be a part of that.

Chaseman694 karma

At what point will you be content with practices?

Phil_Letten3 karma

We work to the worst factory farming abuses but we also feel the best thing people can do to help animals is to go vegetarian or at least cut back on meat consumption.

people19254 karma

How do you decide which cities to go to?

Phil_Letten1 karma

We go to any city with it's own media market. And for this campaign the city also needs to have a Walmart.

quarkspbt4 karma

What are some of the best alternatives to meet the demand for this popular product (meat in general, pork in specific)? What are our choices for ethically maintained animals?

Phil_Letten7 karma

I don't believe there is a way to ethically kill and eat animals. There are definitely less cruel methods. But that means there are just differing degrees of cruelty. The only completely ethical choice is to leave animal off our plates. There are lots of meat alternatives from companies like Boca, Morningstar Farms, Gardein, etc. I would suggest trying numerous products to find the ones that you like.

DoubleDutchOven4 karma

Who have you investigated with positive results?

Phil_Letten9 karma

All of our investigations are done completely at random. But every time our investigators come out of these facilities they have footage of horrific cruelty. There is almost always sadistic abuse. But the real horrific cruelties are the standard practices. Practices such as confining animals to cages where they can barely move, mutilating them without painkillers, etc. are considered standard practice within the industry. To learn more check out www.meatvideo.com

Rumer3 karma

I used to know some people that would go hunting with Sam Walton, and then have a few hard drinks after. Apparently, he was a good guy.

I figure, if he were still alive and he met you, he would completely agree with how shitty Wal-mart has gotten, and go join you on your trip.

Phil_Letten4 karma

That would be awesome.

ParkAndBeacon3 karma

As a bacon lover. What can I do to ensure that I am eating cruelty free bacon?

Phil_Letten6 karma

Good question. I think the only way to be cruelty free is to not eat bacon. With that said, there are less cruel ways of getting bacon. Really the only way to know though, is to actually go to the farm and see for yourself.

trollocity3 karma

I have a question and I don't mean to be rude or offensive in any way, it's simple curiosity: If animals were euthanized humanely, treated properly and weren't subject to any form of abuse during the course of their lives up until they're turned into food for humans, would that be better? From reading some of the other comments, I'm getting that you're on a vegan/vegetarian diet. If animals weren't killed inhumanely would you still consume them?

Phil_Letten5 karma

That would not be anywhere near as bad as the way it is typically done today. But since there is no need to consume animals I would still not do it.

drumdude1383 karma

What's your favorite snack on the road?

Phil_Letten6 karma

I try to eat relatively healthy. Sometimes I buy a little bag of cashews at the gas station. I also like clif bars, but try not to eat those too often.

DarceDoll3 karma

You're so handsome...

I love the work you're doing, I realized not everyone will switch to a vegetarian diet but it's the small steps that help.

Phil_Letten4 karma

Ha. Thanks. And I agree about your second point. Research backs that up as well. It is known as the foot in the door technique. When people make a small step in the right direction they become much more likely to make a larger step in the long run.

graysa2 karma

Hey I saw you in East Nashville this past week!! I'm the guy who drove by and honked. Remember?

Phil_Letten3 karma

That's awesome. We get so many honks it's hard to keep track of them. Thanks for the support. It was so cold that day so we needed it. haha

cjy0922 karma

Does being an animal rights advocate and vegan/vegetarian ever make you feel alienated? And if so, does it sometimes get to you and how do you deal with that?

Phil_Letten6 karma

It used to. And I think it had a lot to do with how abrasive I was. And I think it's understandable when others are abrasive regarding these issues. The suffering is so immense and it can be crazy to see so many people participating in it. But being this way is not helpful to animals as it just pushes people away.

I try to not be judgmental anymore. And I try to be very encouraging of small steps others take toward veganism. I have seen more people close to me go vegetarian since becoming this way. My entire family, and many in my extended family have actually gone vegan.