Hello Reddit! My name is David Coman-Hidy, and I'm the Executive Director of The Humane League. We're an animal protection nonprofit that organizes people around the world. THL has been named a 'top charity' by Animal Charity Evaluators for the last four rating periods.

We've had a lot of success fighting to end battery cages (cruel confinement for egg laying hens) and we've just launched our first campaign to reform the poultry industry: http://www.agonyataramark.com/

We would like to see Aramark publicly announce a broiler chicken welfare policy which includes, at a minimum, the following four basic welfare points:

  1. Commit to exclusively purchasing specific breeds - the breeds of which Aramark would state publicly - that addresses the concerns related to fast growth, with a phase-in over the next four years.

  2. Commit to giving chickens more room by reducing maximum stocking density to 6lbs per square foot, with a phase-in over the next two years.

  3. Commit to installing environmental enrichments in line with Global Animal Partnership's enrichment standards throughout 100% of chicken housing, with a phase-in over the next two years.

  4. Move away from fully conscious live shackling and switch to some form of controlled atmosphere killing, with a phase-in of eight years.

AMA!

[proof] http://imgur.com/a/HjlWn

Hey Reddit! Thanks so much for the interest -- I was completely overwhelmed and happy to see so much engagement! I'm sorry that I don't have more time to answer everybody's questions :) If you're interested in getting involved with our work, please sign up for the Fast Action Network: http://thehumaneleague.com/fast-action-network/

Comments: 714 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

myinsideshurt131 karma

I read many arguments that suggest cage free is arguably a minor improvement over caged as many cage free chickens live in tight quarters with no light or access to the outdoors. Those articles tend to suggest that free range is the direction we should be heading.

I see you you're looking for not just simply cage free, but also increased movement space as well as enrichment. What are your thoughts on cage free vs free range?

davidcomanhidy105 karma

Hey, just to be clear: there are two separate campaigns/asks here. Our ongoing/multi-year cage-free campaign relates to chickens raised to lay eggs. The asks outlined above relate to chickens raised for meat.

The reason that we landed on cage-free, though, is that it is the greatest amount of harm reduction that we were likely to succeed in campaigning for as a new national standard (so that we could impact the entire laying flock rather than a small number of animals).

McLovinMyCountry110 karma

How have ag-gag laws impacted the work that you do?

davidcomanhidy186 karma

For those who don't know: ag-gag laws are a pernicious group of bills that attempt to stop undercover whistleblowers and investigators from revealing the cruelty on factory farms.

THL doesn't do investigations ourselves, but the entire movement depends on these exposes to show the public what is going on behind closed doors. Any effort that makes it more difficult to obtain that footage is bad for animals.

The silver lining is that ag-gag laws have been a total PR disaster for factory farms. I guess it doesn't look good when you're actively trying to make it illegal for people to see what it is you're up to.

lnfinity85 karma

What are some easy things that each person here can do to support your efforts?

davidcomanhidy95 karma

I'd recommend is joining up with the Fast Action Network: http://thehumaneleague.com/fast-action-network/

Members receive a few actions each week that can be done from their phone or computer. Our FAN members are a big part of our campaign strategy and it's an easy way for anybody to get involved.

McLovinMyCountry13 karma

I'm signed up for the Fast Action Network and I do the tasks every time you send out an alert!

davidcomanhidy7 karma

Awesome, thank you! Tons of people have been signing up today :)

mom0nga67 karma

I love the work you guys do, especially your recent victory in getting United Egg Producers to end chick culling. I honestly believe it's one of the biggest victories for animal welfare in decades. Which brings me to my question: How do we break down the stereotypes surrounding animal welfare and those who advocate for improvements? (i.e. reforms are unrealistic, activists are "crazy" and "don't know what they're talking about", they're "pushing a radical agenda", etc.) One of the biggest challenges for me as an animal welfare advocate is the immediate pushback from people who reflexively assume that even the most modest welfare suggestions are somehow the result of extremist animal rights "propaganda".

davidcomanhidy46 karma

Thank you for your nice words :)

One thing that I try to keep in mind for my work is that advocates for any cause face the same criticisms: the reform is impossible, it's a crazy idea anyways, nobody cares, you're uninformed, etc. -- I've volunteered on plenty of other issues and the criticisms tend to be the same for any group.

When our opponents are attacking us as crazy, radical or working from some insane agenda, it's often because they don't want to address a question like "why is it okay to keep an animal in a cage the size of her body for her entire life?"

The reality is that our issue, cruelty to animals, is one of the ONLY issues that virtually everybody agrees on. Nobody wants animals to suffer. As I mentioned in another answer, voters have always shown up for farmed animals. I very rarely encounter people who oppose our work that don't have a financial interest in our failure.

So, keep your eyes on the prize and remember that you are, in fact, not alone!

joncamp43 karma

There's a growing effective altruism movement that works to make charitable giving more effective. Where does The Humane League fit in that movement?

davidcomanhidy61 karma

Effective altruism (EA) has a lot of overlap with the farm animal protection movement. Because the situation on factory farms is SO bad right now -- so many animals suffering so intensely -- even winning incremental progress can mean a huge impact (at least if you measure impact in harm reduction, as we do at THL and I believe as most EA-types do). Notably, Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation and one of the founders of modern animal protection, is one of the main leaders within the EA movement.

Some of the values of the EA movement are transparency, measurement of impact, willingness to change, and an open mind about interventions. Our team at THL try to embody these.

THL has been involved with the effective altruism movement for several years now and we're proud to have been recognized for our impact by Animal Charity Evaluators.

DanaLovesVidya38 karma

Any plans to stop the maceration of live male chicks?

davidcomanhidy58 karma

Yes! In fact, we've already negotiated an end to this practice in the US: http://blog.thehumaneleague.com/victory-united-egg-producers-announces-elimination-of-chick-culling-by-2020

redcell512 karma

So the idea is embryo-sexing technology eliminates male chicks entirely? Interesting. Rather than process waste, eliminate waste at the source.

davidcomanhidy23 karma

Exactly! This will spare hundreds of millions of animals from being born and almost immediately slaughtered.

deathbatcountry37 karma

Does the Humane League want to see factory farming, and the consumption of animals come to and end, or just make the lives of the animals better before they are killed?

davidcomanhidy84 karma

Our mission is to reduce animal suffering, so the short answer to your question is that we're in favor of any change that moves in that direction (whether it's a reduced number of animals being raised on factory farms or improved conditions).

We work on both fronts, trying to reduce demand and to reduce the harm done to the animals who are being raised.

It's my personal hope that advances in technology (plant-based/in-vitro meats, for example) will replace factory farming.

miked00d18 karma

Are you personally vegetarian / vegan? Is it common in your organisation?

davidcomanhidy50 karma

Yes! I've personally been vegan for about seven years and vegetarian for some years before that.

greyk4729 karma

So I'm a fan of cruelty free food, but how often are claims of "cage free" just used as marketing buzzwords like "all-natural." Is packing thousands of chickens into a small tent really that much better than into cages? Not trying to be a downer, just kind of cynical about "cage free." Please correct me

davidcomanhidy32 karma

Thanks for the question. It's true that cage-free hens are still factory farmed and that they suffer quite a bit, too. That said, they are much better off than the hens who are crammed into battery cages for their entire lives.

For individual consumers, reducing egg consumption overall is the best way to spare egg-laying hens from misery. When it comes to changing institutions, though, we decided to push for cage-free as a way to do the most good for the largest number of animals.

PookiPoos27 karma

I love the cause!

I'm wondering how such a large scale campaign is funded?

davidcomanhidy32 karma

Thanks! THL has been working on this issue for some time, including when we had a very, very small budget and just a handful of employees. Back then we were funded by a few events each year (like a walk for animals) and a few individual supporters.

In the last few years, support for this work has become a lot more mainstream and in addition to a much larger group of individual donors, we also have received grant funding from organizations like the Open Philanthropy Project.

That said, we can still use your help ;)

AbraSLAM_Lincoln24 karma

Why have you chosen to target Aramark?

davidcomanhidy72 karma

Aramark is one of the largest foodservice companies in the world, and they say that they are committed to being part of the solution for changing the way that chickens are treated. We're targeting them because a commitment will impact a huge number (many millions) of animals and because their clients, many of them college students, oppose the way chickens are treated in their supply chain.

We saw foodservice at the forefront of the change for egg-laying hens, and we're planning on history repeating itself here.

Donniej52523 karma

I think that fighting to reduce farm animal's suffering is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, but wouldn't the better ideal be to reduce the consumption of livestock altogether?

As long as we consider farm animals as assets rather than living beings, then the priority is always going to be financial gain for the company rather than quality of life for these animals.

I don't mean to sound like a preachy vegan, it just seems to make more sense to address the root of the problem, that being the consumption of livestock as a whole.

davidcomanhidy48 karma

THL also does a lot of work to reduce demand for meat: we've worked with school systems to participate in meatless Mondays, we have a large outreach and education program that helps consumers reduce their own consumption of meat and we have worked with many institutions to add new veg options onto their menus.

That said, it's clear that many billions of animals will continue to suffer on factory farms, and we believe that if we're serious about doing the most good that we can, we have to help reduce their suffering.

BattleRoyali21 karma

I studied animal science and my research focused on ethical egg farming. What I determined, along with the American Veterinary Medical Association, is that furnished cages are the most humane way to house egg-laying hens, and in fact cage-free housing increases health risks for both the chickens and the people eating their eggs, what with the buildup of ammonia-rich waste and easily spread diseases. Not to mention that behaviorally, the desire to "run free" is a human one, not a chicken one.

My question is, why do you focus on cage-free housing and not furnished cages?

davidcomanhidy15 karma

An important question! We spend quite a time thinking about these issues. I think the best evidence is summarized by this very thorough comparison of various housing systems: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1573521406800199

Glovedawg20 karma

Some people simply don't care about anything other than price, can these methods lead to the same competitive pricing we currently have in the market?

davidcomanhidy33 karma

While it's true some people may only care about price, the vast majority of people care quite a bit about animal welfare. Even when there is a marginal increase in cost, like with cage-free eggs, citizens have passed ballot initiatives to ban cages every time it has been up for vote (as it looks like they will shortly in Massachusetts).

powrlifting17 karma

sounds like a good thing to do but what's wrong with the way Aramark's chickens are raised now?

davidcomanhidy42 karma

Chickens raised and slaughtered for meat live for about six weeks and suffer intensely in horrible conditions. They are bred to grow grotesquely large and very quickly, which causes a host of medical problems that make breathing or even walking difficult for them. In addition to the problems caused by their bodies, these animals are living in extremely crowded and barren conditions, without access to sunlight, enrichments, or really anything that would allow for the expression of natural behaviors. Finally, they are brutally shackled by their feet while still conscious and slaughtered after being dragged through an often ineffective electric bath.

We're simply asking for basic considerations that would help alleviate this suffering.

greeniepoo14 karma

What has caused your interest in animal cruelty?

davidcomanhidy27 karma

To be honest, I didn't see myself as a big animal lover growing up. In high school I was very inspired by the writings of Peter Singer, and after reading Animal Liberation I was convinced that factory farming was one of the great moral dilemmas of our time. So for me my animal advocacy started as an attempt to reduce the most suffering rather than as an expression of a long-held affinity for animals. Over the last few years, especially thanks to the two cats who I live with, Olive and Basil, I have developed a much more emotional connection to the cause, too.

zoxcat13 karma

Can you explain a little bit about controlled atmosphere killing?

davidcomanhidy27 karma

Sure. There are a few systems out there (Controlled Atmosphere Killing, Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, and Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning) that try to address the very intense suffering that takes place during slaughter for chickens. Essentially what they all have in common is that the birds are rendered unconscious before the dumping, shackling, throat slitting, etc.

Using one of these systems means that workers, who are pressured to move as quickly as possible, are not handling birds who are conscious and suffering. We see this as a clear way that we can reduce the very real suffering of billions of chickens each year.

baltimorosity11 karma

What jobs did you have prior to your position today? I am a dog walker and animal care attendant in school for Human Ecology and Environmental Sustainability with hopes of working in the animal protection industry with a focus on farmed animal rights. Sometimes I feel like I could be working an office job to help my resume, but absolutely love working in the setting I am now with hopes of an internship next semester with an AP group. What were some ways you began your journey to where you are today? Thank you for being a voice for the animals, and a major force behind the gathering of listening ears en masse for change.

davidcomanhidy17 karma

Thank you for the kind words!

Let's see... dishwasher, Subway Sandwich Artist, comic store cashier, and caterer to name a few :)

I studied political communication in college and thought that I would end up working in party politics. I got involved in activism early in high school and my experiences working/volunteering on campaigns, interning with nonprofits and organizing students on my campus was what made me sure that I wanted to spend my life doing this kind of work. I started working for The Humane League essentially right out of college after a brief stint working in MA politics (which I decided wasn't the right fit for me).

Interning with animal groups is absolutely the best way to find work in the movement! Good luck :)

isthatagoose17 karma

Didn't you once work as a waitress in a cocktail bar?

davidcomanhidy14 karma

LOL my eternal cross to bear >.<

goodmanta211 karma

Can you elaborate what you mean by "fast growth" for chickens?

davidcomanhidy9 karma

Sure! Long story short: virtually all chickens today raised for meat look grotesquely different from what you would have found before the rise of factory farming. Through genetic selection, they have been bred to grow SEVEN TIMES larger than what you would see in a traditional domestic breed.

The excellent blog Counting Animals (written by THL board member and head of Humane League Labs Harish Sethu) gives a much more detailed look at how this happened: http://www.countinganimals.com/a-child-raised-to-weigh-five-hundred-pounds-by-age-ten/

Lumene9 karma

Speaking as an agricultural geneticist, what precisely is the problem of breeding? You're talking as if any amount of selective breeding is anathema to animal rights at all. Especially with the use of the word "Grotesque".

Apples taste much better and are bigger than their ancestral counterparts, wheat doesn't shatter, corn is much much bigger than teosinte. I don't see anyone labeling these as "Grotesque". We've simply gotten better at shaping nature to our own ends and creating model animals that are better suited to our particular needs. This smacks of "Back to nature" naturalistic fallaciousness.

davidcomanhidy23 karma

I don't have any moral attachment to what is 'natural' beyond the actual welfare impacts changing a breed has on living, sentient beings. As others mention, apples cannot suffer. Chickens can.

Vivapancakez8 karma

Is your group pursuing the growth of meat from beef cells? Is this something that could one day be an economically viable alternative, or is it just a fantasy?

davidcomanhidy12 karma

We are not working on this science ourselves but if you are interested in this issue I recommend checking out the excellent Good Food Institute: http://www.gfi.org/

While there is a long way to go, I do indeed think that there is a lot of promising evidence that this new kind of farming will be a very viable alternative to factory farming.

alexandriakaye16 karma

What's next for THL after Aramark agrees to your requests?

davidcomanhidy9 karma

As we have seen a massive shift in the egg industry away from cages, we hope to see a similarly broad reform across the poultry industry. This campaign will be the first of many as we work with other massive purchasers to update their policies and improve the lives of chickens.

ltpiper6 karma

What's your favorite food?

davidcomanhidy10 karma

Pizza and it's not even close.

ADGuinn6 karma

How does The Humane League get guaranteed commitments from these companies? Does THL follow up to make sure that promises are kept?

davidcomanhidy9 karma

Great question! This is a critical part of the campaigns -- it's not a victory until actual lives are impacted. For the most part, we have ongoing relationships with the groups we have campaigned against. We also only accept policies that have a firm timeline and are made publicly as added accountability.

With the cage-free issue, we're talking about an industry-wide change, so we closely follow industry data to monitor progress and even meet with trade groups like the United Egg Producers.

Over the coming years, some portion of our work will be ongoing follow-up dialogue to stay on top of the shift away from cages.

killercurvesahead6 karma

What's the motivation to limit them to a single breed? I understand the breed-related concerns, but isn't enforcing a monoculture creating a situation where the chickens are more susceptible to rapid spread of disease—and increased suffering—and creating a high-risk situation for Aramark? Won't this encourage Aramark to use more precautionary antibiotics?

It sounds like putting all your eggs in one basket.

davidcomanhidy5 karma

We are not asking for a specific breed, simply that the breed used addresses the major welfare concerns around rapid growth (like leg failure).

giftigdegen5 karma

  1. How would you compare yourself to Green Peace and PETA?

Might be an ignorant question. I myself am a serious nature conservationist, but I also am a hunter. Big game. I only hunt what I will eat though.

  1. What are your thoughts on my position?

davidcomanhidy17 karma

THL has a much more focused approach than Greenpeace or PETA, who both work on a huge number of issues. We are exclusively focused on factory farming and use a relatively small suite of programs to advance our mission.

My thoughts re: hunting are that I would never hunt myself but that the average person contributes vastly more to animal suffering through the factory farmed foods that they purchase than they would through hunting. I think about things in very utilitarian terms so that's why I focus my efforts on factory farms. I think part of why campaigns to improve the lives of farmed animals have been successful is that a large tent of people, including hunters, can get behind, say, eliminating cages or cutting back on meat to protect the environment.

NudeManOnTheHills4 karma

What would you say to the families you're going to affect with this campaign? The kind of production you're asking for is really expensive and it will inevitably drive companies to cut expenses and they always chose the employees first.

davidcomanhidy17 karma

The changes actually stand to benefit employees working in these factory farms. Handling unconscious/dead birds removes one of the most difficult parts of the job. Having to work with panicking birds fighting for their lives both increases the harm to the birds and makes the workers' conditions much worse.

I've talked to thousands of people about this issue going door-to-door and I find that almost all people see policies like this as protecting them from being involved in egregious animal cruelty.

MiddleEastPhD2 karma

How far can you go protecting animals without involving legislation? I am asking this because such campaigns are always more effective when legislation is involved and you cannot count on business to sacrifice profit or become less competitive if the field is not even for all players.

davidcomanhidy2 karma

Several laws have been passed protecting farm animals in ways that are similar to the corporate policies that we have been campaigning for. Right now we are part of a coalition of groups hoping to see a ballot initiative in MA ban cages.

Essiggurkerl2 karma

Why don't you campain for prohibiting battery cages in your country? Google tells me you are in the US - I thought battery cage eggs were a thing of the past in the entire civilized world :(

davidcomanhidy3 karma

We have been campaigning for corporate/industry policies to eliminate cages in the US for some time now. We also support legislation when it does come up, like in the case of the ballot initiative in MA right now that will protect hens from cages.