I started Mercy For Animals in 1999 when I was 15, and we now have 130 staff members in six countries. If you’ve seen footage of factory farms or slaughterhouses, there’s a good chance it came from one of our undercover investigators in the field (we’ve conducted more than 60 investigations now). Our investigations have led to criminal animal cruelty convictions, animal welfare policy reforms at Fortune 500 companies, and even the introduction of federal legislation in Mexico.

We also fight ag-gag legislation, which criminalizes whistleblowers and investigators who document animal abuse in factory farms. And we encourage folks to move toward a more plant-based diet, as it’s one of the easiest ways individuals can help fight cruelty to farmed animals.

Lastly, I helped launch New Crop Capital and The Good Food Institute, two entities focused on advancing “clean meat” (meat grown in cell culture) and better plant-based foods.

Proof: my picture, recent video, and a proof tweet

To learn more about any of this, check out our website, read my book, or AMA!

That's a wrap! Thanks so much for taking the time to learn about these issues and how we're working to prevent cruelty to farmed animals. Check out our website for more information, and visit r/vegan to stay engaged with these issues on Reddit.

Comments: 4277 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

justtuna551 karma

Are you against a small land owner that raises his own meat and puts the animals down the animals for eating? I grow my own garden and get half my income from eggs, meat, vegetables and fruit.

Also why cell cultured meat? How can it be meat if it's grown in a lab.

I'm honestly curious because I have had people call me a monster and ignorant person for what I do. I respect and love my animals and when one is used I thank it for its bounty. Being one of those farmers with thousands of birds is wrong in my opinion and should be illegal, but I advocate for what I do.

nathanrunkle718 karma

I'll always advocate for plant-based eating, because no matter how good the animals are treated, they're still seen and used as commodities--and slaughtered against their will. That said, there's clearly a difference between what you do and how the typical factory farm operates.

And while you may not use some of these practices, many small farms still do engage in some factory farming practices, such as cutting off the tails of cows used for dairy, cutting off the beaks of hens, cutting off piglets' teeth, etc. all without painkiller. Some of the worst abuse we've seen occured at smaller farms.

But to be clear, we dedicate nearly all of our resources to fighting the largest meat, dairy, and egg producers (and on the legal front, working to criminalize the most abusive practices), because the vast majority (certainly more than 90 percent) of all farmed animals are in large, industrialized factory farms.

Re: clean meat, copying and pasting an earlier comment I wrote: Clean meat has the potential to dramatically improve our world. It could not only lead to the end of factory farming and animal agriculture as we know it, but it could make our food much safer. Clean meat could prevent billions of sentient and intelligent animals from facing the horrors of factory farming and slaughterhouses. It could also help ease the strain on our environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Early research suggests that clean meat could use up to 90 percent less land, water and energy to produce than growing and raising animals. Clean meat, as the name implies, would also be far cleaner than meat grown from animals. And since it would be created in a sterile environment (not around animal feces) it would have far less e coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and other food illness related bacteria.

RonPaulBot1128514 karma

What are the draw backs to lab grown meat?

Edit: IDGAF about anyone elses answer but op.

KoalafiedMammal63 karma

That is good question. What type of jobs would be in an industry that produces clean meat? Slaughterhouse jobs seem like one of the hardest way to make a living. All that blood and shit and what not. Will clean meat be an industry that seems to screw over workers in the same way?

nathanrunkle303 karma

You're right, working in a slaughterhouses is horrible work. It's one of the most dangerous jobs in the country and also leads to high rates of PTSD for workers. Clean meat production would be the exact opposite. Since there are no live animals - who kick, scream and defecate while being killed in slaughterhouses - clean meat production not only provides major benefits to workers, but also food safety.

nathanrunkle11 karma

No real draw backs that we know of currently.

runnerdood474 karma

Have you investigated farms yourself? If so, where and what was it like?

nathanrunkle1696 karma

Yes, I have. I've been to dozens of factory farms and many slaughterhouses - both in the United States and other countries. It's really hard to describe what these places are like. There is suffering everywhere. I've had animals die in my arms. I've pulled animals out of manure pits who were drowning. I've seen animals being dragged to their deaths and having their throats slit, all in front of other animals who watched. It's heartbreaking and traumatizing. You can see much of this in MFA's undercover investigation footage. But what you don't experience when watching the videos are the smells. Factory farms are filthy places. The stench of feces is overpowering. It stings your throats and burns your eyes. It's because of these personal experiences that I'm so passionate about ending factory farming in my lifetime.

satosaison410 karma

Why should people interested in helping animals support Mercy For Animals over other animal rights and animal protection organizations like PETA, the World Wildlife Fund, or the Humane Society?

nathanrunkle1046 karma

Good question--it comes down to what you're most passionate about. There are so many organizations doing great work for animals, but most groups address various cruelties. At MFA, we focus 100% of our time and resources on preventing cruelty to farmed animals for two reasons: (1) By the numbers, they're the most abused animals on the planet (see this blog post: https://animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/why-farmed-animals/), and (2) They're given the least attention (only 1% of donations to animal charities go to those that help farmed animals).

At MFA, we want to reduce the most amount of suffering for animals as possible, and since our movement has very limited resources, we believe we can make the biggest impact by narrowing our focus on the most abused and least cared for.

Thankfully, MFA and other groups that focus on helping farmed animals have been able to make tremendous strides over the last few years--from passing 11 state laws, to getting literally hundreds of food companies to commit to banning some of the worst factory farming practices, to advancing clean meat. We're also seeing the number of people eating vegan on the rise (http://www.mercyforanimals.org/wow-veganism-in-american-has-grown-by-600).

DormieMorgan214 karma

Hi Nathan - Congrats on the release of your book. I have two questions:

  1. Has industry/farmers responded to the release at all?

  2. Will the proceeds from book sales go to MFA?

Thanks in advance!

nathanrunkle382 karma

Thank you!

1) No, not yet. 2) Yes, all the money I make from the book is being donated to MFA.

Jens_Mikael172 karma

I am really enjoying your book, thank you! How long before the industry realizes that "ag-gag" laws are completely counter-productive and stops trying to introduce them?

nathanrunkle344 karma

Hopefully now. Ag-gag laws have really given a black eye to the meat industry. They have exposed to the world that the meat industry has a lot to hide and is willing to go to really extreme lengths to keep their cruel practices hidden. Also, a number of the ag-gag laws that were passed have now been struck down in court for being unconstitutional (violation of freedom of speech). But the battle wages on. MFA continues to fight ag-gag bills around the country. We must stay vigilant.

baltimorosity165 karma

Hey there, Nathan!

What advice do you have for new activists experiencing social anxiety related to outreach work?

I'm so thankful you're doing an AMA! Thank you for reaching out to the world for change. <3

nathanrunkle230 karma

I love this question! I'm an introvert, so public speaking, media interviews, and other forms of outreach doesn't come naturally for me. But over the years I've done them all. In many ways, outreach work has helped me grow as a human being. It has helped push me into doing things that I naturally wouldn't do and in the processes has helped bring me out of my shell and meet some incredible people. So, my advice would be to try it. It might be uncomfortable at first, but oftentimes the best growth in life happens when you're uncomfortable. If you aren't ready for that, there are lots of other forms of advocacy work that you can do that doesn't involve being out in public. You can write letters, make vegan foods, edit videos, make thought provoking art, etc. There are a million ways to help animals that will fit your personality, available time, and passion.

aisforahimsa146 karma

How has the movement changed since you first became involved in it? Was there a particular time where the animal rights movement experienced a big boom in growth or has it been steadily increasing over time?

nathanrunkle321 karma

Overall, the movement has become much more focused on farmed animals, which I think is really good and important. Farmed animals are, hands down, the group of animals abused and killed in the largest numbers and oftentimes facing the most extreme abuse. It's good to see the animal movement focusing more on their plight and bringing about change for them. I also think the movement has become more focused on effectiveness - using data to drive decisions, refining its messaging, and getting more involved in the world of business and politics to drive change for animals. The movement has also become much more mainstream - thanks in part to the rise of social media and big documentaries.

lnfinity128 karma

Once someone has adopted a plant-based diet, what are some of the best things that ordinary people can do to support the work that Mercy For Animals is doing?

nathanrunkle169 karma

There are so many ways. You can volunteer your time with the organization by passing out leaflets, tabling, interning, joining us ad demonstrations, and more. You can also join out Hen Heroes team, which works to convince major food providers to get egg-laying hens out of cruel cages. This group of advocates have helped get over 100 million hens out of cages that are so small the birds can't even spread their wings, walk, perch, or engage in basic natural behaviors. And, of course, you can make a donation to MFA :) We are funded entirely by gifts from supporters.

boblovespuppies128 karma

When you first started Mercy For Animals when you were a teenager, did you have heroes that you looked up to and inspired you to do this work or were you on kind of on your own? If you did have heroes back then, are they still your heroes today? Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

nathanrunkle375 karma

I always admired social justice leaders - such as MLK and Gandhi. I drew inspiration from their commitment to non-violence and ability to win hearts and minds, which helped change the world. My biggest inspirations comes from animals themselves. I'm most moved by acts of bravery, courage, and love exhibited by animals imprisoned on factory farms. Stories of animals escaping slaughterhouses. Fighting to survive. Freeing themselves from cages, then assisting other animals by freeing them, too. There is a battle happening every day on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. These precious animals are doing everything they can to escape oppression and win freedom.

robotsincognito41 karma

Any evidence/videos of animals rescuing other animals?

nathanrunkle301 karma

Our undercover investigators have witnessed pigs on factory farms figuring out how to unlock and open the doors to their cages, then going around and unlocking and freeing other pigs.

raining_cats2104 karma

What documentaries would you recommend for people who are interested in learning more about the issue of factory farming or plant-based eating? Has there been a particular book or film that has really inspired you?

nathanrunkle252 karma

For a documentary about animal cruelty, check out Earthlings, which is on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDjKWzG2VhY), and this short film about one of our undercover investigators (http://www.whatcodysaw.com). These aren't easy to watch, but I think it's vital that we bear witness.

The best books? Animal Liberation by Peter Singer is a classic, and I also think Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals" is fantastic. I'd be remiss not to mention by book, too ☺ http://www.mercyforanimals.org/book

Other documentaries to check out: Forks Over Knives and What the Health about plant-based health (both on Netflix), Cowspiracy, which is also on Netflix and is about the environmental impact of factory farming. I'd also recommend Okja, which isn't a documentary but is quite powerful (it's also on Netflix).

Lastly, I'd check out the video section of our Facebook--we have a very talented video team: http://www.facebook.com/mercyforanimals/videos

Subtle_Omega84 karma

What do you consider your successful endeavor?

What is the best piece of advice would you give to people about stopping this issue?

nathanrunkle210 karma

I'm most proud of our undercover investigators and the results of their work. They sacrifice so much to go undercover and do this difficult work, but their investigations have resulted in the introduction of legislation, reforms of major Fortune 500 food companies, and have informed literally tens of millions of people about the cruelties of factory farms.

My advice for anyone working to stop this issue would be to think about how you can best contribute to the cause. If you're an artist or videographer, use your creativity to make eye-catching images and videos. If you're in IT, help nonprofits develop great websites and apps to help people reduce their meat consumption. If you're a writer, submit op-eds and articles to media outlets.

But also give serious thought to how best to use your time and energy to bring about the greatest reduction in suffering for animals. They need us to think strategically. For example, at MFA we focus a lot on reducing consumption of chicken and fish, since these animals are abused in the highest number--so getting one person (or institution) to reduce chicken/fish consumption will spare far more animals than someone reducing their beef/milk consumption.

MeatyMcSorley67 karma

Hi Nathan - just got your book in the mail but haven't had time to start it yet!

From an ethical standpoint, would you be comfortable eating meat that originated from animal cells, even if the meat in question didn't directly come from a live animal? It's something i'm on the fence with myself and would appreciate your insight.


nathanrunkle158 karma

Yes, I've actually eaten "clean meat" already (the first real meat I've had in 16 years). I think clean meat has the potential to end factory farming and save billions of animals (and perhaps our planet). I talk about my experience eating clean meat, as well as many of the innovators who are helping to bring it to market in the next few years, in the book.

lunarleo66 karma

If you had to put a timeline on the end of factory farming, or at least a huge reduction of it like a 90% cut in the US, when do you think that will happen?

nathanrunkle145 karma

This is hard to predict because there are so many variables, and just a few years ago I wouldn't have expected clean meat to develop so rapidly. But if I had to guess, I'd say 50 years.

Clean meat companies (Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats) say they'll have viable products to sell within the next 1-2 years, but hitting ~90% of the market will take some time, though it could come faster than we expect--Hampton Creek is currently in talks with 10 global meat processors about licensing its clean meat technology.

Right now, the plant-based food sector is still very young, but the interest from investors and the food industry in the last five years has been tremendous. I think it'll take a few decades for plant-based to become a dominant player in the industry because it still makes up less than 1 percent of the food industry. But plant-based milks and meats are growing faster than traditional meat and milk. Ultimately, I think clean and plant-based meats will win out, simply because they're more efficient.

katie_veg49 karma

I find it so overwhelming to think about the number of farmed animals killed every second, every minute. What gives you hope? How have you avoided burnout?

nathanrunkle78 karma

It certainly can be overwhelming. I think it's important to celebrate the successes we have (both big and small). It's also important to remember that being vegan is an act of love, and really celebrate the joy that living such a lifestyle can bring to our lives. Burnout is a serious issue. It's important to recognize that we are facing trauma (images of animal cruelty constantly) and we must nurture yourselves. See a therapist, exercise, meditate, laugh, be creative, spend time with friends and family, rest - whatever it is that helps you find center. View self care as part of your job as an advocate. We also have to take the long-term view, and view our role as advocates as a life-long commitment. Doing this means we have to pace ourselves.

ScaryButt49 karma

How do you manage seeing all this animal suffering all the time and not feeling completely hopeless? I can't stand watching the sort of footage you produce, I imagine seeing it IRL must really get to you, so how do you keep optimistic and sane?

nathanrunkle125 karma

You're right. It's emotionally traumatic to see so much animal suffering. Doing this work, you see the darkest side of humanity - the absolutely cruelty we are capable of imposing on our fellow creatures. I've seen animas thrown away in trashcan while still alive, beaten with hammers, and torn apart while conscious. But, at the same time, you see the brightest side of humanity - the selflessness, compassion generosity and compassion that we are capable of. I've seen people risk their own safety to help animals, volunteer their precious time to protect animals, and give generously in so many ways. I think it's important celebrate the positive progress we are making - and we are making a lot. It's also important to focus on self care - meditate, do yoga, eat well, laugh, spend time with friends and family.

chlorofarm33 karma

What differences would we notice if we made an industrial level switch to clean, cell grown meat? Would the quality of meat differ? For better or worse? Would cell grown be more expensive to mass produce?

nathanrunkle125 karma

Clean meat has the potential to dramatically improve our world. It could not only lead to the end of factory farming and animal agriculture as we know it, but it could make our food much safer. Clean meat could prevent billions of sentient and intelligent animals from facing the horrors of factory farming and slaughterhouses. It could also help ease the strain on our environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Early research suggests that clean meat could use up to 90 percent less land, water and energy to produce than growing and raising animals. Clean meat, as the name implies, would also be far cleaner than meat grown from animals. And since it would be created in a sterile environment (not around animal feces) it would have far less e coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and other food illness related bacteria.

Uniquegasses30 karma

Meat has been heavily attached to "being a man". why? Do you think breaking into mainstream media would be benificial or a detriment to MFA?

nathanrunkle54 karma

There is a much larger discussion I think our culture needs to have around characteristics associated with "being a man." Many of them are based on outdated and destructive "hyper masculine" views - most of which center around being violent, insensitive, dominating, etc. I think we should be focused on how to be good human beings - which, to me, includes how to be kind, loving, thoughtful, intelligent, creative, etc. I don't think there is anything to celebrate in the consumption of meat - which leads to incredible violence toward animals, is harmful to our environment, and can be devastating to our own health.

Regarding the mainstream media - MFA has been featured many times over the years. However, I don't believe the issue of animal protection, or the importance of our food choices, get nearly the attention they deserve in the media. It's sad, but true.

DTF_2017051524 karma

How do you feel about direct action against inhumane treatment of animals? Things like trespass, animal liberation, sabotage, and so on? Do you think we're going to need to go full Stonewall Riots to get animal rights recognized or do you think we'll get animal abusers to roll over sooner or later through economic and judicial means?

nathanrunkle99 karma

I talk in my book about my direction action work in the early days of Mercy For Animals. I used to enter factory farms at night at rescue animals who where dying and in need of veterinary care. Animals thrown away into trash cans, trapped in cage wire, suffering from broken bones, etc. I risked arrest, and decades in prison, to help these animals. But I was also there to document the conditions and share this evidence with the world to drive larger change. I understood then, and firmly believe today, that the only true way to bring about animal liberation is to win hearts and minds and end demand for these products. We simply cannot rescue ourselves out of the situation facing farm animals in this country - there are over 9 billion of them being raised and killed each year in the US alone. There are thousands of factory farms and slaughterhouses, so economic damage to a few simply won't win this battle. This is why I'm so supportive of clean meat, and innovators in the food space who are working to outcompete animal agriculture by producing better products. Better because they taste great, are humane, better for the environment, better for human health, and one day they will be cheaper than animal products. If you look at what ended the practice of forcing horses to pull buggies, it wasn't just an ethical uprising. It was the invention of the model T. Innovation simply made the cruel practice outdated and obsolete.

jmil20419 karma

What advice would you give to creative young people, who may want to follow a unique life journey or career, but are fearful of the consequences?

nathanrunkle60 karma

Be brave, follow your heart, persevere, and buckle up. It won't be easy, you will be tested, but it will be the most rewarding experience of your life.

tautologies18 karma

So I have been vegetarian for animal protection and for environmental reasons for 25 years. The same problems that we see today in abuse of animals were happening 25 years ago, and we knew full well how bad factory farms were for the environment.

Why do you think we have not been successful in disseminating this information? Very few laws have been fundamentally changed, and the meat consumption is higher than ever and large factory farms still abuse animals. What can we do to improve the life of these animals?

nathanrunkle56 karma

I think it's important to remember that our movement is still very young and we're up against a very old, powerful, and wealthy industry. See this blog post for context: http://www.countinganimals.com/meat-industry-advertising/

That said, I think we have made, and will continue to make, enormous strides for farmed animals. In 2001, there were zero state laws banning the extreme confinement of farmed animals (battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates)--now 11 states have laws on the books. When I first went vegan it was difficult to find plant-based meats and milks, but now plant-based milks make up 10 percent of all fluid milk sales and plant-based meat is growing faster than animal meat. We're also seeing large food companies take an interest in plant-based companies--Tyson Foods invested in Beyond Meat (which is now served at TGI Friday's), Nestle just bought Sweet Earth Foods, etc.

Lastly, our issues are entering the cultural zeitgeist. Okja and What the Health both did extremely well on Netflix, The Guardian's editorial board just endorsed veganism, and there's now even a US Senator (Cory Booker) who is vegan for ethical reasons.

I know we have a long way to go, but factory farming didn't come about overnight--it came about after 10,000+ years of agricultural production. We're not going to end it overnight. But we're certainly getting closer each year.

cubingbannana18 karma

Hey, just wanted to thank you for everything you've done for the vegan community. Your videos are the reason I went vegan. Just wanted to know what your thoughts are on pesticides like roundup, How do you think we can prevent the use of such harmful chemicals on our food?

nathanrunkle9 karma

Thank you. If you're concerned about pesticides, the best thing to do is eat organic and/or buy from local producers you know don't use such chemicals.

westernhaiku10 karma

What have you learned in your years as an advocate for social justice that other activists could learn from?

nathanrunkle41 karma

First, be kind to yourself. There is such a high burnout rate within not only the animal advocacy movement, but all social justice movements. We are constantly facing issues of pain and suffering, which can lead to anger and frustration. It's important to practice self care so you can be a life-long advocate. I think it's also important to lead by example. I always try to be a joyful vegan. While we are against cruelty and exploitation, we are also for love and inclusion. Focusing on the positive solutions are really vital.

300blkoutofhere6 karma

Do bugs feel pain?

nathanrunkle33 karma

It's likely that bugs feel some type of pain - how much, and to what extent, we just don't know yet. I lean toward giving creatures the benefit of the doubt and always trying to be as kind as possible given our circumstances.

NervousRect5 karma

Hi Nathan! Thank you for everything you've done and are continuing to do. Your work is so powerful and inspiring!!

I know you must get this question all the time , but how did you get involved at such a young age ? Was your family supportive ?

nathanrunkle21 karma

Thank you! I just wrote a book (www.mercyforanimals.org/book) that addresses this question in great detail. The short answer: I grew up on a farm and always had a natural empathy for the suffering of animals. I learned about factory farming at the age of 11 and decided to go vegetarian. I didn't want to pay others to abuse animals on my behalf. I went vegan at 15 and then founded MFA after a local farm animal abuse case. My mom and dad were cautiously supportive. I'm grateful to them for allowing me to follow my life's passion.

QuietCakeBionics5 karma

Hi Nathan, what advice would you give to prevent 'burnout' whilst taking part in activism? Do you have strategies for this at MFA? How do you keep yourself balanced learning new information about animal suffering and seeing the latest investigation footage coming out?

Thank you for your work. :)

Griffin_Throwaway4 karma

How do you feel about all of the people your future would put out of a job? Not just farmers, but butchers and meat departments in general would be obsolete with lab grown meat.

nathanrunkle15 karma

Really great question. I talk about this, in detail, in my book. I talk about building a humane economy. The truth is, we are simply advocating for a shift in jobs, not an elimination of them. People will always need to eat, so there will always be jobs in food production and agriculture. Rather than people working in slaughterhouses (which is incredibly dangerous and leads to high rates of PTSD for workers), a humane economy will create jobs in the clean meat space, plant-based protein space, plant-based and cultured dairy/egg space, etc. Just like clean energy has created countless new jobs, this shift in the economy will do the same. History is crowded with examples of the economy shifting as new, better, more efficient industries have come about.

Caliherbivorous-1 karma

Hi Nathan! Can you address your cultural appropriation and how you silence people of color? On your recent trip to Taiwan you posted an offensive photo of you dressed in traditional Taiwanese clothing with an offensive caption. When people of color called you out on it, you deleted the post without apologizing and blocked them.

nathanrunkle3 karma

Thanks for the question! I think respectful, loving communication is really important. Like most people, I don't respond to being attacked (this is why I think the way we communicate with people who aren't yet vegan is so crucial to our success). I think we have a real problem within the advocacy community of attacking one another, without first reaching out to communicate our views in a respectful, open, or understanding way. We misdirect our anger toward our own allies by assuming the worst intentions in people. It's hurtful and counterproductive. I'm always seeking to learn and grow, but I'm not open to being bullied.