At the Helm of
Compassion Over Killing
The Satya Interview with Erica
Photo courtesy of Erica Meier
Compassion Over Killing is one of the most active animal advocacy groups
in the U.S. With its ground-breaking open rescues and farmed animal
investigations and focus on local vegan outreach, COK serves as an
inspiring model for what a small grassroots organization can accomplish.
With the recent migration of COK’s leadership to HSUS, some have wondered
if the group is folding or being consolidated. Long-time COK volunteer, Erica
Meier, is here to dispel such rumors. As Compassion Over Killing’s new
Director, Erica brings a background of animal activism and investigation, energy
and vision to the organization.
Former COK president Miyun Park comments: “I’ve had the great fortune
of working with Erica Meier for ten years. She’s a tremendous animal advocate
and a proven leader. I have no doubt that she will take COK’s efforts and
effectiveness to levels much more far-reaching than in the past.” She adds, “The
decision to move from COK to HSUS was made exponentially easier knowing that
Erica would be leading COK. She is among the most impressive, dedicated, creative,
and talented advocates working to reduce the suffering of farm animals.”
Erica Meier took some time to discuss with Catherine
Clyne her vision for COK
and work for the animals.
You’ve been Director of Compassion Over Killing since January. What is
your overall vision for COK? How is it similar or how does it differ from what
While my position as Director is new, my involvement with COK as a volunteer
goes back several years. COK has grown substantially from modest beginnings,
and my goal is to continue developing the organization into a powerful and effective
voice for farmed animals. COK has always strived to be as productive and efficient
as possible, and we continue to do so by maintaining a strong work ethic and
stretching our resources to help the greatest number of animals.
What are some of the things you have already initiated since you started?
In January, COK started developing a new pro-vegetarian commercial, and the 30-second
spot has already aired on MTV stations in 22 cities across the U.S. In February,
we filed a lawsuit to stop the egg industry’s continued use of the deceptive “Animal
Care Certified” logo on egg cartons. We’ve also launched a new campaign—45
Days in 50 States—to get our latest documentary, 45 Days: The Life and
Death of a Broiler Chicken, aired on public access stations in all 50 states.
And we hired a long-time COK volunteer to head up our newly created Research
and Investigations Department.
What’s your background in animal issues?
After college, I worked for three and a half years at PETA in the Research, Investigations,
and Rescue Department before working for four years as an animal control officer
in Washington, DC. I also coordinated Spay Day DC (as part of Spay Day USA) in
February 2004. More than 500 dogs and cats in the DC-metro area were spayed or
neutered during this event.
COK is perhaps best known for its investigations and open rescues. What sort
of work is currently being done in this area?
Undercover investigations remain at the core of COK’s strategy to expose
farmed animal abuse, and I’m looking forward to sharing our findings with
Satya readers in upcoming issues.
COK is also known for focusing on farmed animal and vegan outreach. How has your
work as an animal control officer, which presumably dealt mostly with cats and
dogs, shaped your vision for COK?
Most people recognize that it’s unethical to abuse dogs and cats, and many
know that cruelty to companion animals is illegal. When asked, most Americans
believe the same laws that protect dogs and cats also apply to animals on farms.
Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Farmed animals have virtually no laws
protecting them and are routinely treated in ways that would be illegal if the
same abuses were inflicted on dogs and cats. This denial of legal protection
is what motivates me and COK to expose the cruelties that farmed animals are
forced to endure for us to consume their meat, eggs, and milk. Since the general
public can’t openly visit factory farms and slaughterhouses, COK goes undercover
to bring the factory farms and slaughterhouses to them.
With the shift of COK’s founding leadership (Miyun Park, Paul Shapiro and
Josh Balk) to HSUS, some people have the impression that COK has folded or been
consolidated into HSUS. What would you like to say to them?
COK’s leadership has always been defined by its staff members and core
group of volunteer managers. We’re fortunate in that all of COK’s “new” staff
members aren’t new to the organization at all. In fact, each of us has
been intimately involved with the organization for several years on a voluntary
basis. And, as is reflected in our current and ongoing campaigns and outreach
efforts, COK remains unchanged in our dedication to exposing the suffering endured
by farmed animals.
What in your view are some of the most effective advocacy tools that bring about
One of the most powerful tools we have in the movement is the voices of the animals
themselves. Through the use of videos and photographs, we can let the victims
of animal agriculture and all other animal-abusing industries speak out on their
own behalves. Polls show that when we witness with our own eyes—as best
we can—the suffering farmed animals endure, we’re much more inspired
to help them with every bite we take by choosing animal-friendly foods.
What are some of the areas where animal rights activists could be reaching out
and building bridges and forming coalitions?
By combining our forces on the legislative and legal fronts, animal advocates
can increase the likelihood of bringing about positive change. This approach
proved successful in Florida in 2002, where, after endless hours of signature
gathering and thousands of dollars of educational advertising, voters passed
a ballot initiative to ban the use of gestation crates for mother pigs.
Animal activists should also build stronger bridges with the environmental movement,
as we share many common goals, specifically with regard to fighting factory farms.
With regard to farmed animals, what are your hopes for the future?
Although surveys indicate more people are choosing animal-friendly meals, the
numbers of farmed animals killed for human consumption continues to rise, as
smaller animals like chickens and fish are being eaten, versus larger animals
like cows and pigs. So, a decrease in the number of animals raised and killed
for food each year would be a wonderful sign. For this to happen, we need to
continue helping people reduce, if not completely eliminate, their consumption
of meat, eggs, and milk as well as push for bans on the most abusive farming
practices, like battery cages.
Many animal activists gradually come to a certain awareness but usually
a key “a-ha” moment where they can no longer deny animal suffering
and they go vegetarian/vegan. Can you tell us about your process?
I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian when I was 15, but there wasn’t really
anything notable about this decision. My “a-ha” moment didn’t
happen until my second year in college when I decided to become vegan. At the
time, I only knew one other vegan, and she gave me literature explaining the
miserable lives of dairy cows and egg-laying hens. A few days later, I inadvertently
drove by a large dairy farm and pictured hundreds of cows hooked up to milking
machines and countless male calves chained inside dark, wooden crates soon to
be killed for veal. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about their
suffering sooner and immediately gave up dairy and eggs. I also decided to join
the campus animal rights group which successfully lobbied to get more vegan options
in the cafeteria.
Animal advocacy is notoriously hard work. What are some of the things you do
to have fun, cope, and/or blow off steam?
Depending on my energy level, I usually blow off steam by exercising—going
running or taking a kickboxing class with some friends—or being my cats’ playmate.
Coping methods vary between visiting the rescued farmed animals at Poplar Spring
Animal Sanctuary in Poolsville, MD, losing myself in a good book, or indulging
in comfort foods.
Do you have a sweet tooth? What’s your favorite vegan treat?
Guilty as charged. In addition to constantly craving sticky buns from Sticky
Fingers (an all-vegan bakery in DC), I lose all self-control around anything
with chocolate and peanut butter.
Can you tell us about some of the nonhuman animals who comprise your family?
Right now, I share my home with three cats—Riché, Sam, and Emma.
Riché has been living with me since college after a former roommate abandoned
him, and I rescued Sam and Emma from the streets of DC while working as an animal
To learn more about Compassion Over Killing or to get involved with the 45 Days
in 50 States campaign, contact www.cok.net or (301) 891-2458.