you Like Fries with those Lies?
The Satya Interview with Bruce
Last year McDonalds made the unprecedented announcement
that they would establish animal welfare guidelines and hold its U.S.
accountable for following them and terminate contracts with those who
failed unannounced audits. This was largely in response to a two-year
campaign that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and
thousands of activists maintained against the fast food giant. Last
month Americas largest grocery chain, Safeway, also announced
its concessions to PETAs demands for the more humane treatment
of the animals who are raised in factory farms and whose body parts
are sold in their stores. Last month McDonalds shareholders voted
on a PETA proposal to apply the animal welfare guidelines to its suppliers
Bruce Friedrich is PETAs Director of Vegan Outreach and is a well-known
voice among animal activists. Bruce took a moment out of his busy schedule
to talk to Catherine Clyne about recent developments in PETAs
What has the relationship been between animal rights and McDonalds?
The longest-running trial in British historycivil or criminalwas,
as dubbed by the press, the McLibel trial. McDonalds sued Dave
Morris and Helen Steel, a couple of unemployed activists for the Whats
wrong with McDonalds flyer that they handed out [see interview
with Morris in Satya, May 1997]. The judges verdict, handed down
in June of 1997, held that in about half a dozen ways, McDonalds
was culpably responsible for animal cruelty. By the judges definition,
that meant that any reasonable person would hold these practices to
be cruel and abusive to the animals involved despite the fact that they
were legal. The responsibility had to do with whether McDonalds
could prevent the practices of its suppliers, and the judge ruled that
with regard to certain parts of animal agriculture, McDonalds
used few enough suppliers that it could be held to be culpably responsible
Tell us about PETAs relationship with McDonalds.
At that point we wrote a letter to McDonalds headquarters distilling
the verdict into the key issues, and we held press conferences around
the country with videos of the standard agricultural practices.
McDonalds was doing audits of its cattle and pig suppliers and
beginning to do audits of its chicken suppliers, but was refusing to
give us any timeline for severing ties with suppliers who failed audits.
McDonalds just refused to do anything to improve life for even
one animal. Its sort of like monitoring how many people are speeding,
but never giving a speeding ticketit doesnt give any incentive
for people to stop. So we launched a campaign to try to push some things
out of McDonalds, throughout which we remained in contact with
them, as well as with their animal welfare panel.
After about 11 months, McDonalds agreed to an array of improvements,
including an end to forced molting of hens, which involves starving
the hens for up to two weeks to shock their bodies into another laying
cycle. They agreed to audit all of their chicken, cattle and pig slaughterhouses,
and to sever ties with any of the slaughterhouses that failed audits.
Dr. Temple Grandin, [a humane slaughter systems specialist and a member
of the McDonalds animal welfare panel], told the BBC that she
had seen more improvements during the campaigns final six months
than she had seen in her previous 20 years, which is significant because
she had been working for McDonalds on the issue for more than
five years at that point.
So, would you say that a lot of it had to do with PETA?
Well, you know we dont really care whether any of it had to do
with PETA. Back in 1994, Henry Spira had gotten them to convene their
animal welfare panel and start auditing slaughterhouses. We launched
our campaign in 1999, at which point they had still done nothing. Then
in early September, McDonalds announced new guidelines with an
array of improvements, at which point we got them to make some clarifications,
including making sure that they were going to have independent auditors
with regard to chicken cage space. McDonalds is the number one
buyer of eggs in the country. They moved from an industry average of
seven or eight hens per cage, to a maximum of five hens per cage (last
year, four undercover investigations found ten and 11 hens per cage,
so the industry is probably lying about their average), and the death
rates fell from almost 20 percent down to two or three percent per year.
For those who are alive, thats a significant improvement.
What kinds of actions were the most effective with McDonalds?
Thats very hard to gauge, but I think it was public pressure and
grassroots that really did it. The fact that we had hundreds of demonstrations
in front of McDonalds restaurants; celebrity involvement, which
generated massive media interest; activists who were making phone calls
and writing letters: all of these certainly helped. I think having people
standing in front of stores passing out unhappy meals, holding signs
that show [Ronald McDonald] done up like a Satanic bloody butcher, is
probably not something a corporation wants to have happening. And McDonalds
was claiming that they cared about animal welfare, while they were being
called on the fact that they wouldnt even address the most egregious
abuse, even if there was unanimity among their animal welfare panel
on the issue. So they finally decided that they would have to make the
Tell us about the proposal that was recently voted on by McDonalds
The animal welfare plan of last year was groundbreaking in the U.S.it
was the first time any major corporation, or major entity period, had
ever done anything for farmed animals. But after the Animal Alliance
of Canada and a coalition of 40 animal groups contacted McDonalds
about making animal welfare improvements in Canada, we submitted a shareholder
resolution calling on McDonalds to internationalize its standards.
McDonalds then convened its animal welfare panel and talked about
Canada and internationalization for the first time. In April they actually
announced a farmed animal welfare program for Canada, clearly in response
to our shareholder proposal, but its way too little, too late.
It involves some audits but no plan for severing ties with suppliers
who fail audits. It involves attempting to expand bird cage space, but
no indication of what the likelihood of that is, or by when they will
have that done. Nothing on chicken or pig slaughter, nothing on forced
molting, and nothing on transparencyletting everybody know whats
Did you encounter resistance from McDonalds?
[They tried to block our resolution from being proposed to shareholders,
and we challenged them for the right to do so.] In early April, the
Bush administrations Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC]
ruled with PETA. McDonalds claimed that our resolution was redundant,
but based on ample documentation, the SEC handed us a victory allowing
us to bring the resolutionwhich was really quite huge, considering
this is a Bush SEC. But its still far from being passed. We got
five percentmillions of shareswhich is a real coup considering
the vitriol that the board brought to opposing the resolution. Now,
we can propose it again next year.
But McDonalds is still fighting it, right? If they were so
interested in improving animal welfare in the U.S., why wouldnt
they do it internationally?
Its perplexing to us especially because their claim is that theyre
already doing it. I could see them opposing it, saying its cost-prohibitive,
or because there are cultural issues that need to be respected; there
are a lot of arguments that are somewhat tenable. But their arguments
are [simply] liesthey havent already done it, we have their
own paper trail to prove it.
Well, in the proxy, its very clear why the board suggested voting
against this. Let me play devils advocate here. Their public relations
vice president, Bob Langert, summed it up in the proposal given to shareholders
last month, which I quote: No longer are extremists driving the
debate. Mainstream consumers are the primary force. Newspapers and television
stations around the world have reported extensively on animal welfare
campaigns and our companys animal welfare standards. Most
revealing is: Animal rights activists have not targeted our company
in any concerted way since McDonalds adopted guidelines and enforced
them more than one year ago.
Basically, they no longer feel pressured by activists, theyre
not getting bad press, and its not in the publics eye, so
they dont need to do it. Whats PETAs response to this
and where is PETA going with the campaign now?
Well, Langert hasnt used that argument when weve talked
with him, and its a strange argument to make, considering that
we easily could re-launch our campaign against McDonalds.
Is it a challenge from him?
I dont know what to make of it. Its remarkable to me that
so many of these corporate public relations people seem to do such a
bad job of public relations. We are talking about a corporation that
had its last successful product introduction in 1983 with Chicken McNuggets,
and thought it would be a good idea to sue two unemployed activists.
As you know, some Satya readers, taking an abolitionist stance,
feel that any effort to change an institution like McDonalds,
which profits from animal misery, is wasted energy, or worse, part of
the problem. What do you want to say to them?
I cant remember the precise number, but something like 99 percent
of Americans eat fast food; certainly fewer than one percent are vegans.
I think that it does the animals a great disservice to put ones
personal purity ahead of having a practical, positive effect for animals
who are suffering. If I were a chicken in a battery cage, I would want
to move from an amount of space that kills a fifth of my bretheren to
a space that kills one fiftieth; that is a real improvement in conditions.
If I were a chicken in a slaughterhouse, I would want the stun
baths turned up to a level that actually kills the majority of
the animals who go through them, so that myself and others wouldnt
still be conscious when our throats were slit and we were scalded alive.
Unfortunately, we arent in a place where the vast majority of
people are on the precipice of going vegan tomorrow, and these are improvements
that are necessary.
These campaigns also allow us to talk to people. What Ive found
is that people are really receptive to having conversations about egregious
abuse of farmed animals when they dont feel so on the spot; then
you are able to point out that anybody eating meat, dairy or eggs is
supporting animal cruelty. And once corporations like McDonalds
and Safeway are saying that birds have interests that have to be respected,
that some of these standard agricultural practices are abusive, it really
does beg the question in peoples mindswhat are we doing
eating these animals at all? I think that these sorts of campaigns,
whether theyre one-on-one or grand-scale media interaction, they
reach people in a way that a lot of other campaigns cant.
Some people might argue that PETA spends too much time focusing on McDonalds
and promoting the BK Veggie burger and what not, when PETA should be
encouraging people to support vegan businesses. Whats PETAs
response to that?
Its interesting what becomes the public face of PETA. We have
spent almost nothing on promoting the BK veggie; we certainly do want
it to be successful, but the vast majority of what PETA does doesnt
generate media attention, so people often gauge What is PETA?
by what does get media attention.
We sent out about 150,000 free vegetarian starter kits last year and
the most popular vegan video is our Meet Your Meat video,
which some activists are now passing out on CD ROM. We dont copyright
anything. We encourage activists to take our literature, copy it and
get it out there. In every instance our goal is to speak out for the
animals who have no voice. We support anybody whos doing anything
to advance the cause of animal liberation and we do what we think is
going to be most effective.
I havent seen anything that comes close to being as effective
at promoting veganism or at actually saving animals from suffering as
these campaigns. Im sure youve heard that Peter Singer called
the McDonalds concession the best thing for farmed animals in
the U.S. since he wrote Animal Liberation. I think thats true
both for the individual animals and for promoting veganism in general.
So, whats ahead?
Its tough to know for sure. Well continue to pressure McDonalds
to internationalize their standards, which would improve conditions
for billions of animals, and shift the industry to follow their lead.
Well attempt to reach out to Kroger and Albertsons, WalMart
and other grocery chains to make concessions similar to those that we
got at Safeway, and well continue to attempt to come up with new
and innovative ways to promote animal rights. We just got the NCAA to
stop using leather basketballs, which is pretty fantasticyou get
just a few basketballs out of each cow, and they use a lot of basketballs.
So were continuing to push forward in our grassroots campaigning,
even as we attempt to work through legislation and direct, hands-on
interaction with animals in all kinds of situations.
How can Satya readers help?
There are so many things that people can do to promote veganism and
vegetarianism. Theres a What you can do section of
goveg.com with suggestions like writing letters to local papers, passing
out leaflets in front of restaurants, etc. But really all of us can
take an hour and, instead of watching television, go and pass out leaflets.
All of us can contact our local college or university and arrange to
have people give talks or classes on animal rights. All of us can stand
with a sign in front of any restaurant thats serving meat, or
design a banner and stand over a bridge during rush hour.
Im very excited about the idea of taking TVs out to clubs or festivals
or even street corners. Ive been going out a lot with Compassion
Over Killings FaunaVan in Washington, DC. People will take the
information and watch the Meet Your Meat video and leave,
some saying theyll never eat meat again. In San Francisco, a woman
with the Food and Social Justice project has a generator and a TV/VCR.
In just four hours on a Friday or Saturday night, she passes out five
or six hundred leaflets to people who would otherwise not have been
thinking about this issue. So many things we can do dont even
take much timecarrying around PETAs Vegetarian Starter kit
or Vegan Outreachs Why Vegan?, and leaving them on
the train or airplane or wherever; people will pick it up and read it.
You dont even know what kind of positive effect youre having
without any additional effort.
I also really like that the Food and Social Justice Project in San Francisco
is teaching cooking classes. One of the reasons people are not vegetarians
is they get into a rut, they know how to cook the 13 meals that they
base their diet on. If you could get them to switch a couple of vegetarian
or vegan meals into those 13 meals, thats a real victory, even
if they havent gone completely vegan: it decreases the number
of animals that are eaten, it decreases the amount of suffering for
To learn more about PETAs work, to see what you can do to help
fast food and grocery chains adopt guidelines for the humane treatment
of farmed animals, or to order a free veggie starter kit, visit peta.org
or call (757) 622-7382 (PETA). For a detailed account of PETAs
McDonalds campaign, visit McCruelty.com.