Today, several of America’s biggest food retailers, including Sonic, a national fast-food chain based in Oklahoma City, announced new policies to make all eggs in their supply chain cage-free. It’s part of a corporate revolution that is rejecting extreme confinement of farm animals and embracing animal welfare reforms.
Since last September, our cage-free campaign has made more than 30 announcements from the biggest food retailers who are pledging to do better in terms of the treatment of animals in their supply chain. Let’s look at what we have achieved over just the past few days. Since Friday alone:
- Sonic Drive-In (which uses 155 million eggs annually for its 3,500 locations) committed to going exclusively cage-free.
- Tim Hortons (Canada’s largest restaurant chain) announced it will transition to 100 percent cage-free eggs. The announcement comes via Tim Hortons’ parent company, Restaurant Brands International; it’s a global commitment that will apply to all the company’s U.S., Canadian, and Mexican locations (including Burger King) by 2025.
- Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. announced the elimination of cages from their (substantial) egg supply chains.
- PF Chang’s proclaimed that it too will go 100 percent cage-free.
- White Castle pledged to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs.
- Starwood (operating luxury hotel brands like the W and St. Regis) announced it will go 100 percent cage-free.
The world is waking up to these issues, and corporations are stepping to the forefront, promising to forever change agriculture for the better and align production practices with American values about the decent treatment of animals.
Still, though, some political leaders and the trade associations they are beholden to are fighting us. There is no better example of this than the backwards-thinking Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the influence it exerts on politics in the state.
More than a decade ago, The HSUS and like-minded Oklahomans overcame strong opposition from the Farm Bureau and won a solid majority of votes in a ballot initiative to outlaw cockfighting. Hard to believe that anyone, in our age, could defend this practice and oppose a ban, but that is exactly what the Oklahoma Farm Bureau did.
On that same ballot, the Farm Bureau worked with its allies in the Oklahoma legislature to qualify a ballot measure that would make it virtually impossible to qualify any kind of animal protection initiative for the statewide ballot – by doubling the number of signatures needed for any animal welfare measure. The good people of Oklahoma had the good sense to reject it. We were two for two, defeating the Farm Bureau at both turns on that ballot.
But the Farm Bureau has kept at it, and it’s backing a couple of bizarre and far-reaching measures this year.
Lawmakers aligned with the Farm Bureau have referred a “right to farm measure” for the November 2016 ballot, to enshrine special privileges for agribusiness in the constitution in an attempt to prevent future legal restrictions on any farming practices. The measure is so vaguely worded that it could create a right to raise cockfighting birds and also puppy mill dogs, in addition to keeping farm animals in extreme confinement. In pushing this measure, the Farm Bureau is trying to lock out the people from imposing animal welfare, environmental, or public health standards on agriculture.
As you can imagine, we’ll be working hard to defeat this vague, overreaching measure on the November ballot.
Some lawmakers hostile to animal protection have other plans in motion that add to the mischief. One lawmaker has introduced a bill to make it a crime for animal protection groups to solicit money from Oklahomans if they want to spend money outside the state. I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. No more fundraising for The HSUS because its work includes programs outside Oklahoma, no soliciting by the World Wildlife Fund, and no soliciting by The Nature Conservancy, given that these groups have national and global programs. The HSUS does spend a considerable amount of money on animal protection programs in Oklahoma: over the past decade alone we have trained 1,300 Oklahoma sheriffs and police and assisted law enforcement with the seizure, care, and placement of more than 2,100 animals from animal-fighting rings, puppy mills, hoarders, and other abusive situations. But we help animals in other states and around the globe too.
Imagine telling a church in Oklahoma City or Tulsa it has to spend all its money on faith work in the state, and cannot spend any money on international missions to feed the poor or fight disease. That’s the principle at work here.
This bill hits those other animal and conservation groups, although it is really not aimed at them. It is aimed at The HSUS and it aims to interfere with our member donations, because the Oklahoma Farm Bureau wants to protect puppy mills and factory farms. In the process, it is handing cockfighting advocates a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Let’s be clear. The Farm Bureau doesn’t want to see animal welfare reforms in Oklahoma or outside the state, and they’ve designed measures to achieve those outcomes.
The latter measure is absurdly and obviously unconstitutional, like the ag-gag laws that Big Ag has backed but that are now facing serious legal scrutiny. Today’s New York Times ripped the efforts of the American Farm Bureau Federation and state farm bureaus to pass ag-gag laws.
These legislative maneuvers by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau amount to an assault not just on animal protection, but also on the discretionary choices of citizens and the basic principles of representative and direct democracy.
While the progress we are making is undeniable, especially in the corporate world, we still see evidence of rearguard actions from entrenched interests. We’ll be fighting back every step of the way, as we celebrate the larger changes that are being driven by the public. In making our case, we’ll not only remind people of our society’s responsibilities to animals, but also of our adversaries’ attempts to diminish and limit the freedoms of average citizens to support charities of their choice, exercise their right to vote, and influence legislative outcomes of their choosing.