The Most Interesting People I Know

14 - Leah Garcés on Working with Factory Farmers to Help Animals

October 2, 2019

Leah Garcés is the president of Mercy for Animals, one of the world’s largest effective animal advocacy organizations. She was previously the executive director of Compassion in World Farming USA. Today we discuss her new book Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry. Leah tells the remarkable story of how she teamed up with farmers to expose the world to the horrible conditions and practices in American chicken farms. As we discuss, her work with farmers, journalists, documentarians, and activists pressured chicken producers to make significant commitments to improve welfare standards for their birds. 

Even if you don't care about the welfare of chickens for whatever reason, the labor conditions of the typical chicken factory farmer should be enough to outrage you. Saddled with debt and squeezed by an oligopoly of chicken producers, the typical American chicken farmer eeks out poverty wages and spends their days walking through ammonia-clogged chicken coops picking out dead birds. 

Beyond these campaigns, Mercy for Animals produces a lot of other great work, like their drone footage of factory farms and the destruction of the Amazon.

Specifically, we discuss:

Leah’s vision for how we’ll relate to animals in 2050, why we should care about chickens, the evidence we have that they can suffer, conditions in a typical coop, how chickens have been bred to suffer, how Leah started working with a chicken factory farmer, the brutal economics and lifestyle of chicken farming, how the incentives conspire against the welfare of the chickens and the people farming them, Leah's work getting footage of chicken farms out to the world, her meetings with executives at chicken producers and the resulting welfare improvements, whether factory farming is the greatest moral atrocity in the world, whether factory farm executives are like war criminals, whether companies will make good on their animal welfare commitments, and her plans for Mercy for Animals. 

Show notes:

NYT Opinion piece Leah’s work prompted: Abusing Chickens We Eat

Wired article on Leah’s work with Craig Watts: Hoping to Change the Industry, a Factory Farmer Opens His Barn Doors

Effective Altruism Forum post: Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments?

From Open Philanthropy’s Lewis Bollard: Will Companies Make Good on Cage-Free Pledges?