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I’ve been touring across the country with a 10 ft. tall inflatable pig protesting Walmart. Maybe you’ve seen me on the news? AMA

Mar 3rd 2013 by Phil_Letten • 17 Questions • 571 Points

I’m Phil Letten of Mercy For Animals. We conduct undercover investigations into factory farms and last year we went into a Walmart pork supplier where breeding pigs were intensively confined in gestation crates, which are 2 x 7 ft. metal enclosures so small the pigs can’t even turn around for months at a time (this is a gestation crate). There were other abuses found, too; watch the investigation here.

Last year, 40+ major food companies committed to phasing out the crates, nine states have banned them, but Walmart hasn’t budged. So, I’m on tour to raise awareness. So far we’ve been in 92 cities and at almost every stop the media comes out; here’s some news clips: 1, 2, 3, 4.

We’ve been into a lot of small towns so I have a lot of good stories from the road, AMA!

Proof: pic of me (and watch news clips above)

PS – if you’re interested, one of our former investigators did this IAmA a few months ago.

Q:
  1. What was it like being undercover at the pork supplier?

  2. How did you manage to get your video and evidence?

  3. What was Walmart's reaction to the release of your findings?

  4. What other undercover investigations have you been a part of?

Thanks for the AMA!

A:
  1. I have never gone undercover. One of our former investigators did one of these. It can be found here. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/147bjg/i_was_an_undercover_investigator_documenting/

  2. Our investigators take a job at these facilities and go to work everyday wired with a pinhole sized hidden camera and audio equipment. They basically just document what they see.

  3. Walmart is dragging it's feet. They have made no commitment to phasing out gestation crates even though almost every other major food provider has already done so.

  4. Our organization has done over 20. You can learn more at www.mercyforanimals.org .


Q:

[deleted]

A:

Basically every other major food provider in the country has already committed to doing away with these crates. And Walmart is such a big player in the industry. So when they change on this issue, it will basically be the end of gestation crates.


Q:

Are you a vegetarian or just make sure your food comes from places like free range farms?

A:

I think that there are less cruel methods of getting meat. But in the end I feel the absolute best action we can take for the animals sake is to go vegetarian. I also want to add that even when a package says free range or cage free mutilated without painkillers. Piglets are castrated, have their teeth ripped out with pliers, etc.)

As far as with Walmart, all we are asking them to do is stop confining pregnant pigs in crates so small they can't even turn around.


Q:

I also want to add that even when a package says free range or cage free mutilated without painkillers.

I think you missed a word

A:

"...or cage free the animals are usually still mutilated.."

Thanks.


Q:

How do the people working at a location usually try to handle the situation?

A:

They usually don't even come out and talk to us. Every now and then they will. But after speaking with us for a couple minutes they actually end up being sympathetic. A lot of them are shocked Walmart is still using gestation crates after so many of their competitors have committed to doing away with them.


Q:

Have any companies changed their practices specifically because of you?

Are there any companies who you feel are especially humane in their treatment of animals?

A:

The Walmart pork supplier that we investigated was also linked to Costco and Kmart. The night before we were set to release the investigation Costco and Kmart both came out and commited to phasing out gestation crates. We were also recently successful at getting Kraft Foods to do away with tail docking, which is the practice of slicing off a calf's tail without painkillers.

I think there are companies that are making strides in the right direction, but none that I would promote as being humane. I think the only way to be 100% humane is to go simply stop eating animals. With that said, when it comes to the issue of gestation crates Costco, Kmart, Kroger, Safeway, Mcdonalds, Burger King, Wendy's and a pretty long list of others have committed to doing away with them. With that said, all that means is the pigs will be given enough space to turn around, lie down, and engage in some natural behaviors. Far from ideal. But still a big step in the right direction.


Q:

Has Wal-Mart tried to stop you?

A:

All of our protests are set up on a public sidewalk, which means they are completely legal. Every now and then the management will come out and talk to us. And it's pretty awesome because they are almost always sympathetic to the cause!


Q:

What does this do to prices? I see lots of people protest things tags they don't like and assume that the buying public should absorb slightly higher prices to cover the change. Most of the actual improvements that seem to become widespread enough to be meaningful involve someone working with the industries to make sure that the changes are price neutral so that they're not just adopted by a limited crowd willing to pay for it. Any success on this front?

A:

Iowa State University conducted a two-and-a-half year long economic analysis of the issue and found that that a group housing solution resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system.

But I really think we need to change the way we view animals. Animals are living beings with needs and wants of their own. If we are really opposed to animal abuse I don't think we should be looking at their welfare in terms of cost.


Q:

I am a vegetarian, I have been most of my life thanks to my parents becoming veggies shortly before I was born. I sidestepped a few times in middle and high school but shortly after that decided that I wanted to be a vegetarian not because my parents were but because I love animals and see no need to endanger them just for a pleasurable eating experience. I think it's too easy to disconnect the prepared delicacies that we eat from living feeling creatures that really aren't THAT different from ourselves in their basic needs.

That said, I feel I am a bit of a hypocritic. I still love cheese and eggs. Milk kind of grosses me out so I don't really partake of it by itself anymore. I know these industries probably dont treat the animals much better than the meat industry despite my best efforts to go organic and cage free, so I'm fairly conflicted. I really enjoy imitation meats and soy milk but I have yet to find a suibtable replacement for cheese or eggs. Any suggestions from anyone? I know there is substantial work being done to create even better imitation meats, but I haven't really heard of much work being done on the dairy side.

A:

That's awesome you've basically been vegetarian all your life. I would say don't beat yourself up, but also realize that cheese and eggs do cause animal suffering. When I first went vegan I didn't know of any vegan cheeses that I liked. There is a really good one that a lot of people like now called Daiya. I love it. Follow Your Heart is another one that seems to be liked by a lot of people.

I'm not much of a chef. I think egg replacer or something similar can easily be substituted for eggs in a recipe. If you eat scrambled eggs a lot I would try tofu scramble. Most of the tofu scramble I've had has been sub-par, but I have had some really good ones too. Check out www.chooseveg.com for more help.


Q:

what made you want to help the animals in the first place?

A:

I grew up with a dog. She was my first connection with animals. And I saw in her first hand that she had her own personality. She experienced emotions. And she felt pain. When I got older I started questioning what the difference was between a dog and pig. I got a leaflet from Vegan Outreach a few times. And then came across a video similar to the one at www.meatvideo.com. After that I decided to go vegetarian and advocate on behalf of farmed animals.


Q:

What is your opinion on PETA?

A:

Mercy For Animals is a completely separate organization. We see eye to eye with them on a lot of things but their tactics are sometimes different than the way we go about things. We try to maintain a professional image as well.


Q:

If it pops, will you just pack up and go home? Or do you have like closets of these things.

A:

Since it is constantly being pumped with air by a blower a little hole probably wouldn't even do anything. I bet there are probably little holes in it right now that we don't even notice. If the hole is a decent size we would have to repair it.


Q:

Who's paying you rent? It seems protesting is your full time job now, which is admirable, but not very profitable. How are you getting by?

A:

I no longer have an apartment. I'll be subletting from someone anytime there is a break between tours.


Q:

What's your favorite kind of animal?

A:

I'm pretty fascinated by monkeys.


Q:

How do you think your strategies differ from those of previous activists who have had little apreciable effect?

A:

One thing we do at MFA that I think is really important is maintain a professional image. People take us more seriously because of it.


Q:

Of all your encounters with individuals and the media, which stands out in your mind as the most successful? Why?

A:

Both encounters were on different campaigns.

  1. I was leafleting at the university in Orlando, FL when a girl took a leaflet from my friend Vic, read it for a few minutes, then threw out the bacon and egg sandwich she was eating. She talked to us for a while and said she was going vegetarian.

  2. I was on the Farm to Fridge Tour a couple years ago. You can read more about it at www.farmtofridgetour.com. The local FOX affiliate in Fort Myers, FL did a pre-story on our demonstration there. They said it got more viewer responses than any other Sunday night story in the history of the station. So they came out again the next day, did a live shot earlier in the day, and then did another story at night. All 3 stories were amazing!


Q:

Are you familiar with the documentary "Food Inc."? I have changed the way I eat because of that, what's your take on that movie?

A:

That's a really good documentary. And I'm glad it's become so mainstream. I have met so many people all over the country who have watched it. I do also think it's pretty tame and doesn't show just how bad the animals are treated on factory farms. If you ever have the time you should check out Mercy For Animals 12-minute documentary called Farm to Fridge. You can watch it at www.meatvideo.com .