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Renee Farris headshot

General Mills Writes an Animals' Declaration of Freedom


General Mills, the company behind brands like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Bisquick, Progresso and Hamburger Helper, announced it’s going to start requiring its egg, dairy and meat farmers to treat animals better. Slow clap.

Other companies led the way in making similar pledges earlier this year. It’s now becoming trendy to not abuse animals. Any company that still does is going to appear to customers like a person smiling with food stuck in their teeth. Walmart took positive steps earlier this year but only after the Mercy For Animals (MFA) group used six hidden-camera videos to expose its cruelty to pigs. MFA also led 150 protests at stores, an intensive ad and billboard campaign, acquired 640,000 petition signatures on Change.org, and received support from five celebrities.

Walmart then committed to end the confinement of pregnant pig moms to gestation crates, baby cows to veal crates, and egg-laying hens to battery cages. In my opinion, if you haven’t seen what this looks like, you really should.

General Mills says it’s “working to understand any potential animal welfare issues associated with fast growth of broiler chickens and turkeys.” The usage of the word "potential" there is interesting, like it's unclear whether rapidly turning a fluffy little chick into a monstrously fat chicken that's so heavy it can't walk might not have any detrimental impact.

The Humane Society isn't uncertain about the issue and says: "As consequence of unnaturally rapid growth and heavy body weight, these birds often experience skeletal and metabolic disorders that severely compromise their welfare, including lesions in the hip joint and painful leg disorders, such as angular bone deformity, tibial dyschondroplasia, and tendon rupture or slippage. Severely crippled birds may become non-ambulatory and, if unable to reach feed and water, die."

Adding to the evidence, PETA says, "By the age of 6 weeks, 90 percent of broiler chickens are so obese that they can no longer walk." Furthermore, Nick Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, stated the "Poultry Science journal has calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as modern chickens, a human would weigh 660 pounds by the age of 8 weeks." Hopefully that clears up any confusion on that issue.

Companies like General Mills that are creating ethical animal treatment goals are basing them on the international Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare established by the United Kingdom.

  1. The freedom from hunger and thirst.

  2. Freedom from discomfort.

  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

  4. Freedom to express normal behavior.

  5. Freedom from fear and distress.

No word on whether these goals will be requirements or recommendations, whether there is an aggressive timeline, and who will pay for the upgrades. As comedian John Oliver recently pointed out, often chicken farmers (aka, “chicken babysitters”) have to pay for all the upgrades since they own the equipment and companies like Pilgrim’s, Tyson, Perdue and Sanderson Farms own the chickens.

Also in question is the interpretation of words and phrases such as "freedom to express normal behavior." When I picture a natural animal behavior, I envision chickens happily strutting around a grassy field pecking around for grubs. It's unlikely that companies will share my interpretation. Steps are being made in the right direction, but there's more work to be done.

A creative way to raise awareness

One of the latest trends in creating awareness is using virtual reality (VR) to let humans see through a chicken’s eyes. PETA says the VR experience helps people develop empathy for chickens. (Click here to watch it yourself.) This is much better than the idea of fitting chickens with virtual reality goggles that let them see digital fields. Seriously?

Perhaps a good campaign for increasing awareness would be to turn PETA's virtual reality experience into a game. This opinion was expressed in a comment on PETA's YouTube video: “I’m surprised they didn't make this a free online game then got someone like Pewdiepie to play it. Just image all the people that would watch it then.”

Great point. PewDiePie has nearly 38 million followers, making him the most watched YouTuber in the world. What does he do? He plays video games and talks about them. Brands are hooking up with YouTube stars, and it's one of the hottest new marketing trends to reach millennials. It's only a matter of time before organizations like PETA partner up, too.

Image credit: Flickr/Cloudtail 

Renee Farris headshotRenee Farris

Renee is a social impact strategist who works with companies to help them focus on key social and environmental opportunities. She loves connecting with people so feel free to contact her at renee.a.farris@gmail.com.

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