Time was, groups fighting for animal rights typically sought change via boycotts, angry letters, ads showing factory farm horrors and urging their fellow Americans to go vegan. But in recent years, one leading animal rights organization, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), has taken another path, with considerable success.
“In the old days we might have called on customers to boycott or write letters,” says Kara Mergl of WSPA’s New York office. “A combination of pestering and begging. Now our message to businesses is, ‘We’re here to work with you and consult with you, rather than yell at you.’ WSPA is working from the perspective of how change can shift,”
And instead of telling people to give up animal products, they’re working with businesses to improve livestock’s lives, starting with laying hens. The organization has many offices worldwide working to reduce animal cruelty, and here in the U.S. Choose Cage-Free is their main campaign.
Why start there? Sheer numbers. “The number of dairy cows in America is really a fraction of the number of laying hens,” says Mergl. “We’re not talking about farms with a thousand hens selling at the farmers market. We’re talking about on a global scale, multi-national corporations.”
In other words, they’re taking a collaborative approach to working with corporations. One way they are doing so is through participation in the Sustainability Consortium: a multi-stakeholder organization (including Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Unilver, Hershey and General Mills as well as the Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Protection Agency) committed to building a scientific foundation for sustainable improvements to consumer goods and products. Discussions are ongoing, but so far cage-free eggs have won several measurable achievements and notable milestones including a pledge by Burger King that 100 percent of its eggs and pork in the U.S. will be cage-free by 2017.
But while they aren’t calling upon the public to picket or boycott, they do want your help—namely in the form of signing the Choose Cage Free pledge and supporting both farmers and businesses that have committed to cage-free eggs. As for customers’ own purchasing, WSPA created an egg buying guide that can help buyers find these eggs nationwide under labels like Organic Valley, or under regional labels like Pete & Gerry’s, which distributes throughout the Northeast (including New York) and Mid-Atlantic.
The change that WSPA seeks may not happen overnight—Mergl says some corporations take 3-5 years to to go completely cage free. “We give the producer opportunity to make the change,” she says. Which in the end, is what it’s all about.
To learn more about cage-free eggs and WSPA’s work, visit their website.