An animal-rights group called Direct Action Everywhere released a new video that purportedly depicts the rescue of an injured hen from Petaluma Farms, a California company that supplies humanely certified eggs to Whole Foods. Activists climbed over a barbed-wire fence and discovered the hen before stealing the animal and nursing her back to health over the course of several weeks. Yesterday’s video release was timed to coincide with dozens of protests scheduled for Whole Foods stores this weekend, but the group is not getting the broad reaction it had perhaps hoped for.
Notably, a few minutes of dimly lit footage shot inside the farm make up the 19-minute-long clip. The hen, later named Mei, is clearly injured, and other birds are missing feathers and look to be in bad shape. Several of the group’s claims, however, are being called into question: Images of hens missing feathers that could have been molting are presented as evidence of abuse, and Andrew Gunther, the director of the group Animal Welfare Approved, tells the Times that what Direct Action Everywhere described as evidence of “debeaking” was actually “beak trimming,” a less severe practice permitted by some welfare-standards groups to prevent cannibalism and pecking among bird populations. The owner of Petaluma Farms insists that the activists generalized claims and that three birds recur throughout the video, telling the paper he thought “none were from his organic flock.”
“[T]hey had to go through 15 barns off and on over a year to find three chickens they could use to make their point in this video,” he says. Wayne Hsiung, a Direct Action Everywhere founder, said that the group had made ten furtive visits to the farm between 2013 and he fall of 2014 to compile their footage.
Up until now, activists have traditionally focused their energies on factory farms. Video shot inside farms, feedlots, and slaughter houses seeking to publicize deplorable conditions has for the most part focused on cows and pigs. One hours-long exposé in 2012 depicted cows being shot and stunned with bolt guns and still-conscious cows being lifted to the the killing floor; more recently, a video shoot at a dairy that supplied cheese to Domino’s depicted workers dragging cows with heavy machinery and stabbing them with screwdrivers.
Chickens raised at farms for eggs and meat have increasingly become the subject of activists’ videos, including one shot at a Perdue contractor’s farm last year with the permission of a farmer who said he had been raising the animals according to the company’s “humane” and “cage-free” standards. Petaluma Farms’ Humane Farm Animal Care certification expired last year, and this latest video definitely raises questions about welfare certifications. Some groups allow for beak trimming, for example, while others do not.
Whole Foods itself is now giving its suppliers a set of guidelines for humanely raised dairy and meat, which should add transparency to the way in which the food is sourced, and, ideally, broker a dialogue between activist groups and farmers. But because the video was presented as evidence of systemic abuse, only to have its effectiveness called into question, it isn’t helping Direct Action Everywhere in the way the group wants it to help.