Discussing The Future Of Food With Wayne Pacelle


Michael Pellman Rowland, Forbes

Apr 18, 2017


Recently, I sat down with one of the most influential people in the ‘future of food' movement, Wayne Pacelle. As the head of The Humane Society of the United States, I was curious to get his take on a wide range of topics that are likely to influence the way we eat in the coming years. More than ever, advocacy groups like HSUS are playing a significant role in shaping how companies and policy makers think about our food system.


In just a few years, HSUS has helped lead the way in convincing the largest food companies in the U.S. to implement animal welfare policies, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Walmart, Costco, and every major grocery store chain in America. To what do you attribute that success?


The biggest advantage has been establishing personal relationships with the key decision-makers at these companies. Their arguments for change were convincing because HSUS has been seeding American culture with the notion that extreme confinement of farm animals is not an acceptable animal husbandry practice. Before these corporations agreed to big changes, we initiated and won statewide ballot measure campaigns in Arizona, California, and Florida, demonstrating in very tangible ways that the public did not like what it saw when confinement practices were put on display. At the end of the day, the companies realized that they are seeing a massive shift in the attitudes of its customers and they needed to get out ahead of the problem.


Do you really believe that all of the problems that beset animals in the marketplace can be solved?


The companies don’t take these action in isolation. They react to shifting tastes and norms of consumers, and also to the regulatory environment. At the same time, we’ve found that executives at big brands want to do the right thing. Good people respond when a strong scientific and economic case is made.


In the cases of factory farming, they see where the discussion is moving. Overcrowded factory farms produce a range of problems, including massive manure loads and public-health threats related to the overuse of antibiotics. The convergence of so many social concerns is forcing companies to take a look and driving these changes in the food industry.


But it’s truly a revolution. We’ve tolerated this intensive confinement of animals throughout my whole lifetime, raising them on a massive scale amidst massive cruelty, and with no move to respect their most basic biological and behavioral needs. We’re beginning to unwind all of this.


Was there a moment when you realized you had reached the tipping point in convincing the food industry to actively become part of the solution?


When McDonald’s decided to phase out its use of gestation crates, dozens of other companies followed. McDonald’s is a high-volume food seller, and it does so by offering food at affordable prices for lower and middle-income consumers. When the company said it could make it work without gestation crates in its supply chain, it was disruptive to the entire food retail sector. The other companies no longer had the excuse of high cost and impracticality. If McDonald’s could make the switch, they could too.


But McDonald’s could not have done it without key producers moving in that direction and making product available to them. Smithfield Foods, the largest pig farming business in the world, announced in ‘07 that it was on a path to convert all of its operations to crate-free. The same thing happened on the issue of extreme confinement of laying hens. The United Egg Producers signaled that it knew that there was no long-term future in battery cage confinement. And when McDonald’s pledged to go cage free, there was a cascade of companies that followed suit.


As you can tell, there’s no single explanation. There was real dynamism between shifting consumer sentiment, public policy reforms, food retail reforms, and recognition among producers that they had to change too.


What’s the basic premise of your book, The Humane Economy? ...


What kind of evidence do you cite in support of the idea of a successful ‘humane economy?’ ...


In your book, you mention the growth of companies that offer animal product-free alternatives. Do humane consumers need to become vegan, or do you see some other pathways to positive reform? ...


Does Donald Trump’s administration temper your optimism about the prospects for a humane economy? ...


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