Is Whole Foods Telling Us the Truth About Its Stance on Animal Rights?
By Michael Goldberg
In February of this year, I was one of around 100 members of the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) who walked into a Whole Foods store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. Several of the activists rolled a small wooden calf hutch with a young woman inside into the store. The hutch was four feet wide, six feet long and four feet high, the size used by dairy farms DxE visited; dozens of milk cartons were placed in front of the hutch. All of this was meant to dramatize the violence and cruelty inherent in raising cows and taking their milk for human consumption.
The protest was one of numerous nonviolent actions, both inside Whole Foods stores and outside in their parking lots, that have been held during the past four years. Until recently, Whole Foods employees, managers and security, at least in the Bay Area where I live, let them happen. DxE activists have never been arrested at Bay Area Whole Foods protests, which have also included holding a mock Thanksgiving dinner in the meat department with a live human in place of a roasted turkey.
DxE holds mock Thanksgiving dinner in Whole Foods meat department on Nov. 23, 2017.Michael Goldberg
But toward the end of September 2018, Whole Foods (which was purchased by Amazon in 2017) changed its tactics. Whole Foods Market California decided to sue DxE, asking for a prohibitory injunction to prevent activists from protesting on Whole Foods property throughout California, including inside stores and outside in the parking lots.
DxE targets Whole Foods because the grocery chain misleads the public. For years now, Whole Foods has marketed itself as selling meat and animal products that come from animals that are humanely raised. DxE has conducted numerous investigations of farms that supply Whole Foods such as Diestel Turkey Ranch and Petaluma Farms, and the investigative teams have found and documented, in photographs and on video, a wide range of atrocities, including, depending on the farm investigated, dead birds among the living, birds trapped in their own feces, birds crammed together in barns, birds that live their entire short lives inside barns, untreated wounds and/or cannibalisms.
DxE activist inside calf crate as other activists place containers of milk in front of crate on Feb. 24 at a Whole Foods store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California.Michael Goldberg
DxE says the very notion that it's okay to kill an animal as long as you raise the animal in a decent manner is wrong. As DxE points out again and again in chants and speak-outs, and as anyone who cares for a dog or cat knows, "Animals want to live, just like us."
The odd thing about Whole Foods filing a lawsuit against DxE is that for most of the past four years, there appeared to be an understanding on the part of Whole Foods managers and employees that they were to let DxE activists come into their stores, protest and leave, without trying to stop them or have them arrested. On one occasion, a friendly store employee even pointed out to me that I was holding my protest sign upside down.
What signaled a real change on the part of Whole Foods was the 11th-hour legal request for an injunction to ban Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of DxE, and other DxE activists from all California Whole Foods stores. The ostensible reason: DxE had announced a week-long protest called "Occupy Whole Foods," planned for the Telegraph Avenue store and set to start on September 23 of this year.
In court on the Friday before Occupy Whole Foods was to begin, a judge said that banning DxE from Whole Foods stores throughout California was out of the question, but she did grant a temporary restraining order prohibiting Hsiung and other DxE members from stepping onto the company's Telegraph Avenue property.
The reason for the restraining order was an Occupy Whole Foods Facebook event page the judge said indicated DxE activists were planning to occupy the store despite the fact that DxE's lawyer Dan Siegel stated that the activists were not using the word "occupy" in a literal manner but rather, in the symbolic spirit of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests that took place all over the country, and that DxE members were actually going to protest on the sidewalk bordering Whole Foods property, and not in the store or parking lot.
The judge also said that another judge would hear the Whole Foods vs. DxE case at a future date and would then decide if a permanent ban from all stores in California and/or the Telegraph store was warranted.
Surprisingly, though Whole Foods managers began asking DxE not to enter at least one of their stores in early 2018, Bay Area stores where DxE continued to hold protests had apparently no problem with activists protesting on Whole Foods property, outside the front entrances of the stores.
On April 28 in Berkeley, a store manager directed dozens of activists to leave the Telegraph store but said, "You guys are more than welcome to protest outside." That protest, held on Whole Foods property right in front of the store, took place with no interference from security or police. On July 29 of this year, more than 100 DxE activists marched from Petaluma Farms, a Whole Foods egg supplier, to the Petaluma Whole Foods and stood outside the store in the parking lot doing speak-outs about the animal cruelty involved in egg production, and chanting animal rights slogans such as "It's not food, it's violence." Both Whole Foods management and Petaluma police (who followed the protesters from the farm to the store) stood by; no one was arrested.
DxE believes the recent legal challenge is Whole Foods' attempt to stifle free speech and prevent DxE from engaging in the public good of alerting Whole Foods customers that Whole Foods' multimillion-dollar, multi-year humanely raised marketing campaign is a lie. DxE also argues that activists have the right to protest inside Whole Foods because the stores are public forums. After all, Whole Foods invites people to hang out in areas of their stores where they provide tables and seating, and where people sometimes spend much of the day working on their laptops (electrical outlets provided), talking to friends and engaging in other social activities.
In mid-November, during an animal rights conference held in Salt Lake City, hundreds of activists filled a local Whole Foods store and protested the company for animal cruelty and consumer fraud while police and store employees looked on; no one was arrested or detained.
In addition to the Whole Foods suit, DxE has, since early 2018, been under fire from authorities in multiple states. Hsiung himself has been charged with numerous felonies in Utah, North Carolina, Colorado and most recently, Sonoma Country, California, for rescuing sick or injured animals from farms, or, in one case, for simply entering a Whole Foods store in Colorado and asking a store manager about the animal products sold at the store. (In early December, the Colorado charges against Hsiung were dismissed.)
These prosecutions are being coordinated across the country by authorities pressured by or beholden to Big Ag in the hopes of shutting down DxE. In advance of a conference DxE held in Salt Lake City in November, the Utah Farm Bureau alerted its members that "the militant animal activist organization, Direct Action Everywhere" would be coming to Salt Lake City and that "ANY farm, ranch or operation may be targeted." (It should be noted that DxE is not a "militant" group and that nonviolence is a core value of DxE. Co-founder and former Northwestern law professor Hsiung is a student of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.; DxE holds a number of nonviolence training workshops throughout the year.)
In advance of a planned December DxE protest, California's leading dairy industry group, the Modesto-based Western United Dairymen, wrote about DxE in a recent newsletter, "As the domestic terrorist threat of animal rights activists continue to increase throughout the state, it's important to make you aware that multiple county sheriff's departments have begun to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy for these triggered terrorists."
Whether or not Whole Foods succeeds in getting DxE banned from its stores in California (a judge is due to rule any day now), the activist group intends to keep protesting Whole Foods' humane lie, and has also been protesting Amazon directly (including the creation of oneclickcruelty.com, a website that explains why DxE protests the mega online retailer), and will continue investigating so-called humane farms in order to inform the public as to where the animal products sold at Whole Foods and elsewhere come from—and how those animals were raised.
Michael Goldberg is a lead researcher on the Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) investigatory team and was an investigative reporter and senior writer at Rolling Stone for 10 years. He has contributed to Wired, Esquire, Details, The Daily Pitchfork and other publications. His third novel, Untitled, was published in August 2017. He is also a photojournalist and has been documenting DxE for more than two years.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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