|Purpose||Animal rights, animal welfare|
|United States, Canada, Brazil, Latin America, India, Asia|
Mercy For Animals (MFA) is an international nonprofit animal protection organization founded in 1999 by Milo Runkle. MFA's mission is to "prevent cruelty to farmed animals and promote compassionate food choices and policies."
MFA has conducted more than 65 investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses, many of which have resulted in animal cruelty convictions, changes in corporate animal welfare policies, and primetime media coverage. The organization has guided many of the world's largest food companies, including Nestlé, Perdue, and Walmart, in adopting animal welfare policies.
MFA also promotes vegan eating through social media, videos, writing, and online resources.
Milo Runkle wrote in Mercy For Animals: One Man's Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals, published in 2017, that he founded MFA after a biology teacher at his rural Ohio high school brought dead piglets to class to be dissected. One piglet was still alive, so a student who worked on the teacher's farm grabbed the piglet and slammed her headfirst against the floor. The incident was controversial in the community, yet a judge ruled that the student's action was legal because it was "standard agricultural practice".
Milo writes that the injustice weighed heavily on him and led him to create an organization with a mission to protect farmed animals.
MFA conducted its first investigations in 2001. Investigators entered two Ohio egg factory farms at night five times over several weeks. They collected hours of video footage, gave water to dehydrated hens, and rescued other suffering birds.
These open rescues made headlines around the state. Ohio's largest television news station at the time aired the footage, promoting the segment as "The Video the Egg Industry Doesn't Want You to See".
The following year, MFA investigators recorded footage from inside another Ohio factory farm, Weaver Bros. Egg Farm. About five hours of video showed thousands of hens in cages, birds trapped between cage wire unable to access food or water, and dead animals rotting next to other birds still laying eggs for human consumption. MFA used the footage to discredit a new Animal Care Certified label which advertised that hens were raised humanely.
MFA asked prosecutors to investigate and file charges against these farms, but no charges were filed.
Current MFA investigators obtain employment at factory farms and slaughterhouses to document conditions. Being in the facilities for extended periods of time allows the investigators to record repeated abuse and make a case for systemic and ongoing cruelty, which can spur animal cruelty convictions, corporate animal welfare policies, and new legislation.
In 2008, animal rights advocates organized a grassroots campaign across California to pass Proposition 2, a state ballot initiative requiring that egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs, and calves raised for veal be given enough room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around. MFA released investigative footage from inside two of California's largest egg farms, Gemperle Enterprises and Norco Ranch, just two weeks before the vote. Prop 2 passed and is still considered one of the most significant pieces of farmed animal protection legislation ever enacted in the United States.
A year later, MFA investigators in Maine uncovered workers and managers at an egg factory farm killing birds by grabbing them by the neck and swinging them in the air. MFA turned the video footage over to state police, who in turn raided the facility. The facility owner pled guilty to 10 counts of animal cruelty and agreed to pay more than $130,000 in fines and restitution, the largest financial penalty ever levied against a U.S. factory farm.
In 2010, several organizations, including MFA, launched a campaign to enact legislation in Ohio that would protect farmed animals. The Ohio Farm Bureau refused to meet with the coalition until an MFA investigation at an Ohio dairy farm showed workers stabbing cows with pitchforks, beating them with crowbars, and twisting their tails until the bones snapped. After the investigation's release, the Ohio Farm Bureau finally agreed to meet with the groups and enacted farmed animal welfare reforms.
Propelled by progress in the United States, MFA expanded to Canada in 2012. MFA's first exposé of the Canadian pork industry prompted the country's eight largest grocers to phase gestation crates out of their supply chains. A whistleblower documented workers firing metal bolts into pigs' heads—leaving many pigs unconscious for minutes—and cutting off piglets' testicles without painkillers. Some workers slammed piglets headfirst into the ground to kill them. Pregnant pigs were kept in crates so small the animals could not turn around. Canada's popular W5 news program aired the footage nationwide.
Canada's pork industry also committed to a national phaseout of gestation crates, and pork producers agreed to stop mutilating piglets without pain relief.
Footage taken by MFA at two Alberta suppliers to Burnbrae Farms, at the time an egg supplier to McDonald's Canada, prompted nearly 120,000 Canadians to call on McDonald's to ban cages for egg-laying hens in the company's supply chain. Following the exposé and public outcry, McDonald's announced a policy to eliminate cages for hens from its North American supplier farms. Nearly the entire Canadian food industry followed suit.
In the U.S., MFA conducted investigations inside turkey factory farms supplying Butterball. Media outlets CNN, the Associated Press, NBC, and USA Today reported on the investigations, which revealed workers violently stomping on turkeys, dragging them by their wings and necks, slamming them into transport crates, and leaving many to suffer from untreated injuries and infections. Prompted by hidden-camera footage, law enforcement in North Carolina conducted a two-day raid at one of the facilities. Five Butterball employees were arrested and charged with criminal cruelty to animals. The prosecutions led to the first-ever felony conviction for cruelty to factory-farmed poultry in U.S. history.
The following year, MFA investigated a dairy factory farm in Wisconsin that supplied Nestlé's DiGiorno Pizza brand. Undercover footage revealed cows beaten, stabbed, and dragged by tractors. After the video received widespread media attention, Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, met with MFA and implemented a far-reaching animal welfare policy.
Following progress with Nestlé, MFA targeted Leprino Foods, Great Lakes Cheese, and Saputo. After MFA investigations uncovered abuse in each of their supply chains, the companies released their own animal welfare policies.
After six MFA investigations into Walmart's pork supply chain, three years of campaigning, and pressure from Bob Barker, James Cromwell, Ryan Gosling, and a slew of other celebrities, in May 2015 Walmart banned gestation crates, battery cages, and veal crates from its U.S. supply chains. The retail giant also pledged to end mutilations without painkillers, such as tail docking, castration, and dehorning.
Top U.S. grocers Publix, Kroger, Albertsons, and SUPERVALU, along with the Retail Council of Canada, also pledged to ban intensive confinement of hens from their egg supply chains after MFA exposés or campaigns.
In early 2016, MFA launched The Good Food Institute. The organization's mission is to create "a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply." The Good Food Institute provides strategic support to companies, promotes plant-based products, supports entrepreneurs, and educates grant-making institutions, corporations, and governmental bodies about plant-based and clean meat.
Next, Perdue, one of the largest chicken producers in the world, announced a precedent-setting commitment to improving animal welfare after MFA investigated two contract farms in the U.S. supplying the company. The policy will reduce suffering for nearly 680 million birds annually.
In the same year, MFA also set up operations in Brazil, Mexico, India, and Asia.
An MFA investigator recorded footage from inside nine government-run slaughterhouses in Mexico. Pigs were dragged by their limbs to the killing floor and stabbed repeatedly. A tied-up cow suffered blows from a sledgehammer. A cornered pig was stabbed in the side with a large knife. The investigation drew attention from major Mexican media outlets Reforma, El Universal, and Proceso.
Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez narrated an MFA video about the cruelty. In an online petition, Eugenio wrote, "I watched the video in horror as animals were tied up, shocked for no reason, brutally and repeatedly bludgeoned with sledgehammers, and then stabbed in the back of the head."
Back in the U.S., MFA was also part of a coalition of organizations that worked to pass the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in Massachusetts. The measure, passed in 2016, outlaws some of the cruelest farming practices and bans the sale of eggs, pork, and veal from animals raised in intensive confinement.
After the 2016 investigations, MFA worked with members of Mexico's congress to introduce federal legislation that would end the worst slaughter methods shown in the undercover video. The bill passed through two committees and the representative branch of Mexico's congress, with nearly unanimous support. As of October 2018, the bill was waiting on a senate vote.
MFA launched its Conscious Eating program in Mexico and Brazil in 2017. Through the initiative, MFA works with large institutions—school districts, universities, and hospitals—to help them reduce the meat, dairy, and eggs they serve. Because of policy commitments that will reduce meat, dairy, and egg consumption by 20 percent, school districts, universities, and social assistance programs across Brazil and Mexico will serve about 26 million more vegan meals annually. Administrators and cooks at the institutions receive support, resources, recipes, and hands-on training from MFA.
MFA has conducted multiple exposés inside factory farms in Brazil. The exposés have received media coverage in Brazil's largest daily newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo; major business magazine EXAME; and BuzzFeed News.
In 2018, MFA staff in Brazil helped secure a historic commitment from Carrefour, the largest supermarket in Brazil, to eliminating small cages for hens. After MFA campaigns or discussions with MFA, dozens of other major brands in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, including Burger King, General Mills, Jack in the Box, Pollo Pepe, Les Croissants, Loz Car, Grupo Alimento, Grupo Habib's, and Grupo Halipar, pledged to change how they treat animals.
In the U.S., MFA worked with coalition partners on the Prevent Cruelty CA campaign to collect over 660,000 signatures of support for a ballot initiative to ban the production and sale in California of meat and eggs from animals confined in cages. The measure, Proposition 12, passed with 63% of the vote on the November 2018 California state ballot.
In recent years, MFA has also pioneered investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses using drones. MFA drones have exposed 35 factory farms, and views of the investigative videos have surpassed 22 million.
A 2018 undercover investigation into California's driftnet fishing industry by MFA and a coalition of organizations showed dolphins entangled and drowned in driftnets, endangered species killed, and sharks cut apart and stabbed while still alive and conscious.
The investigation received coverage by The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, NBC Bay Area, and many more outlets. Undercover footage influenced two legislative initiatives aimed at banning driftnets: a California state bill and a federal bill.
A 2020 investigation focusing on the live export industry in Brazil revealed animals being confined in large ships in cramped conditions for weeks on end, often lying in and covered in their own feces. After arriving at their destination in the Middle East, cranes are used to hoist sick and injured animals out by their limbs. At the slaughterhouses, they are often slashed with knives and left to bleed to death, limbs are hacked off and throats stabbed.
MFA whistleblowers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil have documented animals intensively confined by the tens of thousands in sheds, mutilated without pain relief, beaten with metal bars, stabbed with knives, slammed into equipment, and ground up alive in industrial macerators.
MFA encourages companies to adopt animal welfare policies and works with large institutions to reduce meat, dairy, and eggs served. After two MFA investigations inside factory farms supplying Perdue, the company implemented an animal welfare policy that will reduce suffering for nearly 680 million birds a year. MFA has pushed hundreds of companies to implement reforms.
MFA's legal team defends whistleblower protections, holds animal abusers accountable, and champions laws that protect animals. The organization's work has resulted in new legal protections for animals; raids of farms by law enforcement; closure of facilities; criminal prosecutions of farm owners, managers, and employees for animal abuse; and defeat of anti-whistleblower legislation.
Through social media and outreach, MFA raises public awareness about the suffering of farmed animals and promotes compassionate food choices. The organization runs ChooseVeg.com, a website dedicated to making plant-based eating easier and more accessible and offers one-on-one support for people interested in eating more plant-based foods.
MFA hosts the Hidden Heroes Gala each year in downtown Los Angeles. The formal event honors MFA investigators and their supporters.
Prominent celebrities attend each year in support. Past attendees include Joaquin Phoenix, Moby, Tony Kanal, Pamela Anderson, Mýa, Emily Deschanel, Kat Von D, Leona Lewis, Diane Warren, Emma Kenney, Evanna Lynch, Rose McGowan, Simon Helberg, Kevin Nealon, Daniella Monet, and Otep Shamaya.
Circle V, the first all-vegan music festival celebrating animal rights, launched in 2016. A second event followed in 2017. Thousands showed up to enjoy vegan food vendors, retail pop-ups, and prominent speakers during the day. At night, musicians including Moby and Goldenvoice took the stage at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood. All proceeds from the event benefit MFA.