5 Questions: Humane Society International

1) HSI is part of the Humane Society of the United States. We think that many people tend to think of the Humane Society as being focused on rescuing cats and dogs, but we know your shared mission is to protect all animals. Has HSUS and HSI focused on farm animals since it's founding?

Farm animals were at the heart of the very first national campaign conducted by the HSUS shortly after its founding in the early 1950s. The HSUS led an initiative for slaughterhouse reform that resulted in the passage of the Humane Slaughter Act in 1958. However, by the end of the twentieth century, the HSUS shifted its central focus for its farm animal campaigns to prioritize the welfare of animals on the farm, as the intensive confinement systems that had become standard practice on factory farms were causing enormous amounts of distress, suffering, and susceptibility to disease. Alongside the factory farming campaign, the HSUS began promoting a reduction in the consumption of animal products.

Since our founding in 1991, HSI has kept farm animals as one of our priority initiatives. As with the HSUS, our focus has shifted over the years to primarily address the welfare of animals on farms and to reverse the increase in the overall number of animals raised for food around the world by encouraging a reduction in the consumption of animal products.  

2) Tell us about HSI's work to protect farm animals. Broadly, what are your goals and what strategies do you employ to achieve them? Where does antibiotic use fit into your priorities?

Over 80 billion land animals are raised for food every year around the world, with the vast majority kept in operations that are more factories than farms. In these intensive industrialized operations, animals are raised in crowded, caged conditions that ignore their most basic needs and welfare, resulting in significant physical and psychological pain and suffering. In many countries, rather than improving the basic welfare and stressful crowded conditions in which the animals are kept, producers administer antibiotics as growth promotors and prophylactically. These are contentious practices, as feeding low doses for extended periods of time has been shown to lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is a tremendous concern for the health of animals and people, and yet another reason why we have historically been opposed to such use. 

HSI Farm’s programs are concentrated in two main streams: we work in countries across the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe to institute higher welfare for the billions of animals in production and to increase the availability of delicious plant-based alternatives so as to ultimately reduce the number of animals suffering in factory farms.

Core to HSI’s success in both areas is having campaigners and experts (often who have held positions in governments, agriculture or other local institutions) on our team and partnering with local animal protection, environmental and public health NGOs to ensure that the unique needs of each region are met and can be established for the long-term. 

3) What countries do you work in and how did you select them?

HSI has a presence in more than 50 countries, and the farm animal work on welfare and plant-based alternatives is in more than a dozen countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, India, Mexico, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam plus the European Union. On farm animal issues we engage with both developed countries and emerging markets in which factory farming is likely to grow. 

Additionally, because Humane Society International works with government and other partners in other countries on a variety of high-profile animal protection issues ranging from wildlife conservation to ending dog meat markets and ending the testing on animals for cosmetics, we have a unique opportunity to respond to them when farm animal issues arise. 

4) When you call for reforms on factory farms, what does that mean exactly? Are these the same reforms we need in the United States or are practices in your priority countries different?

In both the US and internationally, we focus on eliminating the most intensive forms of confinement: cages which confine the vast majority of egg laying hens in the world for the duration of their lives, and gestation crates which confine mother pigs during their pregnancies.  The cornerstone of our efforts is working collaboratively with international and national food and hospitality companies to eliminate products originating from cages and crates from their supply chain. Key to this effort is conducting technical workshops for producers on how to transition to cage-/crate-free alternative systems and connecting those producers with the corporations that have instituted policies. Hundreds of food and hospitality companies have already made commitments, including some of the biggest global corporations such as Nestle, Sodexo, Unilever and Hilton.  

5) We know meat reduction is a big part of your portfolio. Can you tell our readers what that means exactly and why it is important to public health and the environment?

At HSI, we work with institutions around the world ranging from schools and universities to factories and food service catering companies to government agencies in order to add more plant-based meal offerings and reduce the amount of animal-derived products served. We work with chefs and nutritionists to provide free-of-charge plant-based culinary trainings, assist in recipe development and menu building, and provide educational materials on the benefits of plant-based eating to help these institutions adopt plant-based eating programs such as Meatless Mondays.

International governmental bodies are also hearing the message that animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change and that there are policy options to increase plant-proteins and meat alternatives that can change our future for the better.

Aside from causing immense animal suffering from practices ranging from factory farming and intensive confinement to inhumane handling and slaughtering of animals, animal-based diets have been implicated in multiple human health conditions and have significant negative environmental impacts. The World Health Organisation estimates that obesity has tripled globally since 1975, with more than 1.9 billion overweight adults, and 381 million children overweight or obese. Studies show that people with diets rich in plant-based foods and who eat fewer animal products have lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.

As for the environment, the sheer scale of industrial animal agriculture means that it is not only one of the leading contributors to climate change and deforestation, but it also uses vast amounts of water and contributes to our planet’s water scarcity.