Bruce Friedrich is the Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives at Farm Sanctuary. He joins the show to discuss why a controversial lab-grown hamburger is a good thing for society. Friedrich also explains whether pigs are as smart as dogs, chickens and cows. He also discusses the process of killing animals for food, including cramming conditions.
Visit Farm Sanctuary at www.FarmSanctuary.org.
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Start of Interview with Bruce Friedrich
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Bruce Friedrich to the show. He is the senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary and we’re going to touch on several important issues that appear in the ballat box from time to time and on the news as well, one just about two weeks ago. Bruce, welcome. How are you?
Bruce Friedrich: I’m doing well Jason. Thanks so much for inviting me to be on.
Jason Hartman: It’s good to have you on. So tell us a little bit about Farm Sanctuary and what it does.
Bruce Friedrich: Sure. Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986. We have a tripartite mission, we have three sanctuaries at which we provide life-long, excellent care for more than a thousand rescued farm animals. We educate people, that’s part two of our mission, about who farm animals are, and what their needs are. and we advocate on behalf of policy measures that will lessen their suffering. So that includes both legislation to ban the worst abuses, as well as working with regulatory agencies to better enforce what laws exist to get rid of the very worst abuses.
Jason Hartman: Now, that’s interesting. Because there are these various reality shows about… I think PETA does it, I know that the authorities do the various animal control departments in different cities, where you see them rescuing domesticated animals; dogs, cats that have been abused. But an outsider, and I’m just going to act like I don’t know anything about your organization, but an outsider would say, well that’s sort of a strange position because farm animals are raised to be slaughtered, right?
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, and I think it’s counter intuitive for some people, but we are consistently heartened when for example, there’s an abuse case as happened in California last year. A pig called Julia was being, she was in a gestation crate, so she was a mother pig, she wasn’t able to turn around for her entire life, and a worker at that gestation crate facility taped the facility’s manager just mercilessly beating this poor pig because she couldn’t walk. And the public response to that case, even among people who ate meat, was really heartening. People wanted to see her saved from that abuse and they wanted her to go to a sanctuary.
Similarly, there are many cases on an annual basis of pigs or cows or other animals who will escape slaughter houses; they will sometimes leap out of trucks, they will climb over fences, they’ll be running down the street in central Brooklyn and the public outcry on behalf of those animals is really remarkable. It’s really quite positive. And obviously, we take those opportunities to both save those animals, and give those animals life-long care, but also to appeal to people’s better angels, the natures that cause them to rally behind those animals to point out that maybe we shouldn’t be eating any farm animals, not just the lucky few that are able to escape.
Jason Hartman: Right. So, how do you… I guess a good question would be, what do you consider abuse? Obviously the story of the pig, that’s just disgusting, it’s awful. We’ve all heard about veil production and how these animals are basically shackled or put in these tiny cages. They can’t move their entire life, just like you mentioned. It’s really awful. But how do you determine, with a farm animal, what abuse is? How do you find out about it? The one story you mentioned, but I’m sure there are so many other stories, just how would you even know about them?
Bruce Friedrich: You’re absolutely right. Every time undercover investigators go in, as far as we can tell, every time they go in and certainly the vast majority of the times, they find not just the standard abuses which are endemic in the industry, but they find egregious and sadistic abuse. And one can understand how that would happen. If your job is to chop the beaks off of chickens without any pain relief or to castrate pigs without any pain relief, or to inflict 3rd degree burns on cattle without any pain relief, these standard abuses, people that work in these facilities get used to the idea…
Jason Hartman: They get sort of numb to it, huh?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, that’s exactly right. They forget that these are living, feeling individuals with the same capacity for pain as well as emotion, as any dog or cat. And the sad reality is, that the animal welfare act does not cover farm animals, which means that any abuse, as long as it’s standard, it’s going to be perfectly legal. So as just one example, broiler chickens, who are probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet, they now grow more than 6 times as quickly as they did just 75 years ago. But their hearts and their lungs and their limbs haven’t kept up, which means that these animals are in misery for their entire lives which are cut short at about 40-45 days where literally when we’re eating chicken, we’re eating babies who have been abused in ways that would warrant cruelty charges if these animals were protected like dogs and cats are protected.
So we try to improve treatment, or at least get rid of the worst abuses of these animals, we try to educate people about what’s going on, and we simultaneously encourage less abuse and that people just remove their support for this kind of cruelty. The vast majority of people would never personally sear the beaks off of chickens or do any of these things that are standard in the industry. So we say hey, why not align your ethics with your actions by adopting a vegan diet?
Jason Hartman: It has always amazed me how human beings can be so cruel and callas. And when you mention that concept of becoming numb to something when it’s sort of part of the “job”, you look throughout history and you look at the evils committed by Joseph Stalin, probably the most successful evil person on Earth and Chairman Mao, and Adolf Hitler, Camire Rouge, all of these. And how the people under them just carried out these incredibly cruel atrocities by just following orders. It’s just unbelievable how people do have the capacity to become totally numb to this.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, and obviously it’s been called the banality of evil, and I think it’s true. I guess our challenge though I think, isn’t to look back and say what were past people doing that was horrible? Our challenge is to say where in our daily lives are we not thinking through the implications of our actions and consequently where are we supporting things that we’re ethically opposed to? Because 97% of Americans, according to Gallup, want to see all animals protected from abuse. And yet, when we sit down to eat, if we’re choosing to eat meat or dairy or eggs, we are paying people to do things to animals that we’re morally opposed to.
So we don’t see our challenge in our education mandate as convincing anybody to believe anything different. We see our challenge as educating people about what’s happening and asking them to better align what they already believe, compassion, with their actions, not eating meat.
Jason Hartman: So you’re promoting a vegan diet then?
Bruce Friedrich: We do promote a vegan diet. It’s as simple as, for the same reason you wouldn’t eat a dog or a cat, ask yourself if it makes sense to eat a chicken or a pig, for the same reason you wouldn’t consume the mother’s milk of a cat or a dog, how is it any more natural or acceptable to consume the mother’s milk of a cow? And so on. It’s pretty basic but it’s not something most of us think about. I grew up in Oklahoma and Minnesota where…
Jason Hartman: Farming is big business.
Bruce Friedrich: Exactly, and especially if you’re in sports, every meal is going to be meat or dairy or both. So I get that this is not something that a lot of people spend much time thinking about. And to a degree that makes our mission both harder and easier. It’s harder because it’s easier for people to just not think about it. It’s easier because once we peak people’s consciousness and get people thinking about it, it’s a very easy sell. On the one hand, I don’t want to downplay how hard it is for a lot of people to stop eating animal products. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy intuitively to recognize that if you don’t support something, you shouldn’t pay people to do it.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, and there are some health issues there too. Maybe we can go into that in a few minutes. But I wanted to ask you about this recent success they had of creating a hamburger in a laboratory. A lab grown burger. First of all, what is that? It’s not a soy product. There are certainly vegetarian burgers made of soy; we’ve all probably tried those. What was that?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, Sergey Brin who is one of the co-founders at Google, bankrolled this project. And there are scientists all over the world working on this. It was originally funded by NASA, interestingly enough. And what it involves is cultures. So anybody who’s taken chemistry in high school knows that cultures in a test tube, you can add an accelerant and they’ll grow. So that’s the concept.
And then you take chicken, or in this case cattle, or whoever else. You take cultures from an animal, you add an accelerant, and you watch that culture grow. And the goal is to create burgers and chicken nuggets initially, and then eventually to be able to create pork loin, and steak and everything else. And it removes the cruelty to animals, it removes the filth of modern factory farms and slaughter houses, and it requires far fewer inputs.
So as probably many of your listeners will know, it’s just a vastly inefficient process to grow crops in order to feed them to animals. The vast majority of the calories that you feed to an animal, the animal expends simply existing. There are also many additional stages of production. You grow the crops, you ship the crops to the feed mill, you operate the feed mill, you ship the feed to the factory farm, you operate the factory farm, and so on. It’s a bunch of extra stages of production, which are both resource intensive and polluting.
Jason Hartman: Let me just make a comment on that. When I read Diet for a New America, John Robbins’ book many years ago, I remember reading Bruce, that it takes a certain amount of gallons of water to produce one pound of edible food. So watermelon being the most water rich fruit, was about 40 pounds of water to produce a pound of watermelon that you could eat. But a pound of beef took about 52 hundred gallons of water by the time you grow the crops, give the animal water, and then go through the slaughter process. It’s incredibly inefficient.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And so one of the three really positive things about the idea of synthesizing meat in a lab, in addition to the fact that it’s far less filthy and it’s far better for animals, it’s also vastly more efficient. I don’t remember the numbers off hand and it will change as the technology develops. But it’s on the order of requiring 96% less energy, 99% less water, and I think about 95% fewer overall resources because you cut out all of those extra stages of productions. So from an efficiency standpoint, an animal welfare standpoint, and a human health standpoint, it’s a triple win.
Jason Hartman: Sure. So that was a success, right? Is that something we’re all going to see here, this lab grown food? I was always impressed with Star Trek years ago and how they had these machines that just created food. Is this really going to happen?
Bruce Friedrich: It seems very likely that it will happen eventually. I think the expectation is that we’ll start to see the stuff in the market place in about a decade. Right now, it’s cost prohibitive, although obviously as they scale it up, the fact that it requires so many fewer resources will mean that it will actually be less expensive than meat eventually. Some people pointed to the fact that the first burger cost $330,000 as indicating that this was going to be cost prohibitive, to which we point out that the first iPhone cost millions of dollars. You don’t predict how much something is going to cost in the market place by how much it’s development cost or we wouldn’t have aspirin, right?
So yes, the fact that the inputs will price this at less than meat and the fact that Madison Avenue should have no problem pointing out to people that something grown in a lab is far more appealing than something that requires factory farms and industrial slaughter houses, which are really the epitome of unnatural. These places where animals never do anything that they’re designed to do, every natural inclination is denied to them, they’re abused in ways that would warrant cruelty charges if dogs or cats were treated similarly. I think this is the way of the future, and I think if we saw some venture capitalists jumping into this with both feet, we might see it on the market in less than a decade.
Jason Hartman: So have we synthesized anything else besides this hamburger?
Bruce Friedrich: Well there’s a researcher at the university at South Carolina who has synthesized, I believe, chicken. There are researchers all over the world who are working on this. This one, Sergey Brin brought his special panache to it. And they actually had a taste testing in Central London, so it made a big international splash. But there are researchers all over the world who are toiling away in a race to bring this stuff to productivity as quickly as possible.
Jason Hartman: It’s sort of surprising that with all of the technology and advancements that we’ve had, especially in the biomedical field, that we haven’t come that far in the world of food technology, if you will. Certainly farming as become very high tech and massively efficient to how it used to be years ago; whether it be farming of livestock or crops, that’s changed a lot. But synthetic food; that’s been seemingly very slow to develop from my perspective.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, I guess the people who would be most innovative in this area have probably focused more on silicon valley type of endeavors rather than food sorts of endeavors. But I think we will see this one at least take off.
Jason Hartman: Right. Well, tell us about some of the stories of the abuse and how you’ve discovered it. Do you have some other stories? And maybe what constitutes abuse of farm animals. Maybe just share another story or two if you would.
Bruce Friedrich: Sure. One of the worst abuses of farm animals that exists is the standard abuse of cramming 6 or 7 hens into cages the size of file drawers, more than 100 thousand hens in a shed, and about a year and a half ago we got a call indicating that one of these operators who had more than 100 thousand hens in a barn had simply walked away and left the animals to die.
This happened in Turlock in California, which is one of the big agricultural areas in the entire country. And it really shined a light on the degree to which these industries treat these animals as nothing more than commodities. Because again, this is standard agricultural practice, which if you did it to any animal who was protected, it would warrant felony cruelty charges in most states that have felony cruelty charges. And yet this is how hundreds of millions of egg laying hens spend their entire lives.
Jason Hartman: The first question is, why would the first person walk away? That’s their inventory, their money.
Bruce Friedrich: This was at the end of the laying cycle. Everything in these industries is completely unnatural. Chickens who would have a life span of 13-14 years, for broiler production, they are slaughtered when they’re not even 7 weeks old. Their upper bodies, as I mentioned earlier, are growing 6-7 times as quickly as they did in our grandparent’s day which means that where they might have lived 6 months or a year or two, 75 years ago, now they’re slaughtered when they’re not even 7 weeks old. So they look like these sort of Frankenchickens with these massive upper bodies. And they suffer from death rates of 1% every single week because their hearts give out or their lungs collapse, or their legs cripple and they can’t get to water.
Jason Hartman: And that’s happening just because they’re so pumped full of hormones, and it’s just such a totally unnatural thing?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, it’s both breeding and it’s growth promoting antibiotics. So hormones aren’t used in poultry and often times it’s sort of like cholesterol free corn chips. Obviously there wasn’t cholesterol in corn chips to begin with, so sometimes the poultry industry will say we don’t use hormones, but to the vast majority of consumers, a hormone is an antibiotic is a hormone, right? So they’re playing fast and loose with semantics. Because the poultry industry actually uses more growth promoting drugs than any other industry.
And those growth promoting drugs, they both cause the animals to grow abnormally fast, and they allow the animals to live through conditions so filthy, that they would suffer even greater death losses than they already suffer.
So in the case of that Turlock battery egg producer, what happened was, the hens were at the end of their laying cycle so they were a little less than two years old. And rather than play for depopulation, which is the industry term for having the animals ripped out of their cages and sent to slaughter, a process during which about a third of them suffer new bone breaks, because their muscles and bones have wasted away so completely, and these producers simply walked away and left the animals to die from dehydration or starvation. And the animal protection community rallied around these animals and Animal Place Sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary and Harvest Home Sanctuary went in and our volunteers and our staff were able to save, unfortunately, only a small fraction of those animals. But it was a really great group effort on behalf of the animal protection community which I am delighted to say is the norm rather than the exception in this movement.
Jason Hartman: So would you say your movement is gaining steam – it’s on an upward trajectory, right?
Bruce Friedrich: It’s absolutely on an upward trajectory. And I think that is certainly in part because as a people we are becoming more compassionate. We’re recognizing that other animals, they feel pain physiologically in the same way, and to the same degree that we do. They’re made of the same stuff as human beings, flesh and blood and bone. They have the same 5 senses that we do, and more and more people are connecting the dots and saying, “If I wouldn’t do this to a dog or a cat, these animals who we consider to be members of our family, then we shouldn’t be doing it to elephants in circuses, we shouldn’t be doing it to dolphins in hideous theme parks, we shouldn’t be doing it to farm animals. If we wouldn’t eat some animals, we shouldn’t probably eat any animals.”
And that is helped along by the environmental community beginning to decry the vastly inefficient and polluting and greenhouse gas emitting industries that raise animals for food. And then people like Bill Clinton very famously adopting a vegan diet for health reasons, dropping a bunch of weight and then talking to people like Wolf Blitzer and really anybody else he can get to to talk to about it, about really how great he feels and how much more energy he has.
Jason Hartman: I didn’t know that Bill Clinton did that. When did that happen? I was not aware of that.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, he adopted a vegan diet about two years ago, and he speaks very eloquently about the science that indicates that the vast majority of people with a heart condition, if it has to do with arterial blockage, when they adopt a low fat vegan diet, it’s not just that their arteries start to clog less quickly, it’s that their arteries actually open up. So a low fat vegan diet is actually used as a cure for heart disease, which is the number one killer in the United States.
And Clinton talked about how his doctor Dean Ornish out in California contacted him and said hey, what you’re doing is better than nothing, but if you really want to be around to watch your grandkids grow up, you should try this low fat vegan diet. And he read a book by a doctor from Cleveland Clinic named Caldwell Esselstyn called Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. He was convinced and he went vegan. And actually, an interesting fact that I think is a little less well known, is that he convinced Al Sharpton to go vegan, and I don’t know if you’ve seen Sharpton’s show, but that’s another guy who’s slimmed down remarkably and seems to have a new lease on life.
Jason Hartman: Interesting. One last thing I’d like to ask you about, is when we see foods in restaurants and stores marketed as free range chicken or free range meat, is the animal really roaming around and just grazing at their leisure? Does the free range advertising gambit really have any real teeth behind the way organic does? Are there harsh laws to make sure that this is true, what’s being told to the consumer? What do you think about the free range concept?
Bruce Friedrich: Well, free range goes almost completely, if not completely, unpoliced. So I wouldn’t say free range is always meaningless, but it’s a far cry from what you would expect if you focus for it or what you’d find people’s expectations to be if you focus through to them.
So free range, there are not guiding standards for free range. And it’s worth mentioning that organic also, in the majority of instances, does not mean what people expect when they see organic, at least where animal welfare is concerned. The office of the inspector general of USDA did a report on organic, at which it said both that consumer expectations vis-à-vis animal protection go almost completely unmet by the certifying board under USDA and also that it’s just extraordinarily badly managed, badly regulated, badly enforced, and that’s across the board, not just in terms of animal welfare, but it’s especially bad on the animal welfare front unfortunately.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. Wow, it is. Give out your website if you would, Bruce.
Bruce Friedrich: Yeah, People who want more information about farm sanctuary or really any of these issues, just farmsanctuary.org.
Jason Hartman: Give us an idea, if you would before you go, as to the size of your organization. I assume you operate just off donations, or do you have grants as well?
Bruce Friedrich: We operate almost exclusively off donations. We get no government money, so everything is privately funded. We get some grants, but they’re generally fairly small. We have 250 thousand members and supporters. People can find out all about membership and support at farmsanctuary.org. Our annual budget is a little over ten million dollars, and that is for all of our policy and legislation operations, education operations, and for life time care at our sanctuaries. If anybody is near Watkins Glen, New York, which is near Ithaca or Oreland California, which is not far from Sacramento or Acton, California which is basically in Los Angeles, we hope you’ll pay us a visit and come meet some of our animals.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well Bruce, it was great to talk to you today, and thanks for informing us about these very important issues.
Bruce Friedrich: Absolutely my pleasure Jason. Thank you so much for the invitation.
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Transcribed by Ralph
Guest: Bruce Friedrich
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