Op-ed: Response to “Animal Activists Are Trying to Hijack the Farm Bill”

As CEO and president of an international animal protection nonprofit, I must address the misinformation in Jack Hubbard’s March 9 opinion piece, “Animal Activists Are Trying to Hijack the Farm Bill.”

Hubbard claims that “70% of the public consider themselves meat lovers.” Notably, he bases this on a study commissioned by Meats by Linz, the self-proclaimed “premier independent meat purveyor and supplier of the top steakhouses.”

Being a “meat lover” and believing factory farms require more oversight are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a Johns Hopkins survey reports that more than half of Americans polled support more oversight for factory farms. 

Meatless Monday, a campaign that urges institutions and communities to dedicate Mondays to health, reflects an evolving U.S. culture, where three-fifths of households eat vegetarian at least sometimes, nearly 25% of Americans have cut down on meat, and nearly 90% are concerned about the impacts of industrial animal agriculture on animal welfare, worker safety, public health, and the planet.

Hubbard portrays coalition efforts to influence the farm bill as “anti-meat,” when really they are pro-farmer and pro-taxpayer. The farm bill has a responsibility to protect and financially empower farmers and ranchers by creating a stronger market for them. It also has a duty to use our tax dollars wisely. This means requiring corporations, not the taxpayer, to own the costs after extreme weather or other disasters—like bird flu—challenge the resilience of their systems and threaten their ample profit margins.

He frames subsidies for farmers transitioning from meat to plants as radical, while animal agriculture, the very industry he supports, has received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Should American farmers not have the freedom to choose what they grow? Since 1935, the United States has lost 4.8 million farms. Sustainable, just practices with financially empowered farmers growing crops are a must for a fair, dependable food system.

Hubbard’s statement that “the dinner table has never been an area of inequality in the U.S.” is not only a misinterpretation of the data he cites but a slap in the face to the 34 million Americans experiencing food insecurity. Americans on average may spend the smallest percentage of their household income on food than people in other countries, but it doesn’t follow from this that the U.S. food supply is the least expensive. Worth noting is that America is home to egg prices that have more than doubled in the past year, in major part owing to bird flu and the industrial confinement of hens that facilitates its spread. 

Nearly twice as many low-income people are malnourished as higher-income people. Indeed, studies find that “food prices pose a significant barrier” to ensuring good nutrition for many consumers. Lower-income people may be more likely to eat beef, but Hubbard erroneously touts this as a pillar of food equality. High consumption of red meat raises the risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. So the greater likelihood of lower-income folks to choose beef should be viewed as an external cost of inequity. 

Hubbard’s argument holds plant-based to a standard that mysteriously doesn’t apply to animal products; while critiquing the healthiness of meat alternatives, he omits the fact that some of the most-consumed meat products in America, like bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and cold cuts, are highly processed—so much so that the World Health Organization categorizes them as carcinogenic. Plant-based meats are often comparable in protein to animal meat. Impossible’s burger packs over 86% as much protein as the leanest beef. What plant meats do lack is cholesterol (in the same comparison, zero grams versus 90). 

Finally, his piece relies heavily on terms of terrorism—“hijacking,” “aggressive,” “waging wars,” “radical”—that cast the animal protection movement as a bogeyman or domestic threat. This is an antiquated approach to riling a support base in the absence of facts. Hubbard refers to the policies of animal protection groups as “fringe,” yet acknowledges that one such policy is under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. Notably, this policy became law through the will of California voters, not all of whom are animal activists. Indeed, we are not hijacking the farm bill, as the farm bill and other legislation are intended to represent the will of the people.

Leah Garcés is the CEO and president of Mercy For Animals and author of Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry; with more than 20 years of leadership experience in the animal protection movement, she has partnered with corporations, communities, and governments on her mission to build a better food system.

Mercy For Animals is a leading international nonprofit working to end industrial animal agriculture by constructing a just and sustainable food system. Active in Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, and the United States, the organization has conducted more than 100 investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses, influenced more than 500 corporate policies, and helped pass historic legislation to ban cages for farmed animals. Join us at MercyForAnimals.org.