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Response to John Mackey In Re the Animal Compassion Foundation

January 20, 2005 | Animal Rights

The following letter from Priscilla Feral is in response to a letter from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Mackey's original letter follows the FoA response below.

January 20, 2005

Dear John,

Thank you for you reply. You write that you are sorry we are so unhappy about what Whole Foods is trying to do to help farm animals, and you assure us that you are a vegan. But is it vegan to reassure the consciences of concerned shoppers by encouraging them to consume certain kinds of flesh?

You tell us that it is beyond your power to coerce other people to share your vegan philosophy against their will.

It seems that your financial success has led to some cognitive dissonance. It doesn't seem to be beyond your power to coerce animals to share a meat-eating philosophy.

You inform me that "[e]verything that is alive will die including you, me and all farm animals."

True indeed. But you and I aren't spending the primes of our lives being sautéed. We don't die in the manner and at the moment that someone else decrees. We aren't procured by people who insist on speaking for us in order to prove the point that selling our bodies can be an ethical choice while we have no choice about anything at all. We aren't brought into existence for the sole purpose of enhancing some corporate bottom line.

You say, "What matters most is the quality of life while we (and farm animals) are alive."

No, John. What matters most here is that we have the ability to decide whether to keep bringing other animals into existence simply to be sold as food, while using up land and water resources that could be left to animals who really could have free and full lives. Ironically, some of the welfare groups agreeing to make the Whole Foods meat section look good are the very same people who decry the slaughter of the free-living horses and other declining species.

You agree that "it would be better if human beings would stop killing, eating, enslaving, and exploiting animals" and yet you, John, with your Animal Compassionate Standards, are investing millions so that those human beings can think in precisely the opposite terms. You are sugar-coating, and thus promoting, what you personally acknowledge as enslavement.

Evidently, you don't expect your customers to develop the resolve to stop killing, eating, enslaving, and exploiting other animals. Even if they don't, John, that doesn't mean you and your business must become part of the exploitation. Yes, we are fully aware that other grocers sell flesh. Indeed, you've found a niche market by pointing to their business practices as a foil. It's a poor reflection on the decisions of Whole Foods Market when the CEO defends them by arguing that there are worse grocers.

Surely, no matter what conditions we see, there could always be something worse. The worst conditions and the most hideous abuses are only permitted because most people -- including you and those pious welfare experts who go along with you -- think of other animals as commodities in the first place. Animal exploitation -- no matter how pretty the package and how high the mark-up -- perpetuates the concept that dominating other animals is our right.

Yet you tell us that Whole Foods is going to "help improve the quality of life for millions and perhaps eventually billions of farm animals." That might be a CEO's dream, but we view it as an ethical nightmare.

Just as surely as any other meat market will, Whole Foods Market will continue supporting an industry that leads inevitably to deforestation, drought, famine and ultimately war, demonstrating the truth of Tolstoy's warning that "so long as there are slaughterhouses there will always be battlefields."

Perhaps Sam Walton wouldn't understand that. But you, John, really ought to know better.

Very truly yours,

Priscilla Feral Signature

Priscilla Feral
President, Friends of Animals

John Mackey letter to Friends of Animals

January 19, 2005

Hi Priscilla,

I'm sorry you are so unhappy about what Whole Foods is trying to do to help farm animals be better treated while they are alive. I am personally a vegan, but it is beyond my power to coerce other people to share my vegan philosophy against their will. I believe you will find the same thing to be true for yourself and that judging and attacking others who differ from you will not help animals. Everything that is alive will die including you, me and all farm animals. What matters most is the quality of life while we (and farm animals) are alive. It this spirit of improving the quality of life for farm animals and helping them to flourish while they live that is the motivation behind Whole Foods work with our Animal Compassionate Standards and our Animal Compassion Foundation. I agree with you that it is not ideal or perfect. I agree with you that it would be better if human beings would stop killing, eating, enslaving, and exploiting animals and I'm personally committed to that very philosophy. However, until everyone becomes a vegan (and that seems highly unlikely to me) we still have to deal with the reality of farm animals lives and how they live while they are alive. What Whole Foods is doing is going to help improve the quality of life for millions and perhaps eventually billions of farm animals. That will be no small accomplishment.

Do you honestly prefer the Factory Farm system that exists today to the more compassionate model that Whole Foods is trying to develop? If so, then why? If not, then why are you attacking us? Why not direct your energies in opposition to Safeway, Kroger, Albertson's, and Wal-Mart instead of Whole Foods? Surely you know that 100% of the animal products these companies sell have come from Factory Farms of horrible exploitation and cruelty. Isn't that a better target to go after than Whole Foods who is dedicating millions of dollars to try to improve the quality of farm animals lives?



To view the press release which generated this exchange goto:Whole Foods Promotes "Responsible" and "Compassionate" Flesh Foods


Please, Whole Foods Market and animal activists, don’t destroy the abolitionist 10,000 Years Is Enough campaign! For nearly two years, Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc., has been demanding that our land-grant universities (LGUs), established by Congress to teach agriculture—the cultivation of fields, not animal agribusiness or factory farming—stop teaching animal agribusiness altogether. There is no justification for providing training and research for the flesh, milk, and egg industries. Eliminating those industries is a crucial need for nonhuman animals, human beings, and ecosystems. The enormous subsidies the LGUs represent help keep those industries afloat while also driving what is probably the worst mistreatment of nonhuman animals in the existence of our species. On the LGUs’ watch and due to their alliance with the flesh, milk, egg, feed-crop, and chemical industries, the small farmers who preferred the less-cruel methods proposed by Whole Foods Market (WFM) and its Animal Compassion Foundation (ACF) have been driven from the land. The percentage of Americans making their living from farming has dropped from more than 50 percent to 0.7 percent, with suicide rates high among farmers in what Osha Gray Davidson calls “the rural ghetto.” WFM says, “There are many universities and organizations out there doing research making production systems more productive and profitable, but there is no one place where meat producers can go to learn about making their processes more compassionate.” Exactly! The LGUs’ “making production systems more productive and profitable” is one and the same as their pushing cruel factory farming and promoting the “get big or get out” approach to food production in recent decades. Even though the LGUs have some “sustainable agriculture” programs, they are window dressing for cruel factory farming and the toxic monoculture feed-crop industries that support it. If WFM thinks “[p]roviding research money to animal scientists at universities around the world to conduct scientific studies of more compassionate animal raising techniques” will benefit nonhuman animals or human ones, it is kidding itself and the rest of the world. Factory farming has rapidly been moving to China, the Philippines, and other populous and comparatively poor nations. The flesh, milk, and egg industries intend to make their grisly products food staples there as they did in the U.S. by keeping prices low through factory farming with the LGUs’ assistance—to the detriment of nonhuman animals, human beings, and ecosystems. Less-cruel methods have been known for thousands of years—no research is required. If factory farming were eliminated and flesh, milk, and egg production still lawful, there would be more-expensive, less cruelly produced flesh, milk, and eggs—not enough for 6.4 billion people and not profitable enough for the enormous monstrosities that the flesh, milk, and egg industries are. That approach is unacceptable to the industries and to the LGUs. Nothing WFM can do will change that. At the same time, one can easily imagine the charming public-relations side of the industries has been shining its light on WFM in an elaborate effort to get feel-good credits from WFM and the deluded animal-eating part of its clientele. Three Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA) mailings to the presidents of the 50 states’ original LGUs already indicate the LGUs’ lack of interest in respecting nonhuman animals combined with some interest in pretending to teach “animal welfare.” Twenty of the 50 have replied; 30 don’t even consider it worth discussing so far. One even returned unread, immediately upon receipt, the copy of *The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals* that was part of RPA’s third mailing. Far more money comes to LGUs from supporting Big Meat than WFM will ever replace. The LGUs and the industries will laugh all the way to the bank—and to the slaughterhouse ramps and faulty stunning equipment that won’t change at all, except for the worse. Nor will the industries ever find it profitable to allow chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, and others to live to their species’ natural lifespans -- all are killed at only a fraction thereof, even when less-cruel methods are used. Compassion dictates that length of life be considered part of the quality of life for nonhumans as for humans. WFM’s crucial mistake appears to be thinking compassion can be consistent with raising animals for food. Compassion requires ending the enslavement of nonhuman animals. Even due consideration for human beings requires ending the enslavement of nonhuman animals. Human beings are natural herbivores and endure long-term illnesses from including animal products in their diets. All of the complicated WFM literature about this organically produced chicken’s egg or that antibiotic-free cow’s milk is nonsense: People will be much better off living on an all-plant diet. Just as the flesh, milk, and egg industries created demand for their products and supermarkets joined with them decades ago, demand for a plants-only diet can be created whenever the food sellers who wish to create it choose to do so. That will be much more compassionate than seeking to reinvent industries that really must go if compassion is going to count for anything. Should WFM decide to move in the right direction, very knowledgeable people and organizations will support it. It will not be in nonhuman animals’ best interests to support any muddling of these crucial matters or any prolonging of the evil alliance between our LGUs and the flesh, milk, and egg industries. Meanwhile, RPA recommends to WFM and all other concerned parties these books that reveal significant aspects of the LGUs’ crucial role in instigating the horrors WFM wrongly claims it can end through research: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money by Eric Marcus (2004) The Meat You Eat: How Corporate Farming Has Endangered America’s Food Supply by Ken Midkiff (2004) Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle (2002) The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture by Wendell Berry (1977) Broken Heartland: The Rise of America’s Rural Ghetto by Osha Gray Davidon (1990) Colleges of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: A Profile by the National Research Council (1995) Colleges of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: Public Service and Public Policy by the National Research Council (1996) For additional details on the 10,000 Years Is Enough campaign, please see or contact me at Working together, we can vote for what we really want for the animals and get it rather than voting for what we don’t want and getting it. Best wishes,
David Cantor
Executive Director
Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc.>br /> P.O. Box 891
Glenside, PA 19038
215-886-RPA1 Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization showing influential people how to establish responsible policies for animals that are also responsible policies for people and ecosystems. RPA’s 10,000 Years Is Enough campaign aims to end the teaching of animal agribusiness at U.S. universities. Its This Land Is Their Land campaign aims to protect wildlife by ending direct abuses and human land-use practices that harm wildlife, people, and ecosystems. Donations to RPA are tax deductible as allowed by law.

No matter what the claim, a vegan does not promote the exploitation of non-human animals, and would certainly be unwilling to profit from the sale of their bodies. True advocacy means respecting each non-human animal's interest in staying alive, as well as his/her personal right to exert control over well being and survival. *Attempting* to regulate the (mis)treatment of farmed animals during the short time they are allowed to live completely disregards these rights. After 150 years of useless welfarism, we should know that "reform" has been a long traveled, ill conceived road to nowhere. It's disappointing to find that groups--which purportedly represent the rights of animals-- are still taking this road.

How wack are you? I'm not going to stop eating meat, even if I have to go kill the animals myself. Therefore, I doubt your distopian wish of mass vegan conversion will ever come to pass. I can't believe you are wasting your time with WFM instead of going after the true purveyors of animal rights abuses who really don't care about your stance one way or the other. At least WFM is trying to do something to amelliorate an already dastardly situation, not to mention gives you the time of day for dialogue. So you go on with your protest/vigil. I'll be thinking about our soldiers dying in Iraq instead. Charles Conn [Blog Editor's Note: The above message came to us from a Whole Foods corporate address; apparently From Charles Conn. Charles Conn has been identified by TIME.COM as a merchandiser at the Whole Foods Market in downtown New York City.]

Perhaps it's people like yourself, Charles Conn, whom the hypocrisy of Whole Foods marketing will appeal to. You say you won't stop eating meat, even if you have to do the killing. May we conclude you value your acquired taste for flesh above the lives of non-human animals, and regardless of the damage frivolous meat-eating is doing to our planet? You convince yourself that non-human animals should be killed to please your palate, while you promote some vague, undefined, "standards" that purportedly lessen their suffering and yet whose success will be judged by none other than the "livestock producers" themselves. Most important, just to please yourself for a few minutes you ignore other feeling beings' personal interest in living. With all of this, it's no wonder you are also able to convince yourself that people who care about animals and this planet do not care about suffering in Iraq, or, perhaps, any human suffering. Such absurd criticism is not a logical defense of your position.

David Cantor, thank you for your highly informative post. One question: I see that you recommend Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money by Erik Marcus (2004). Just recently, Erik Marcus has stopped encouraging vegetarians to eat at Burger King. In an Internet missive called "BK Veggie Now Contains Egg Whites" (13 Dec. 2004), Marcus writes: "Burger King has pulled an about-face, reformulating its BK-Veggie patty so that it includes egg whites. With this in mind, I regret that I will no longer eat the BK-Veggie, and I have written this short article in an effort to tell other vegans about the changed status of this product." An unexpected "about-face"? Well, we at Friends of Animals aren't at all surprised. The only suprising thing is that vegetarian advocates at any point see fit to actually recommend multinational burger chains. Small, local restaurants serving healthful vegetarian food merit our support -- they surely don't deserve to be driven out of business by huge, impersonal corporations motivated primarily by the bottom line. Let's help reliable people, so that we have reliable places to dine. Lee Hall
Friends of Animals

I appreciate Lee Hall's comments. I regret having misspelled Erik Marcus's first name in my earlier posting. I mentioned his book Meat Market, a very good book — some of which I agree with, some of which I do not — as revealing some of our land-grant universities' activities making the raising of nonhuman animals for food increasingly cruel. We vegans who think we're not paying for animal products due to our "personal" choices are paying for those schools' "animal science" programs through state and federal taxes and sometimes in other ways. The more animal activists see the importance and significance of the "animal science" programs and work to eliminate them, the better. I hope our movement will give high priority to changing the huge institutions that promote animal exploitation. See for contact information — please write to your state's land-grant university president. Thanks and best wishes, David Cantor
Responsible Policies for Animals, Inc.

David, you make an excellent point regarding the role of universities in turning nonhuman animals into food, and in stating that animal activists should work to abolish such research. As you know, and as outlined in Lee's post above, at least 17 animal welfare organizations have publicly endorsed the new foundation created by Whole Foods Market. This foundation apparently hopes to pump millions into university research while helping Whole Foods develop its own niche market for expensive animal flesh. When you say that vegans who refuse to by animal products still indirectly pay for university research, you're right. Like you, David, I also hope that higher priority will be given to holding universities accountable for what they use our money to promote. Let's spread the word. And let's hold the animal advocacy field accountable as well. A university-based radio station for activists advertised--it's hard to think of another word for it--the Whole Foods shopping day, so that Whole Foods could begin funding a library for some new, but vaguely described, agricultural research. And groups listed as supporting the Animal Compassion scheme also encouraged their members to shop on that day. Will this be the kind of "activism" we can look forward to seeing in the future? Evidently, the answer is yes. On January 31, 2005, Erik Marcus stated on the radio show Go Vegan Texas that he "applauded" John Mackey for creating the new foundation, saying "I think it is absolutely a good thing." So those individuals and organizations supporting the "Animal Compassion" marketing scheme ought to take another look at the kind of activism that should be furthered: Should it be helping to develop new ways to perpetuate the breeding, buying, selling, and killing of animals? Or should it be working with a consistent message about the importance of eliminating their institutional exploitation? Daniel Hammer Friends of Animals

John Mackey may practice a vegan diet but calling him a vegan is fraudulent in the extreme. The underpinnings of veganism are ethical and apparently he missed that meeting. The fact is, he's a "vegan" who supports the wholesale torture and slaughter of nonhuman animals because it makes him money. There is no difference between him and, say, a vegan hunting guide or a vegan vivisectionist. If he had any balls, he'd hold a press conference and trumpet the fact that, in good conscience, he could no longer carry any animal products in any of his stores, regardless of the monetary consequences. Could you imagine? The ensuing media firestorm would do more to promote discussion of veganism and this country's horrible abuse of nonhuman animals than any ten campaigns by any of the "animal welfare" groups who presently back him. Difficult and unpopular ethical positions require sacrifice. Every vegan does it on a personal level. Those who are in a position to make a large scale impact with a single action have an obligation to take that action. I wish I were in Mackey's position - he has a chance few of us will ever have, even if it means it might cost him money.

Larry, thank you for writing in. Although courage cannot be located in any particular genitalia, we do agree with the general point here. Indeed, some months back, we suggested to this to John Mackey. Of course it is well known that for-profit corporations are obliged to foster the bottom line -- which is why consumers, not CEOs, must lead. Yet here we have a CEO who claims to have an ethic that includes all feeling animals. One can't do that, as you rightly observe, and sell them. If John Mackey really were a vegan, to have this message heard, he'd risk his stake in the empire. Keep writing, Priscilla Feral Friends of Animals

I recently moved 4 blocks away from the Portland Oregon Whole Foods. But I ride the bus about 44 blocks to the nearest Wild Oats* for groceries rather than support Whole Foods. Wild Oats stores have relatively small meat and seafood departments, and the only one of their stores in the whole country that sells live lobsters is in Portland Maine. Wild Oats appears to observe the same "humane standards" as Whole Foods otherwise. I believe that most or all Whole Foods Markets sell live lobsters and crabs, a practice which I personally find intolerable. I have seen no indication that they are interested in paring down their enormous meat and seafood departments, which could easily be reduced by two thirds and still be plenty big enough to satisfy their meat-eating customers. They also have shown no interest in any conversation about ceasing the sale of live lobsters and crabs. I am really heartened to find that I am not the only one scratching my head over the plethora of animal rights groups who have jumped on the Whole Foods bandwagon. I see no good coming from the company's "animal compassion" posturing. It just looks like another money-making ploy to me. The animal rights movement backing Whole Foods feels a lot like George Baily joining Mr. Potter's team. *(Of course, I am not pushing Wild Oats or corporate grocery stores in general, but I don't have a car and it is the most convenient natural foods grocery store for me right now. I have also shopped at our local natural foods chain New Seasons quite a bit, and have been a co-op member/shopper as well. As corporate food retailers go, I would have to say that Wild Oats is the most good-guyish of the chains.) Thanks, Friends of Animals!


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