You go to the supermarket to buy some eggs, and see that some are marked have a logo marking them as certified humane.
For a well-intentioned consumer strapped for time, this seems like a helpful shorthand — an easy way to ensure that the eggs you're buying come from chickens that weren't raised in appalling conditions. It's certainly a shorthand I used.
But it turns out that all humane certifications aren't created equal, or even close to it.
I recently had Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute, on my podcast for an interview (which you can listen to by subscribing to my podcast or streaming it on SoundCloud). Fredrich dismissed the idea that these labels couldbe trusted:
There have been multiple undercover investigations by Mercy for Animals, PETA, and other organizations have actually gone into these farms — and it is about the furthest thing you can imagine from humane.
Probably the most stark thing it allows that people are shocked by is caging hens. So you have Walmart, and McDonalds, and Costco and all these huge producers saying: "We're going to get hens out of cages; we recognize that our consumers don't want it; we recognize it's just horrible animal welfare to cram hens into these cages where they can't move all their lives."
The American Humane Association has been on the front lines defending bigger cages — where the animals still can't do anything that's natural to them, and they spend their entire lives unable to move.
Friedrich's right: Several investigations have found that eggs with the humane certification come from chickens who spend their entire lives in a space smaller than a square foot, as the Washington Post reported in 2014.
"And for every chicken that's laying eggs, there's also a male chicken … who was thrown alive into either a grinder or a plastic bag, which is a pretty awful way to go," Friedrich says. "It's basically tossing the male babies into garbage disposals."
Other humane certifications are more reliable, he explained, but you really need to know which one is which.
Friedrich and I spent more than an hour talking about a broad range of topics, including:
- Friedrich's time running the awareness campaigns for PETA. (Yeah, those campaigns — the ones where naked people stuffed themselves in Saran Wrap and cages.)
- How PETA comes up with its ideas for its campaigns. (Friedrich compared PETA's brainstorming sessions to the meetings of conservative activist Grover Norquist, another guest on The Ezra Klein Show.)
- New Crop Capital, Friedrich's venture firm, and its strategy for investing in businesses that can both cut animal suffering and make a profit.
- Why Bill Gates and the Google founders are investing in lab-grown meat.
- Why eating eggs is much worse for animal suffering than eating beef.
- How the market for plant-based proteins has changed.
- Why the all-or-nothing frame around vegetarianism is counterproductive.
- Whether we can really solve global warming without looking at our food choices.
For more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and conservative activist Grover Norquist, and media analyst Ben Thompson — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.