Editor's note: This story was originally published Aug. 3, 2017. We're bringing it back today in observance of International Animal Rights Day.
A group of millennials is traveling cross-country to demand better conditions for chickens and other animals on factory farms, and to hold restaurants accountable for where they get their meat.
The campaign, dubbed the Tour Against Cruelty, is comprised of staff from The Humane League and young volunteers. Each road stop for the activism-oriented tour coincides with dates and locations of the Warped Tour, a traveling music festival that attracts progressive millennials.... millennials who, organizers hope, will rally to the cause of cruelty-free food.
The road trip isn't just about awareness: it's about accountability. The group is singling out Hardee's and Carl's Jr., both owned by parent company CKE Restaurants, for sourcing their poultry from farms with inhumane conditions. When they're not following festival-goers, activists are approaching patrons outside restaurants owned by CKE, and educating them on where the food is coming from using pamphlets and prepared talking points.
In a press release, CKE says their suppliers "are expected to meet or exceed government regulations and established industry standards."
Tour volunteers come armed not just with complaints, but with alternatives as outlined by the Global Animal Partnership, a non-profit committed to improving farm animal welfare. Farms such as those partnered with CKE slit chickens' throats while the animals are fully conscious, a method that could be abandoned in favor of stunning, which leaves the chicken paralyzed and unaware during the actual kill. Some farms practice stunning ineffectively, so the birds are actually electrocuted and scalded alive before being slaughtered while fully conscious. According to the Global Animal Partnership, 7.8 billion chickens are raised and killed every year in the US.
Other proposed improvements in quality of life for animals include natural light, straw bales instead of dark, isolated coops, and less packed living spaces. Live chickens often share a coop with dead ones, and conditions are far from clean.
The Humane League also seeks to overthrow standard practices in farming they deem cruel, such as genetic manipulation. Many chickens are genetically altered to grow faster and larger, which often leads to an early death for the birds.
Farms and restaurants know that millennials, who tend to value ethically sourced ingredients, are a powerful force as consumers. Young peoples' pro-animal rights sensibilities are causing food suppliers to shift their priorities, too. According to The Future of Food: Are You Ready for the Millennials? 61 percent of millennials expect their food to be non-GMO, compared to 46 percent of baby boomers. The report also finds that younger generations place a higher importance on transparency and the origin of their food than generations past.
In an era of cell-phone videos and hidden cameras in slaughterhouses, it's becoming harder for the farm industry to simply forego transparency. Ag-gag bills pushed by animal agriculture lobbyists have attempted to silence whistleblowing in the farm industry and criminalize the documentation of slaughterhouse conditions. In some states, despite the efforts of organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, these bills have succeeded and become laws. For states that ban activist-imposed transparency, honesty is in the hands of the food supplier.
In this climate of opposing interests, the Tour Against Cruelty hopes to lift the veil off the practices of the agriculture industry, and bring a more widespread awareness about the treatment of animals on factory farms. Rallying their target demographic to own their power as young consumers is only the first step: the Humane League hopes restaurants and farms will hear their message and alter their methods accordingly.