This report aims to provide an overview of the narratives currently in play by the industry, advocates themselves, and the Media. By noticing which narratives are and aren’t being echoed by the Media, we examine implications for advocates and inform the later phases of our messaging research.
In conducting a review of materials recently disseminated by advocacy groups, we included website content from The Humane League (THL), Mercy for Animals (MFA), and Farm Sanctuary, as well as press releases from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) regarding animals used for food, excluding press releases regarding animals used for other purposes such as entertainment and testing. Also included in this review were transcripts of popular videos from prominent advocates Earthling Ed, James Aspey, and Vegan Evan. The prominent individual advocates are considered one group for the purpose of analysis, given the cohesive strategy they collectively represent- convincing individuals to go vegan.
While food is often discussed in the materials we reviewed, we intentionally excluded advocates known primarily for their discussion of food and health, regardless of their notoriety. We also exclude those whose primary audience consists of animal advocates or vegans, favoring instead materials directed toward the public at large.
In our review of industry narratives, we conducted Google Searches of Superbowl ad meat, TV commercial meat, Cheese ads, meat ads, and milk ads. We also reviewed the ads section of the website for Center for Consumer Freedom, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, Farm Babe, and Meatingplace. We also examined the websites for animal product US Checkoff Programs, which are government-run advertising programs responsible for campaigns such as Got Milk? and Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner. They’re funded by mandatory fees paid by industry and thus are strictly regulated: US checkoff programs can use government funding to advocate for their product but not against any other. Checkoff programs we included were the American Egg Board, the American Lamb Board, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Council, and the National Pork Board.
To review Media articles we made Google News searches using these keywords: animals food, animal agriculture, animal cruelty farming, farm animals, factory farming, aquaculture cruelty, animal rights, and animal rights protest, and selected articles with titles and content discussing the ethical concerns of farming animals. All of the relevant articles published by news outlets on the first three pages of Google results were included in the analysis. Pro-advocate outlets, such as VegNews, and pro-industry outlets, such as Agweek, were excluded. Media Outlets were not excluded for political bias or small readership. We limited the Media analysis to articles published in 2022.
Google searches for the Media analysis took place between Oct 31 and Nov 2, 2022. In October 2022, several newsworthy events occurred related to animals used for food: a trial and acquittal of animal rights activists in Utah, a sentencing of animal rights activists in Canada, and the arguing of California’s Proposition 12, landmark animal rights legislation, in front of the US Supreme Court. This may have created more positive Media dialogue than we may have observed had we conducted the searches at a different time.
References for each section are indicated in-text by an endnote preceded with an abbreviation of the reference list from which it came- A for Advocate, I for Industry, and M for Media.
We used inductive thematic analysis to separately analyze each section, using the qualitative analysis software Taguette, which allows for creating tags to identify themes. Inductive thematic analysis is a process of analyzing qualitative data that identifies themes that are naMed as they emerge in the data. After gathering the samples and uploading them to Taguette, we identified themes and tagged instances in each sample while writing subject memos. This allowed us to examine the data by theme to understand how each idea presented throughout the sample.
3. Key Recommendations
After examining the interaction between ideas in advocate, industry, and Media materials, we present several takeaways to help advocates succeed. Each theme is discussed in further detail later in the report.
It seems that the Media is listening to advocates. Their efforts to get the issue on the table are fruitful and should be continued through legal cases, ballot measures, rescue, and investigation.
The Media seems willing to engage with our strongest frames, and care should be taken to create situations and stories that emphasize them. The Media accept that animal farming is a problem that requires a solution, but the solutions they are currently presenting are not the ones advocates would hope to see. That said, overall the Media is receptive to our message.
Ask for what we want
Advocates can push harder when speaking to the Media. We have a real chance to win them over to our genuine goal: adopting a narrative that violence against animals is a sufficient reason to leave animal farming behind completely. We advise advocates to tell a story of society shifting away from using animals for food, completely, in the light of any specific policy goals they’re working on.
Use animals’ names
Whenever it is natural to do so, name individual animals. This invites Media and others to do the same, which allows a semantic upgrade for animals from property to person and provides an identifiable victim with whom to feel empathy.
Cruelty is widespread
Consider the ramifications of emphasizing individual instances of cruelty, which may imply that unspeakable cruelty is not the norm in the industry. Instead, emphasize the ubiquity of animal cruelty as norms throughout the animal industries.
Voters, not consumers
De-emphasize the consumer frame to tell a story of voters and citizens, not consumers. Speak of change that society is undergoing together, shared values upheld by particular policies, and avoid making consumerist recommendations, even implied.
Their activism is the slow, grinding work of changing cultural norms — to shift the value of a farmed animal from commercial to intrinsic.
4. What’s the issue?
Getting the issue on the table
An “all press is good press” strategy suggests that some advocates are confident that when members of the public engage with their arguments, they’ll surely be won over. They also understand that their audience desperately does not want to hear from them. In the words of a seven-year-old Vegan Evan, “Most people don't think about what they're doing because they don't want to think about someone dying."
The Media sources we reviewed suggest this belief is correct: the news articles we examined were overwhelmingly positive and usually relayed advocate messages more strongly than industry ones. If bad press exists, the movement isn’t its cause. Significant exceptions to this observation demonstrate that the task ahead of us, in the face of effective industry messages picked up by the Media, is greater than simply getting the issue on the table. It will instead require using stronger messages that can overcome ineffective default frames and strong industry messages currently in use by the public and the Media.
The solutions or “asks” offered by the advocates vary widely, as do their presentations of the issue. Moreover, the issue is often reduced to a list of terms that may not have much relevance to the reader, such as this quote from DxE, found within a press release that otherwise describes a protest: “It’s time to shut down factory farms and slaughterhouses and create a future that prioritizes compassion, public health and the environment."
On the bright side, the Media does identify that animal agriculture has far-reaching impacts, which devastate habitats, pose a threat to human health, and exploit workers, among other things. This closely mimics how advocates discuss the laundry list of problems with animal agriculture, affecting animals, the environment, and public health.
There are lots of reasons why, on paper, meat grown in bioreactors is a brilliant idea. For a start, we’d be able to cut down on intensive animal farming, which can be brutal and inhumane. Rearing animals in cramped conditions can create the perfect conditions for diseases to spread, and even pass to humans.
MIT Technology Review
Even when a story clearly relates primarily to one problem with animal agriculture, the Media is willing to mention others. In the following instances of Media quoting advocates in pieces about the Supreme Court argument on California’s Proposition 12, legislation that protects animal welfare leads to a discussion of industry harms to human health.
The Court has repeatedly affirmed the states’ rights to enact laws protecting animals, public health and safety, and the pork industry should focus on eliminating cruel caging of animals rather than attacking popular, voter-passed animal cruelty laws.
"In addition to the extreme cruelty, it's a human health problem," Block said. "When you confine animals in these terrible conditions, it is a breeding ground for viruses."
What’s more, according to the Media, is that we’re basically winning. Both advocates and industry are quoted to make this point.
"They just let a guy who walked into a factory farm and took two piglets out without the consent of Smithfield walk out of the courtroom free," Hsiung, who co-founded DxE in 2013, told reporters outside the courthouse in St. George, Utah. "If it can happen in southern Utah, it can happen anywhere."
Ng said such exposés have “forced” the global aquaculture industry to counter any “false narratives” and so create better environmental outcomes and more humane treatment of farmed aquatic animals, which he said is a positive outcome for the industry as a whole.
Spectrum News Maine
Policy wins, both in the corporate and government spheres, are newsworthy.
Long-distance transport of live animals has come into the spotlight after an EU Parliament committee called on member states and the Commission at the start of the year to step up their efforts in ensuring greater respect for animal welfare.
Since 2017, when Galvani started out as the sole employee, the organization has garnered over 60 commitments from large food companies operating in these regions to source cage-free eggs, or pork from pigs that weren’t confined in small crates. Some of those include big supermarket chains, like Cencosud in Latin America, Central Retail Food Group in Thailand, and Ismaya, a restaurant operator in Indonesia.
In industry promotional materials, supporting farmers is presented as, in itself, a moral good.
When you choose American Lamb, you support the nation’s shepherds and their families and help to sustain working farmland and farm communities.
The farmers’ and farms’ contribution to and membership in their communities is emphasized. Every farmer is both a consumer and a producer, so it is in their interests to do everything by the book.
The beef that farmers and ranchers raise is the same beef they feed their own families, so it’s no surprise that they want the best care for their livestock to ensure everyone has wholesome, safe, nutritious beef.
Beef: It’s what’s for dinner
Try to spend your money in your own community by supporting farmers that employ these practices as this also strengthens regional economies.
Food cost is invoked by the industry as a perk of animal products and as a risk associated with letting their adversaries win.
Chicken is the affordable cornerstone to a nutritious meal.
Chicken Check In
While these ideas are not unheard of in Media reports, they didn’t appear in our analysis, perhaps because of a high volume of advocate-prompted newsworthy stories in October 2022.
Industry promotional messages also present the industry as necessary by emphasizing the economic activity it’s responsible for, a message more often repeated by the Media.
One of the three most important economic sectors, Colorado’s agricultural sector accounts for approximately $47 billion of economic activity. In real numbers, 170,000 jobs in Colorado related to agribusiness and tens of thousands of these jobs will be lost if this measure passes.
The Denver Post
"Our plan was to keep farmers farming," Hoggard said. Instead, he said farmers would be selling their farms "so fast you won't even hear the dogs barking on the back of the ute (pickup truck) as they drive off."
Much of the agriculture industry rebukes Proposition 12, as many farming facilities don’t meet its standards. To date, about 65,000 farmers raise 125 million pigs annually, boasting a $26 million in gross sales
Even a piece that is generally friendly to advocates invokes economic activity to illustrate the difficulty advocate interests face.
On Saturday, a jury acquitted two of the activists on the charges, a somewhat unexpected verdict in a part of rural Utah whose economy is largely tied to the fortunes of agricultural giants like Smithfield.
The New York Times
Supporting a Better Way
A frame sometimes reported by the Media is to present a better way of producing animals as the solution. This takes the form of lionizing small or organic farms, newfangled sustainable farming methods, or farmers’ own efforts to improve their practices.
Food production is one of the major drivers of the climate crisis, but new practices in agriculture offer important solutions. The bottom line is that the way that we move forward with producing food will have everything do with our success in addressing the climate crisis.
The Jovaag Family Farm is part of the Niman Ranch network of family farmers who specialize in certified "humanely-raised" pigs and other animals. They abandoned gestation stalls, or crates, years ago and now give pregnant sows more than 60-square-feet each, piles of comfortable hay and fresh air and sunlight.
Devin Dwyer, Sarah Herndon, and Bobby Gehlen, ABC News
Characterization of plant-based meat as fake, artificial, and created in a lab is repeated often. We didn’t find this echoed by the Media.
Lab-grown meat, in particular, is not a good cultural fit for Nebraska. Think about going to Misty’s Steakhouse in Lincoln: “I’ll have the synthetic Medium-rare steak with that special A1 CO2 sauce, but with a little less red dye this time, thanks.”
Opinion Piece: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Lincoln Journal Star
This section looks at how different actors talk about animals themselves.
A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy: Advocates on animals
In an attempt to garner empathy from the audience for animals used for food, all five advocate groups we examined invoked similarities between these animals and humans or animals who are more readily offered empathy- generally cats and dogs. Animals’ abilities are given ample real estate, such as in Mercy for Animals blog post reporting on Cuttlefish Passing the Marshmallow Test . Animals’ friendly or loving relationships with humans, other animals, and their family members are often cited briefly and sometimes explored in depth, as exemplified by The Humane League’s article ‘Five animals who escaped from slaughter against all odds'.
In line with these messages, we found Media reports referring to rescued piglets by name, affirming the sentience of fishes, and describing animals’ unique personalities.
But Ganzert told a happier story about a chicken named Rose and a horse named Princess.
Palm Beach Daily News
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that fish are sentient, conscious, capable of pain, suffering and logical thought, the state does not provide proper oversight of how fish are raised and treated in aquaculture facilities, according to a 32-page petition filed Aug. 1 by the groups, only two of which are Maine-based.
Spectrum News Maine
The 1,400-pound male bison is the undisputed patriarch of a small northern Maine bison herd and he loves few things more than noshing on fall gourds.
Bangor Daily News
The individual advocates emphasize the tradeoff between an animal’s life and the momentary pleasure of a meal. The speech analyzed by Earthling Ed even featured a lengthy introduction in which Ed speaks of how much he used to enjoy consuming animals, to drive the point later that animals don’t deserve to die for our taste buds.
As obvious as this problem is, the Media never touched it, with the exception of an exceptionally pro-animal Vox article summing up the question in its title, “What is an animal’s life worth?"
Veterinarians: Industry on Animals
Industry frames usually emphasize some other part of the picture, guiding the public to think of the food supply instead. But when animals are discussed, farmers are characterized as caring experts. They work closely with veterinarians whose ethical stances are beyond reproach.
Veterinarians have to be part of the work to sustain and steward the natural resources that make farming—and life on this planet—possible.
Criminal Animal Abuse: Advocates on cruelty
DxE and PETA both naMed animal abuse as criminal and discussed reporting animal abuse to authorities, though in different ways. DxE, in many press releases, calls for the prosecution of corporate actors for routine violence against animals, sometimes citing legal opinions and contacting law enforcement.
“In the face of a pandemic, it’s unconscionable that our government would prosecute a nonviolent activist exposing the truth about corporate misconduct and the presence of dangerous pathogens,” said Bonnie Klapper, a former federal prosecutor who represents DxE. “Our legal system should be pursuing the animal abuser -- Smithfield -- and not the animal rescuer.”
DxE alleges the slaughter process depicted amounts to criminal animal cruelty, and it filed a complaint with local and state officials Tuesday. As of Saturday, they had not received any response.
DxE Press Release
In the materials we reviewed, PETA reserves these solely for individual instances of abuse and often calls for the workers themselves to be prosecuted.
PETA … sent a letter today to Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III calling on him to review the matter and, as appropriate, file criminal cruelty-to-animals charges against the facility and the worker(s) responsible for shooting a cow in the head four times.
PETA Press Release
“Bad Actors” Backfire: Industry on Welfare
Focusing the blame on individual bad actors is a strong industry frame found in the Media- when cruelty is present, that’s an anomaly whose solution is to fire or correct the bad actor and let the industry go on functioning as normal. Quotes from industry representatives in the Media relied on this idea to frame cruelty as the exception and not the rule.
In response to footage filmed by Open Cages at Cranswick chicken factory, which showed birds struggling to support their own weight, Morrisons released a statement. They told ITV they had launched a "full investigation" and that they care[d] deeply about animal welfare.
In response, Cooke Aquaculture CEO Glenn Cooke released a statement… “I am disappointed and deeply saddened by what I saw today,” Cooke said in the Oct. 7, 2019 statement. "As a family company, we place animal welfare high in our operating standards and endeavor to raise our animals with optimal care and consideration of best practice.”
Spectrum News Maine
Calm and Comfortable: Industry on the Welfare Status Quo
In discussions of welfare, industry emphasizes animals’ freedom to move around barns and comfort and calmness while in transit and slaughtered. Farmers care for their animals so much that cruelty is unthinkable. An important principle relied on by the industry is that stressed animals are less productive, which means that farmers don’t have an economic incentive to create cruel conditions.
Any deviation from our high standards for animal care is counterproductive to this mission and would never be tolerated
The Salt Lake Tribune
We believe that that creates a healthier animal, and a healthier animal equates to healthier product to eat.
Media reports detailing cruelty often appeared in our analysis, sometimes quite graphically.
The following representative quote is shared alone to illustrate the extent of graphic imagery a highly respected outlet, the New York Times, published.
Although Hsiung and Picklesimer documented dead and dying piglets in piles of feces and blood and claim the two piglets they removed were injured, sick, and starving, DxE noted, Wilcox ruled in February that "video of the rescue—and any evidence of the condition of the animals—is barred because it might arouse 'horror' in the jury."
The New York Times
In industry materials, humane meat is billed as something you can feel better about buying, and discussed to support certification programs that most producers use and to imply high welfare standards across the industry.
Dairy farmers—with small or large farms—use best management practices as outlined in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care Program to ensure their cows are well-cared for by providing them with a nutritious diet, plenty of water and well-ventilated, well-lighted barns—all of which help keep cows healthy.
Beef Quality Assurance is better for cattle, better for ranchers, and better for people who appreciate beef’s place in a healthy, sustainable diet
Beef: It's What's for Dinner
6. Animal Advocates
Regulars and Activists: Advocates on themselves
Some dissonance was observed in the way advocates referred to themselves. Advocates understand that the public will be more trusting of individuals with whom they can identify. They’re simultaneously aware of the transformational quality of advocacy work to the advocates themselves. These factors seem to pull the language in opposite directions.
THL states, “You don’t have to be passionate about protecting animals to recognize that these cruelties are unacceptable” while DxE describes its own members as “schoolteacher", “UC Berkeley students", or local to the relevant area.. However, more often, advocates refer to their membership, supporters, or allies as “activists” or “vegans,” placing them in a different category than the general public.
“DxE activists made it inside Farmer John where they attempted unsuccessfully to rescue a pig from slaughter. Days later, dozens of activists were arrested at the slaughterhouse for chaining themselves to the gate."Direct Action Everywhere. (2021b, February 15). Activists delivered 7,000 paper hearts to Farmer John Slaughterhouse for the 7,000 pigs killed each day [Press release].
Reporting on both of the criminal cases widely reported in October 2022 sometimes, but not always, unselfconsciously framed the activists as martyrs, quoting them emphasizing the injustice of the treatment of regular people who dared to challenge the industry.
These messages made their way into the Media reports, though in this analysis they were only found as brief quotes in articles mostly focusing on advocate messages.
All five advocate groups, especially DxE, MFA, and PETA, use language around corporate and government corruption and wrongdoing.
While this language may sometimes promote little-picture thinking, pointing to individual instances of wrongdoing or specific problematic policies, it may also be a reportable story in and of itself.
Advocates are aware of systemic factors, and on rare occasions explain these with the industry itself as the villain. However, these systemic portraits are rarely accompanied by a credible systemic solution. The resulting message conveys a deeply entrenched status quo that ordinary people could scarcely hope to change.
Luckily, we found more articulate systemic solutions in the Media reports than in the advocate language, covering new proposed laws and regulations to protect animal welfare.
The industry characterizes farmers as regular people the reader can identify with. Farming is very important to their way of life and family legacy.
This is a romantic story easy to find repeated by the Media.
industry materials paint farmers as heroic, trustworthy, committed, ethical, and expert. Their sacrifice of “waking up early every day” is one Americans should feel indebted to. Their hardworking nature deserves respect. They are the ones responsible for maintaining our food supply with their specialized knowledge. Every piece of the system is meticulously designed with efficiency and ethics in mind.
The Media was quick to criticize the government in multiple countries, discussing poor regulation, and low enforcement of laws protecting animals and the environment, and excitedly relaying the story of a multi-state FBI investigation over the rescue of two dying piglets.
No instances of the industry responding to accusations of government corruption appeared in our reports. Instead, they pointed to government regulations to insist that their practices are held to high standards, or to cultural norms that using animals is acceptable and necessary. Discussion of regulation is the most common appeal to authority- if the industry is regulated, then how could anything bad be happening in it? These ideas weren’t found in the Media analysis.
As the advocate review was conducted in early 2021, advocates often invoked COVID-19 to criticize the industry for poor pandemic response and to emphasize the risk of animal agriculture towards creating “the next pandemic.” This was detailed in a Media piece titled “How Factory Farming Could Cause the Next COVID-19”, which was published by The Regulatory Review, a University of Pennsylvania publication.
Antibiotic use in animal agriculture is often mentioned by advocates, though the risks it represents are not consistently articulated. Human health is sometimes mentioned as a great reason to go vegan or decrease consumption of animal products, and occasionally specific health risks are mentioned, such as increased heart disease and certain cancers associated with eating animals and animal products. These factors are generally a side note, and a transparent example of motivated reasoning. This may be familiar to members of the public exposed to industry framing of activists as dishonest about their true goals.
When disease or antibiotics are mentioned in industry messages, farmers are upheld as trusted experts to solve societal problems.
The Media somewhat frequently discussed public health dangers as a result of factory farming, and in two long-form Media pieces, journalists even explained the mechanism by which the overuse of antibiotics causes harm.. It seems that increased advocate messages around the disease risk of factory farming associated with the pandemic has be heard by the Media.
Advocates mention climate change often and rarely describe any mechanism by which animal agriculture contributes to climate change, deforestation, ocean dead zones, or pollution. Environment, like public health, seems to function as secondary support for veganism.
Some long-form Media reports explain mechanisms by which animal agriculture contributes to climate change, and less often, deforestation.
By and large, the Media does not appear to be buying these arguments. Besides in brief retort quotes that don’t receive much engagement by the author, these messages weren’t found in Media reports. It’s notable that the industry materials we chose did not differentiate between small farms and large farms, but were instead spokespeople and industry groups that sought to present a united front for the industry. It is possible our review missed materials portraying a successful Media strategy pitting small farms against industrial facilities.
However, positive portrayals of animal agriculture’s effects on the environment were discussed in the Media when advocating for particular practices that cause less harm.
The advocacy organizations we examined are both distinguished and unified by veganism. We know that the strong supporters and workers of each organization are overwhelmingly vegan- people who abstain from consuming animal products out of an ethical objection to the practice. But veganism plays significantly different roles in their respective messaging strategies.
DxE’s asks of supporters are usually in the realm of calling elected officials or law enforcement, signing petitions, or participating in protests and other events, without any consumer ask or discussion of veganism. PETA makes veganism the ask of the majority of their press releases, while MFA requests instead that the audience choose more plant-based foods. They also promote their vegetarian starter guide, which advocates for only plant-based foods. THL also avoids veganism, and focuses consumer asks on meat consumption, such as by saying, “Curbing or eliminating your meat consumption makes the world a better place."
Each of these organizations exists to advocate for animals. Veganism- discontinuing the personal consumption of animal products- exists to reduce demand for animal products and thus prevent animal suffering. However, much of the advocate materials are not about animals. Appeals to the environment, public health, or workers’ well-being function to support veganism, which in turn is meant to protect animals. As discussed above in the section on antibiotics, this may play into the industry frame of advocates as dishonest about their true intentions.
There’s a dark side to some of the arguments for reducing animal consumption- replacing large mammals, who cause worse harm to health and to the environment, with smaller animals, means more animals suffering and slaughtered. Media articles sometimes specifically advocated replacing meat from large animals with meat from small animals.
Likely due to regulations of US Checkoff programs, small animal replacement advocacy was not found in our industry analysis, and while advocates didn’t outright advocate for small animal replacement in their environmental arguments, it may seem an unspoken suggestion to the reader. This presents a question for advocates who seek to rely on environmental and health arguments for their advocacy.
Industry materials, after discussing the positive environmental impacts of their work, often shift attention onto the consumer’s responsibility with ways that a caring consumer might minimize their own impact without giving up animal products. This is the same frame used by the advocates, though the specific ask is different.
While we did find Media acknowledgment of the harms caused by animal agriculture and the benefits of veganism (or meat reduction), we often found these alongside a consumer frame which limited discussion to what it was reasonable to ask of the reader.
When the Media reports attributed responsibility to consumers, no particular pattern was noticed in what they suggested consumers do with that responsibility. Between different articles, we found suggestions that readers eat no meat, less meat, humanely raised meat, sustainably produced meat, and meat from smaller animals. As discussed above, we also saw in-depth reporting of systemic issues contributing to various problems associated with animals used for food.
Overall, the Media is receptive to reporting advocate frames. They accept environment and animal suffering as reasons why policies that move society away from using animals for food should be pursued but don’t always rely on advocating for the solutions that advocates most want. While comparing the effectiveness of advocates and industry messages is outside the scope of this report, the Media seems willing to amplify the messages in use by the subject of their stories.
In a subsequent report, we examine how ordinary citizens understand the issues surrounding animals used for food in ways that do and don’t overlap with the frames used by the Media, advocates, and industry.
This process allowed us to identify sticky and effective frames from each voice in the ecosystem and to identify frames that backfire. It is no surprise that the consumer frame, in heavy use by the Media, industry, and most advocate groups, was also heavily relied upon by ordinary Americans. In 1:1 interviews and focus groups we listened for frames used when the consumer frame was not present, and tested ways to overcome it.