The following is a conversation between Adele Douglass, Founder and CEO of Humane Farm Animal Care, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.
Denver: When in the meat or dairy aisle at the grocery store, have you ever seen the label that reads “Certified Humane Raised and Handled®”? Have you wondered when and how the certification process got started? Well, tonight, we’ll find out directly from the person who started it. She is Adele Douglass, the Founder and CEO of Humane Farm Animal Care.
Good evening, Adele, and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Adele: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
We’re a non-profit certification organization, dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production, from birth through slaughter.
Denver: Share with us the mission and goals of Humane Farm Animal Care.
Adele: Well, the mission is: we’re a non-profit certification organization, dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production, from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices. When you see the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label on a product, you can be assured that the food products have come from facilities that meet precise objective standards for farm animal treatment.
Denver: Now, you were raised in New York City, Adele, and not on the farm. So, what got you interested in this subject? Was there a moment when you decided that something had to be done?
Adele: Yes, yes and yes. I worked for a member of Congress, and then I lobbied Congress on behalf of children and animals. I was asked in the late ‘90s to be part of various animal welfare committees, and they figured, “Well, she doesn’t know anything about farm animals, so we can do whatever we want.” Well, it didn’t work out that way. Because I was – when I went and saw how chickens were… how hens were…. in cages and they couldn’t move, they couldn’t stand up, they couldn’t sit down at the same time – I was appalled. I thought, “If consumers knew this, they wouldn’t buy this food.”
So, I asked friends who were scientists to show me the opposite, to show me different ways animals are raised, and that was very inspirational. And I thought, “Well, I’ve got to do something to help farm animals. This helps farmers, and it helps consumers; so therefore, who would object to this?” I needed money to start it, so I cashed in my 401k so I had money, and then I got some funding from HSUS, from ASPCA, and that was for four or five years. We’ve been on our own ever since.
Denver: In addition to some of those horrific conditions that you just spoke about, what should consumers be aware of as it relates to hormones and antibiotics in the meat that they eat?
Adele: We don’t allow hormones under any circumstances because all the hormones do for the animals is make them grow faster, but the people who eat the meat with the hormones in them develop sensitivities because cattle are given estrogen. And antibiotics – we don’t allow antibiotics except on a rare occasion if there’s a sick animal, and a veterinarian recommends it. They keep lots of records for that animal. They wait until the animal has outgrown the antibiotic, so we allow that. But a lot of farmers do antibiotics in order to prevent any potential diseases, and we don’t allow that.
Denver: Why did you decide on a certification process and not an act of legislation as a way to address this problem?
Adele: I used to work for a member of Congress, from New York actually, Bill Green. I remember studying that it took 100 years to get the Humane Slaughter Act passed, which had been passed in Europe years and years and years before. So, I thought I would like to be alive when this happens; so that was the reason for that.
Denver: Makes an awful lot of sense. Well, to have your product label Certified Humane, you have to meet a certain specific set of standards. How did you come up and develop these standards?
Adele: I had some friends who were animal scientists because I had worked with them on other issues. I asked them how they would feel if we did this, and could they help, and they said yes. And so, we now have a 40-member international Animal Science Committee.
The standards are written based on scientific data. If there’s a question, if there’s no research, we will go with what is the most ethical, and that’s what the standards are like. We change them every few years. We upgrade them. But really, they’re very effective… the standards, and again, it’s birth through slaughter.
So, in some instances where you have pigs, they’re born in one area; they’re raised in another, and they go to slaughter, and so everything has to be inspected. There are different inspectors for different things.
Our inspectors have to have a Masters or a PhD in Animal Science, very specific animals, or veterinarians that are very specific. So, they would love to go to the farms and see the animals, but they weren’t interested in slaughter. Most of them weren’t interested in slaughter, and most of them were not interested in counting actually, because we have to do a check on making sure that the animals that have the label, have gone through the whole thing. So, it’s a lot of numbers, and they weren’t interested in that.
We have three different types of inspectors. We have the farm animal inspectors on the farm; we have the slaughter inspectors, and we have those who do the tally to make sure that the logo goes on the right animals. So, from the time it’s slaughtered, and then the time it goes to the stores and stuff, you have to be a brilliant mathematician.
Denver: A pretty thorough process. How often are these inspections carried out?
Adele: Every year. Every year, everyone on the program has to reapply just like it’s new, and the whole thing is done.
Denver: Do most of the farmers reapply?
Adele: Absolutely. We had some farmers who were original from 2003, the year we started this: Pete and Gerry’s Eggs, DuBreton Natural Pork, Prather Ranch Beef, and Ayrshire Farm out in Virginia. Those four are still with us.
Denver: Very cool. How do you go about engaging these farmers, educating them, telling them what it means to be Certified Humane, and then getting them to sign up for the program?
Adele: Well, mostly, once we started, the farmers would contact us and ask us questions because they were in a tough position. They were interested because they were willing to make whatever change is necessary, but they were concerned about how their peers would react to them being on the program. So that was tough at the beginning.
One of the things I learned from the beginning was that there’s a lot of research on animals, a lot of research at agricultural schools, but that never gets to the farmer… part of the inspection is education, too.
Denver: What was their concern about their peers?
Adele: We had a beef guy who was so worried that if he came on the program, his peers would attack him and attack his product because most of the cattle people weren’t interested. So that’s all changed. But at the beginning, that was a tough one.
One of the things I learned from the beginning was that there’s a lot of research on animals, a lot of research at agricultural schools, but that never gets to the farmer. If you send him that, the scientific paper, they fall asleep reading it. Believe me, I used to fall asleep reading it. So our inspectors – again, they’re all animal scientists, have PhDs or Masters – if they go on a farm and they see something, they’ll say to the farmer, “By the way, there are other farmers who do something similar to what you’re doing, or do something different, and it’s effective. And this is why, and this is the research.” So, part of the inspection is education, too.
Denver: You have said that this certification process provides a triple win. What would those three victories be?
Adele: That would be: (a) for the animals; (b) for the farmers; and (c) for the consumers. And again I thought, “Who would oppose? I mean, what a great thing that was!”
Well, everybody opposed it – the commodity groups, and also there were a lot of animal rights groups that their objective was to not eat any meat or anything like that. And so why would they not attack us because we’re saying that “Here are the rules”?
We found that only 4% of Americans are vegetarians and I don’t know what percent of that are vegans. And so, while they’re doing their thing, we want to make sure the animals are treated humanely, that they’re able to do the things that are natural for them.
Denver: What’s that level of opposition today? Has it subsided? Or is it still very much present?
Adele: There are a couple of super animal rights groups that constantly attack us, but on our blog on our website, I’ve done responses, very factual responses. The commodity groups don’t bother us.
Denver: How does being Certified Humane impact the price for the consumer at the grocery store?
Adele: Well, when we did a study about this about five years ago, it was between the commodity and organic. It was in the middle. It wasn’t as high as organic, and it wasn’t as low as commodity products.
Denver: You mentioned a moment ago that you started this back in 2003. How big has this movement grown in terms of farms involved, stores and restaurants, countries you’re in, and so on?
Adele: At the end of 2003, we had 143,000 animals on the program. Last year, the end of 2018, we had over 196 million farm animals.
Denver: That’s some kind of growth.
Adele: And that’s just for the year; that’s not the total. The total is like a billion. We have farms. We’ve grown, and we have an office in Florianópolis, Brazil. We have farms in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Jordan, New Zealand, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay. We’re selling Certified Humane products in the Bahamas, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Denver: You’ve grown.
Adele: We’ve grown. We’ve really grown.
Denver: Where would a listener find a Certified Humane product? Will it be at their local grocery store? Do they have to go to specialty stores? Essentially, where are they carried?
Adele: Consumers used to ask that question when we first started, so we’ve set up – if you go to our website, and you look for “Where can I buy?” we have a list of supermarkets. You type in your state, your city, whatever, and it will list the supermarkets and what products are in the supermarkets that are Certified Humane. So that you’re not walking around looking for the label all the time.
Denver Yes. Very user-friendly, I must say.
Adele: It is very user-friendly.
Denver: Adele, how do you finance this operation? Is it a mix of earned income and philanthropy? Tell us a little bit about the business model.
Adele: It’s donations. We do get a small amount in fees. We charge for the inspection, but we charge, I think, $700 a day, not per farm but for the day. So, if you have three farms in the same area and they’re small, they’ll split the $700. If it’s a small farm, we don’t charge anything because the producer can’t afford it.
We have fees – the fees aren’t that high – and contributions, mostly contributions in how we broadcast, how we spread the information, and that’s what we do.
Denver: You had mentioned a moment ago, Adele, that you started this back in 2003. I mean, you cashed in your 401k. I think you call that a moment of insanity.
Adele: I did. It was actually a moment of insanity. And I have to say – for anybody who’s interested in doing something like this – I was working. I worked from my apartment, and I worked seven days a week, at least 18 hours a day, getting it started. And so, every once in a while, I would stop and I would actually think about what my goal was. And then I would panic, and so I’d go back to work. Working distracted me from all of the things I would be afraid of. I made up my mind that if we didn’t raise any funds, and we couldn’t do it, I would get a job. I would just get a job. I was 57 at the time.
The most important thing in any business is knowing what you don’t know, and asking people who really do know what the answers are, so you can move forward.
Denver: Wow. And you were going to give it your all, though. You were not going to leave anything in the bag; you were going to give it everything that you had; so you really knew.
Adele: That’s true. The other thing is what I didn’t know, I had friends I would call and say, “Do you know about this?” And they would say, “No, but let me call so-and-so and have them call you.” The most important thing in any business is knowing what you don’t know, and asking people who really do know what the answers are, so you can move forward.
Denver: That’s a great point because there are so many people I think who are afraid to ask, and when they do, they find out how willing people are to want to help them and share their information.
Adele: And I found that they were very, very willing. And, again, the thing is not to—I don’t know how to say this—it’s not to prove that you’re so smart that they can’t help you. The more that you need to know, the more you ask, and the more information that you get. And then, you can rethink, you can redesign, you can move forward with whatever it is that you’re doing.
Denver: Let me close with this, Adele. Where do you think the industry might be going? We hear a lot about plant-based meats. So, on one hand, is there going to be a day, perhaps, when there are no farm animals on our table? And what else do you think the future might hold as far as your work is concerned?
Adele: The one thing I will say is that a lot of the farms and farmers have changed. They’ve changed how they do things to meet the standards. They really have done a big thing.
In terms of the artificial meat, I don’t know. If people want to eat that rather than meat, then that’s fine. They can do that. They can buy that. So, I’m not sure where that’s going to go. If people don’t want to eat animals at some point, that’s fine. I mean we’re not here to force animals to be part of the dinner. It’s not our goal.
Denver: Well, Adele Douglass, the Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Farm Animal Care, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. For people who are interested in learning more about Certified Humane, tell us about your website and some of the information you have on it.
Adele: Our website is certifiedhumane.org. We try to be very transparent, so everything you want to know is on that website: the standards, the applications, the staff, the board of directors, the past. There are news releases that we put out from 2003, and they’re all on there.
So, we try to be very, very transparent; so anything you need to know is there. If you can’t find something, call us.
Denver: Well, there you go. That’s pretty transparent right there. Well, thanks, Adele. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
Adele: Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate that.
Denver: I’ll be back with more The Business of Giving right after this.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.