Wealthy donors fund anti-livestock movement

An American hog industry leader says activists opposed to animal agriculture are working to build formidable coalitions

BANFF, Alta. — There is big money behind various efforts to undermine and eliminate animal agriculture, says the chief executive officer of the North Carolina Pork Council.

Among those writing the cheques are the former chief executive officer of Google and the co-founder of Facebook, as well as the man who was initially behind Warren Buffett’s formation of Berkshire Hathaway.

All have contributed millions to causes that work against the interests of the livestock industry.

Andy Curliss, current NCPC CEO and former investigative journalist, spoke at the Banff Pork Seminar about the money that provides the push for anti-livestock activism, promotion of plant-based meats and the use of climate change concerns to foster an anti-meat agenda.

“There’s some pretty deep funding behind all of this, and so it’s important that we pay attention and review how we’re approaching things on all fronts,” Curliss said.

“What I’m trying to do is just present the information factually so that people have a better idea of why what’s happening is happening.”

Among those with “eight- and nine-figure wealth” who are funding efforts to end animal agriculture, Curliss said, are Eric Schmidt, the former chair and CEO at Google, and his wife, Wendy Schmidt.

Through a foundation they’ve created The 11th Hour Project, which has the stated goal of “building resilient systems for food, energy and human health.” It provides grants to groups that align with the Schmidts’ priorities and expose “the true costs of industrial agriculture,” as its website states.

Curliss said the Schmidt family funded An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary promoted by former U.S. politician Al Gore. They also fund a food and environment reporting network that distributes free material to other media that is often critical of modern agriculture, he added.

Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, and his wife, Cari Tuna, a former reporter with the Wall Street Journal, have founded the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP). Animal welfare is one of its focus areas.

“Billions of animals each year are treated cruelly on factory farms,” reads the OPP website.

“We believe that raising awareness of current practices and pushing for reform could reduce animal suffering by enormous amounts, yet we see relatively little attention on this issue from major animal welfare groups.”

Among the groups funded are the Plant Based Foods Association, Humane Society International and the University of California Berkeley Alternative Meats Lab.

Curliss said the OPP is also a major funder of Mercy for Animals, which is dedicated to “a world where animals are respected, protected and free to pursue their own interests.”

According to Curliss’ figures, OPP has spent $66 million in the last several years on animal welfare-related issues, including a California ballot initiative to increase space requirements for hogs.

He said it also pays the Guardian newspaper $900,000 to publish one story per week that criticizes livestock farming. Though the stories are labelled as sponsored content, Curliss said that information isn’t always noticed by readers.

Fred Stanback is another major funder who works against animal agriculture. Stanback, a resident of North Carolina, may be the wealthiest man in the state. He funds projects by Waterkeepers and Earth Justice, among others, and also helps fund various litigations damaging to the livestock industry, Curliss said.

Details on funding provided to these groups and others are not easily found but important to note, he added.

“I was an investigative reporter for 20 years and I can’t tell you how many hours have gone into just assembling that type of information. It’s not readily available. It’s not widely known.

“The point is, deep funding? Not going away. They see themselves as coalition builders. It starts really with the animal, the vegans, the animal rights. That’s their moral imperative. They don’t think that an animal should be eaten. I respect that, but it’s a very small percentage of the population, so they’re coalition building. Environmentalists have come in, and now what you see, and what I want you to pay attention to, is the rest of that coalition building: civil rights, public health, religion.”

Curliss also provided information on recent lawsuits against North Carolina hog operations. Five jury trials involving 36 plaintiffs have resulted in five verdicts against hog farms in the state. Juries awarded $550 million to the plaintiffs, which was reduced to $98 million through state law.

Another 476 plaintiffs await trials. Curliss said Schmidt and Stanback are now funding challenges to the state’s right-to-farm laws.

North Carolina was once a major tobacco producer, but when that market disappeared, the state government actively encouraged hog production and the establishment of packing plants, Curliss said.

Now that same industry is under attack.

“It’s class action lawyers … looking for money. This is not a lawyer in North Carolina trying to resolve a genuine dispute amongst neighbours. These are part of that food project and I want you to understand that.”

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