Thank you to everyone who signed our petition, and made phone calls or sent emails, in support of our initiative. Also, special thanks to everyone who donated to help us fund the printing and in-person delivery of the petition and comments to the Trader Joe’s headquarters. We are also grateful for the support of other advocates in the area, who helped us so much with the logistics of this event.
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Petition to Trader Joe’s to Abandon use of Gestation Crates
As we wrote in our last post, we started a petition on Change.org urging Trader Joe’s to take the humane road like so many others and commit to a 100% gestation crate free supply chain. Our petition garnered nearly 400,000 signatures.We got the media’s attention and most importantly, the attention of Trader Joe’s.
Trader Joe’s has now announced a new commitment to phase out SOME of the gestation crates from its supply chain. We are very much hoping to see 100% of their pork products on this list soon.
Two of our volunteers traveled to Trader Joe’s California headquarters to deliver the petition and meet with management. Here’s their firsthand account of this important day:
Crate Free Illinois Delivers Petition to Trader Joe’s Headquarters
By Christy Slaby – On a cold, snowy day in Chicago, I headed to the airport, California-bound. I was full of excitement, not just for the California sunshine – though there was that, to be sure – but excited also for what was the real purpose of my travel: a silent protest that would include the delivery of the Crate Free Illinois petition to Trader Joe’s headquarters in Monrovia, California, and a meeting with their Vice President of Marketing, Matt Sloan.
In the fall of 2017, Crate Free IL launched a petition asking Trader Joe’s to follow in the footsteps of other major grocery retailers who have made public commitments to remove gestation crates from their supply chains. Our request clearly struck a chord with consumers as our petition was catapulted into the top 10% best performing animal welfare petitions in 2017. Consumers were eager to sign their names and share their thoughts on the issue, most of which can be summed up thusly:
The unnecessary suffering of animals raised for food is unacceptable to a growing number of consumers who care deeply about where their food comes from.
Petition Delivery Day
On the morning of the scheduled delivery, I met up with fellow advocate and Crate Free IL volunteer Jean Paul, who would join me for the event that afternoon. Though we had done our homework prior to this day, we wanted to be sure we were thoroughly prepared for what we believed was to be a landmark event: to our knowledge, not only was Trader Joe’s statement about their pork products their first public admission that gestation crates are utilized in their supply chain, but we believed it was also one of the few times that the company had been willing to sit down with an animal advocacy group to discuss a welfare issue. (No pressure, right?!)
After our meeting, we made our way to Trader Joe’s offices. Parked on a side street adjacent to their headquarters, our small gathering of supporters (a half dozen or so), combined with the open hatchback of our vehicle spilling forth several posters and boxes labeled “Trader Joe’s End the Cruelty” and “Go 100% Crate Free,” caught the attention of a Monrovia resident who had been driving by. She stopped to inquire about our activity, and before we knew it, our group had grown in size. Not only did this woman join us, but so did her mother and her two children! We were pleased to have their support.
Around 1pm, we conducted our Facebook live event, so that everyone — near or far — who had supported this petition could join us for its delivery. We then made our way to the security gates, for the actual delivery of the petition: 10,000 pages of signatures, 2,000 pages of comments, all of it packed in six boxes and two very full Trader Joe’s paper shopping bags.
Our meeting with Matt Sloan took place on a shaded patio in the breezy, California outdoors. Soft-spoken, but no-nonsense in his demeanor, Mr. Sloan led the discussion by letting us know at the outset that the company’s position remained unchanged from what they had already stated on their website. Their initial announcement indicated that they had 10 pork products that come from crate-free suppliers, and that several of their other pork products would be transitioned to a crate-free supply over the next several months and/or several years, however no specific dates were given.
We spoke for about 30 minutes, the conversation centering around sales and consumer trends; what others in the industry are – or aren’t – doing about the issue of gestation crates, etc.
Towards the end of our conversation, Jean Paul brought the topic around to what is often left out of these kinds of discussions, but what is really at the heart of our mission: the welfare of the pigs.
Having spent the better part of 30 minutes talking about these animals in terms of “SKUs” and “products,” Jean Paul respectfully asked Mr. Sloan, “Of course, you realize just how intelligent these living, sentient beings are? You are aware, I am sure, that their intelligence has been equated to that of a 3-4 year old child?” Pointed questions, to be sure, but at the end of the day, this is what it is about: the welfare of the animals we are raising – and profiting from – for food.
We wrapped up our conversation with a sincere thank you to Mr. Sloan for his time. While the meeting did not produce the immediate outcome we had hoped for – a firm commitment to a timeframe for removing crates from their supply chain – we left feeling we could, at the very least, continue to have a dialogue with Trader Joe’s on the matter. It was clear from our discussion that this issue is on Trader Joe’s radar, and they are listening to the thousands of voices of their consumers.
Trader Joe’s Responds
And listen, they did. In just a little over a week since our meeting with them, Trader Joe’s posted a new update on their website (see above). Their update provides more specifics on which products are from crate-free suppliers, and, what their timeline for transition is on about a dozen more products. Additionally, they have indicated that they will clarify the crate-free attribute on their products either by use of a sticker, or by signage, so that consumers can make informed choices. We are encouraged by Trader Joe’s quick response to consumer demand, and we applaud their forthrightness on the matter.
Thoughts about the day’s events were still swirling in my head as I made my way back to the airport. I boarded the plane, and shimmied my way down the narrow aisle, hoping not to hit anyone in the head with my gear. In a move that reminded me that the hours I’ve spent contorting myself on a yoga mat have not been in vain, in one fell swoop, I manage to fold myself completely in half and stash my large backpack and purse under the seat in front me, and kick everything securely into place with my feet – which, of course, left no actual room for my feet. I pressed my arms to my sides, mindful of not invading my neighbor’s space, and folded my hands into my lap. As I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and tried to get comfortable for the long journey home, the irony was not lost on me at all: for the next four hours, I would be confined to a space barely larger than my own body. There was little I could do to get truly comfortable. Forget turning on my side to sleep, forget tucking my feet up underneath me…every adjustment I made caused me to bump into someone or something. All I could really do was sink a little lower in my seat, and wait for it all to be over.
My unpleasant journey was only temporary — a four-hour one. Pigs are forced to live their entire lives in the cruel confinement of gestation crates. We choose to endure the discomfort of air travel for the reward that awaits us on the other end: perhaps a much-anticipated vacation, or a reunion with a loved one. For these animals, there is no choice, and the only “reward” they have to look forward to after a life of misery and confinement, is death at the slaughterhouse. They are forced to endure this, while being pregnant on top of it, all so we humans can continue the relentless cycle of exploitation.
What do these innately curious and highly intelligent animals think about during the hours, days and years that they spend locked in these metal cages? We can only guess as to what the thoughts of a confined, pregnant sow center on, but we can be certain it is not sales trends or market demands or profit margins. The unrelenting tedium of a life of unnatural confinement sometimes leads to stereotypic behaviors, such as bar-biting, perhaps as a way to self-stimulate – like the toddler kicking the back of my seat during his own confinement.
For these remarkable animals, who have the ability to perceive and anticipate the passage of time, is it really too much of a leap to think their thoughts center on when will my suffering be over?
When the best day of an animal’s life is the day that it is over, we have to admit we are failing them. And we have to admit it is time for change.
Author bio: Christy Slaby is a life-long animal lover who resides in Illinois. She has been involved in both companion animal and farmed animal advocacy for several years. Christy joined the Crate Free Illinois team as a volunteer Social Media Coordinator in October 2017.