DAVIS, CA: A California-based offshoot of a British group is being credited by animal rights activists with forcing Whole Foods to announce a new policy that encourages humane treatment of animals by its meat suppliers. The group was also seen to be as instrumental in convincing the chain's CEO to become a vegan.
Viva!USA has been campaigning for two years to get Whole Foods to stop buying duck meat from farms it says treat ducks inhumanely. Viva members have been distributing information about the issue outside Whole Foods' stores.
In March, Viva!USA director Lauren Ornelas spoke with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey at the company's annual meeting, and followed up with an e-mail to him.
"We never let them forget we were active in this campaign," said Ornelas. "We kept on it; we never let go of this campaign."
In September, Mackey wrote Ornelas, and began discussing the subject with her.
Word of Whole Foods' decision appeared in an October 20 USA Today story. The following day, Ornelas put out a release announcing the end of her group's campaign against the natural-foods chain.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which itself has been campaigning against Whole Foods with a website, wholefoodshatesanimals.com, gave Ornelas credit for reaching Mackey.
"We place great value on educating the individual at the top," said Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan outreach at PETA. "We're very pleased that John Mackey has taken a personal interest in seeing that farm animals are allowed to fulfill their species-specific desires."
Neither Whole Foods nor its PR agency, Cone Communications, returned requests for comment.
Mackey said in Viva!USA's release that his conversations with Ornelas convinced him to become a vegan. Whole Foods pledged to design humane standards for animals whose meat will be sold in its stores. Whole Foods also pledged to stop doing business with farms that abuse ducks, the initial focus of the Viva!USA campaign.
Ornelas said her group has been targeting Wal-Mart, and is investigating where Safeway buys its ducks before deciding whether to target that chain on the issue.
Viva!USA came into existence in September 2000, an offshoot of Viva, which began in England in 1994.
Viva!USA also has been campaigning to get Adidas to stop using kangaroo skins for some of its soccer shoes. It is suing the shoemaker for selling the shoes in California, where the sale of kangaroo skin is illegal, said Ornelas.