Last week, vegan mayo broke into the news, thanks to a FOIA request that proved that a taxpayer-funded agency has been colluding with the egg industry to try to crush a new and popular sandwich spread made right here in the USA. That’s right: The U.S. government is trying to crush a U.S. business… because that business represents a threat to the interests of a well-funded animal agriculture lobby.
Color us completely unsurprised. As we have said again and again and again (and again) over the years, the success of the animal liberation movement will depend on our ability to pursue a multi-faceted strategy that takes into account the social and economic systems within which animal exploitation is entirely entangled.
The case of Just Mayo proves that point: Thanks to the efforts of people promoting personal veganism, there’s now a sufficient market for egg-free products to entice investors into funding an exciting start-up. The start-up produces products that vegans do, in fact, buy and also begins to make in-roads into the diets of non-vegans (e.g., via the decision of 7-Eleven to begin using the egg-free product in its sandwiches). But that’s not enough. Because, at the same time, the USDA-funded American Egg Board is colluding with egg producers to try to shut down the start-up — including by convincing yet another government agency to investigate it!
Luckily, not all animal advocates have bought into the spurious idea that the only form of effective animal activism is promoting personal veganism. And so, working behind the scenes, an activist used FOIA requests to expose this conspiracy.
You can do something about it too. Here’s a petition demanding an investigation into the USDA’s actions in this case. If the petition gets enough signatures from people in the U.S., then President Obama will read and respond to it.
We usually do not promote online petitions, but we do encourage you to sign this one. Let us explain. An effective online petition (a) will be delivered to the entity to whom it is directed; (b) asks that entity to do something specific that is within its power to do; and (c) is signed by people whose views matter to the recipient.
Most online petitions fail one or all of those tests. The vast majority of online “petitions” (we’re looking at you, change.org) exist for the sole purpose of harvesting email addresses of the signers, so that nonprofits can send them donation appeals. Many of these petitions either are not addressed and delivered to a particular decision-maker or are signed by people who the decision-maker doesn’t care about.
For example, one of the earliest and most popular online petitions was addressed to the Taliban and demanded that they stop oppressing girls and women. The petition was signed by thousands and thousands of women. Obviously, the men of the Taliban –even if they had seen the signatures on the petition– did not care at all that thousands of women in other countries thought that they shouldn’t oppress the women in their country! Sometimes leaders of a particular region DO care what people in other places think (especially if their economy depends in part on tourism or heavily on international trade), but usually signatures of random people on the internet are not particularly compelling.
So, we encourage our supporters to consider these questions before giving over their personal information to sign an online petition:
- To whom is the petition addressed? Will that person or entity actually receive it? When?
- Does the petition ask the person or entity to do (or not do) something specific? Is that something within the power of the recipient to do?
- Will the person or entity to whom the petition is addressed be motivated to act by the signatures? In other words, does this person or entity have any reason to care about the opinions of the particular people signing the petition?
Whitehouse.gov petitions are special, in that President Obama has pledged to read and publicly respond to any petition that receives 100,000 or more signatures. Even there, though, a petition can be ineffective. One petition asked him to “outlaw factory farming.” Besides the vagueness of the term “factory farming,” there was the problem that the President does not have the authority do do any such thing! He has the power to direct the EPA to monitor and intervene in the methane emissions of confined animal feeding operations. He has the authority to direct the Justice Department to enforce any existing federal laws. But he has no unilateral power to outlaw any particular farming practice or to ban industrial animal agriculture as a whole.
The President does have the power to ask the Justice Department, or an independent commission, to investigate the actions of the American Egg Board in this case. Thus, while we would have preferred a more comprehensive and carefully worded petition, we do strongly encourage animal advocates to sign the one that has already begun to amass substantial signatures. Here’s the link, again. Let’s get it to 100,000 ASAP.
And let’s all use this incident as a reminder of two related things: (1) Liberating animals will require many more kinds of activism than simply promoting veganism; so (2) let’s honor and support the activists who do those other things, rather than insisting that everybody march in the same direction.
For more on that subject, here’s our cofounder pattrice jones, speaking at the “New Directions for Animal Advocacy” panel at AR2015 last month: