Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles NATHAN RUNKLE: So my name is Nathan Runkle. I'm the founder and executive director of Mercy For Animals. And we are a national, nonprofit animal protection organization. And our mission is to prevent cruelty to farmed animals, and promote compassionate food choices and policies. So I want to talk for a few minutes about how I got involved in animal protection issues. This is me in St. Paris, Ohio, a town of about 2,000 people. I was born on a farm, come from a long heritage of farmers, four generations. In this photo, my father is, I think, breaking all sorts of state and federal laws, potentially-- child endangerment. But growing up in this environment, I always had a natural affinity and connection for animals. I spent much of my childhood exploring the nearby creeks and streams and looking at wildlife. And it was our dogs and cats that were the first to teach me that other creatures share our needs and our desires, that they have curiosities, senses of humor. And it wasn't something that I had to study in school. But from a young age, I witnessed the contradictory view that we hold for animals. I saw that our family cared very much about the dogs and cats that we had, but we did not have the same level of compassion or empathy or respect for other animals. So both of my uncles were hunters and trappers and fishermen. So from a young age, I witnessed animals being skinned while they were still alive, having their heads ripped off while they were still alive. And most people in my social circle did not afford those animals much consideration. And that always felt wrong to me. I thought that we could and should do much better. There was a local animal abuse case when I was 15, so in 1999. That is what ultimately led to me founding Mercy For Animals. And it was at a local high school, and there was a teacher there who had an agricultural class. And this teacher also ran a pig farm. Now, one day he brought to school a bucket of day-old piglets to be used in a dissection project. Now, these were piglets that he had tried to kill that morning on his farm. But when he arrived to the school, one of the piglets was still alive. A student in the class who also did part-time work on the teacher's pig farm took the piglet by her hind legs and slammed her head-first into the ground to try to kill this piglet. Now, the piglet didn't die. Her skull was broken. She was bleeding out of her mouth. She's in horrible distress. A few of the students who were appalled by this act of abuse took the dying piglet, left the classroom, and took her to a teacher who was known as being a vegetarian and sympathetic to animal cruelty. That teacher left the school, went to a local vet office, and had the piglet euthanized. Now, following that case, there were two counts of animal cruelty that were filed, one against the student and one against the teacher. Now, the case generated a lot of media attention and controversy in this small farm community. And the pig farming community rallied behind the student and teacher. And they said, we don't want animal advocates coming into our town, telling us how to do our jobs. The very first day of the trial, the cruelty charges were dismissed, because it's considered standard agricultural practice to kill piglets by slamming them head-first into the ground. And in Ohio, like at least 30 other states in this country, if something is considered standard agricultural practice, no matter how cruel it is, it's exempt from cruelty prosecution. So that case illustrated to me that there needed to be a voice for farm animals in this community in Ohio. So since then, Mercy For Animals has grown to having over 100,000 members and supporters. We have five offices across the country. And we work to give a voice to farmed animals in four main areas-- through public education campaigns, through undercover cruelty investigations, through corporate outreach, and legal advocacy efforts. All right, so there you have it. Now, I want to start out by talking a bit about animals and our relationship to animals and why we should care. Now, Dr. Jane Goodall once said, "we have to understand we are not the only beings on this planet with personalities and minds." Now as I'm sure many of you are aware, Dr. Goodall spent about 45 years in Africa living with and studying chimpanzees. She was one of the first researchers to give her subjects names as opposed to numbers. And she started to observe them and find out that many of the traits that we once held so closely as being unique to people are in fact not unique and are very widespread in the animal community-- things like culture and empathy and compassion, things like not only using tools, but creating tools. So Dr. Goodall started to tear down these various boundaries. And I think looking at this image really illustrates it so perfectly. We know that other animals feel cold, the cold of this metal, the heat of the sun, that they form relationships and bonds, and that they, too, deserve our consideration. Now, anyone who has shared their homes with dogs or cats knows this. We know how excited they are when we come home, how eager they are for their walks, how playful they are. And this is, again, not something that we had to study animal behavior to know. And the scientific community is finally starting to catch up to what so many of us have known all along. Just this year, the University of Cambridge published the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness. And essentially, this is the first time that an international group of prominent scientists supported the idea that animals are conscious and aware to the same degree that humans are. Now, this was really earth-shattering for this to come out, because they found that not only do mammals have consciousness and dogs and cats, but birds have the same level of consciousness, and not only birds, but fish, and not only fish, but octopus. So this whole notion, I think, should give all of us pause to really think about our treatment of animals and our obligation to them, and how we can include them in our circle of consideration and ethics. So what we do at Mercy For Animals is help people step back and think about farm animals as individuals with needs, and how we can respect them and do due diligence in protecting their interests. So I want to talk a little bit about who farmed animals are first. This is an image of the wild ancestors of the modern-day chicken. Now, most people just think of chickens and they think of barnyards. And Of course, these birds once lived wild in the jungles of Southeast Asia. And they lived in a world that was very rich with sound and color. And they lived in social groups of about a dozen birds. And they were very active. Now, we manipulated these animals to becoming almost genetic Frankensteins of what they once were. And I'll talk about that a little bit later. But we see that, even through hundreds or thousands of years of domestication, these animals still have the same behaviors, the same desires. These are egg-laying hens that live their entire lives in tiny cages. And this is a photograph of them about a month after they were rescued. And we see that these birds still want to perch, roost, dust-bathe. They spend the night in trees. Now, the more that we know about birds, the more respect we should have for them. We all know the term "the watchful mother hen," and this is a term that these birds really have earned. They will give their lives to protect their young. They have a very close bond with their young. They actually start to chirp and communicate with them while they're still in the eggs in the last few days before hatching. We know that birds can recognize 100 other birds based on their distinct facial features.