- On April 4, 2017
One of the points I advance in my book, Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlighted Consumers are Changing the Lives of Animals, is that the intersection of animal protection and financial and business interests offers an unprecedented opportunity to protect a large number of animals. We’ve seen this play out in the past, for example when generations of horses were spared from the frequently difficult and brutal conditions in which they were used to pull carriages. The invention of the internal combustion engine created a more powerful, more versatile and robust transportation system, and in the process, removed horses from the equation.
It’s the potential of technological innovation and of modern innovators to bring about similar advancements for animal protection on a large scale that makes this point in history a promising one for animals.
And that’s one reason I’m so pleased to speak with Michael Pellman Rowland, a passionate advocate for animals who has also spent the last 15 years on Wall Street. He is a contributor at Forbes.com, covering the future of the food industry.
Michael believes that we can solve many of the world’s most pressing challenges – for humans, animals and the environment – by changing the way we eat, and he explained his perspective in the following interview with me.
WP: As a writer and analyst on finance and business, what interests you about animal welfare?
MPR: For the most part, people love animals. We’ve all had a special relationship with animals at one point in our life. However, our desire to love and protect animals seems to weaken when we become consumers or investors, largely due to ignorance or apathy. For me, this presents an incredible opportunity. My goal is to inform readers of the power we all have to improve our health and the well-being of animals simultaneously. In addition, there will likely be a lot of money made and lost around the trend in eating healthier, so it’s exciting on many fronts.
WP: How would you describe the connection between the business, finance, and investment sectors with the animal protection movement?
MPR: Animal welfare is an issue that, on the surface, seems to have very little connection with corporate policy and financial markets. Yet, when you think about it, animals are intertwined with many of the world’s largest industries (fashion, food, healthcare, etc.). Through the internet, we have increasing transparency on how animals are treated. Consumers, more than ever, are consulting the web before making their next purchase. As people become more aware of the conditions animals are forced to live in, companies will have to adjust their policies or risk losing clients. I’m excited, because we’re already seeing meaningful progress on this front. Cage-free eggs, broiler chickens, and factory farming in general [have] become a front-page issue, and companies like McDonald’s are being forced to respond.
WP: What is the reason for your strong focus on sustainable food as a feature of animal protection?
MPR: It’s very hard to get anyone to think about animal welfare, because the truth hurts. I was in that camp for a long time as well. Approaching animal welfare through food provides a platform to discuss these issues without forcing people to look away. It also connects the world’s most pressing issues (climate change, chronic disease) with something we do three times a day. Most of us can’t directly impact the crisis in Syria, for example, but we can adjust the way we eat quite easily. This can be very empowering and serve as a springboard for activating our society to be more empathetic in general. Given our current political environment, we need empathy more than ever.
WP: What present trends in animal protection do you believe are most promising?
MPR: I’m excited on two fronts. First, food companies are being hit simultaneously by the corporate-policy work of organizations like The HSUS and investigative reports by COK, MFA, amongst others. They have nowhere to run. So we’re seeing immense progress with companies improving their welfare policies and this trend will grow stronger in the years to come. Second, there is the potential to remove animals from our food system altogether. The combination of plant-based products and cellular agriculture provides a legitimate opportunity to spare the billions of animals we kill each year. There’s never been a more exciting time to be alive from an animal welfare standpoint.
WP: Are there specific big-picture developments you see that provide hope for animal welfare, broadly speaking?
MPR: Climate change, no question. The science is real, and the problem is worsening. If we have any shot at tackling this issue, we have to eat differently. That means more plants and little to no animals. As folks like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio have come to realize, if you’re an environmentalist, you basically have to eat a plant-based diet (or close to it). As more and more people (and politicians) awaken to the realities of this earthshaking crisis, I believe their desire to live on this beautiful planet will usurp their desire to eat animals. The key is making it easy and affordable to help people change their routines. Like it or not, we’re creatures of habit.
WP: What’s the biggest surprise you’ve experienced as you have learned more about animal protection?
MPR: Just the numbers. They’re staggering. Over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans. These shocking figures do not even include fish and other aquatic creatures whose deaths are so great they can only be measured in tons. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around these figures. It’s hard to comprehend the abject horror that goes into slaughtering this many animals. I almost didn’t believe them at first. It really takes a while to sink in.
WP: The marketplace is not neutral concerning animal welfare, and can produce adverse outcomes for animals. What thoughts do you have about accelerating the pace of positive change through the workings of the market, finance, and investment?
MPR: Pain is a powerful motivator, so it’s critical to convey the material risk that’s associated with this issue to an investment portfolio. FAIRR is doing great work to elevate this conversation across financial markets. We need more investors to understand the link between this issue and other issues they are concerned about (climate change, workers’ rights, antibiotic resistance, etc.). Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is really growing and can serve as an important catalyst in forcing companies to change their behavior.
Read Michael’s discussion with Wayne on The Future of Food on Forbes.com.