Improving the Lives of Production Chickens

Animal advocate Nina Farley, VG12, finds common ground with large-scale farmers to prioritize the welfare of food animals
“We work to form relationships with food companies to set meaningful policies to improve the lives of the animals in their supply chains,” said Nina Farley, VG12.
“We work to form relationships with food companies to set meaningful policies to improve the lives of the animals in their supply chains,” said Nina Farley, VG12. Photos: Courtesy of Nina Farley
December 3, 2020

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Many of the world’s largest food companies have pledged to sell only cage-free eggs by 2026. Nina Farley, VG12, is dedicated to holding them to that promise.

An alumna of the Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Farley is the head of U.S. public engagement at Compassion in World Farming, which works to end factory farming.

She said the cage-free egg commitments began about five years ago, with various global and national food corporations pledging to prioritize animal welfare and switch to cage-free eggs. Now, because so many companies announced this step, the egg industry in the U.S. is in the process of transitioning its supply chains to get egg-laying hens out of cages.

“It has been really exciting to witness that,” said Farley. “But how do we make sure that these commitments, these transitions actually happen?”

The answer, from Compassion in World Farming, is EggTrack, an online resource that tracks the progress of each company that has pledged to go cage-free. Each year, companies report how far along they are in making the switch, and EggTrack summarizes the results on an interactive website.

“Companies are really on board with this. I think they understand that transparency is crucial with customers, who want to know what's going on and if food companies are taking this promise seriously,” she said.

Farley is passionate about improving animal-welfare conditions on farms. As an animal advocate and a vegan, she said she sometimes encounters skeptics who see her as a stereotype or someone who doesn’t understand farming. However, she works to find “common ground” with farm owners and global food company leaders.

“We work to form relationships with food companies to set meaningful policies to improve the lives of the animals in their supply chains,” she said. “At the end of the day, I think food companies understand that consumers don't want to support animal suffering.”

Farley called her current position her “dream job” and said she landed it because of what she learned in the MAPP program. “It really opened doors for me and for a lot of my classmates,” she said. In turn, she has opened doors to MAPP students and alums to join the team at Compassion in World Farming.

“The MAPP program turns out really passionate and informed people,” Farley said, noting that she hired a few interns from the MAPP program and was an academic advisor to one of them on their final project. “We have two other graduates on staff right now, including Tyler Hazard, public engagement manager, and Sophie Dalterio, food business coordinator.”

She encouraged students in the MAPP program to be open to learning about topics that might be different than what they thought they wanted to study. She entered the program thinking about focusing on wildlife in captivity but changed her plans after learning more about farmed animals.

Farley said the program offered her room to find her passion, and consumers and chickens alike have benefitted from the result.

One example, she explained, is that for decades farmers have raised broiler chickens to prioritize the white breast meat that Americans love. But one of the unintended consequences is some chickens now have unnaturally large chests and bodies because of selective breeding, which causes strain to their hearts, lungs, and muscles.

“Now we're working with companies to address chicken genetics, which I didn't know would happen in my lifetime,” she said.

Farley does not necessarily expect the majority of Americans to stop eating meat or animal products such as eggs, but she does encourage people to be aware of how their purchasing decisions can support animal welfare and the environment. “Our goal is to get everyone to understand where their food comes from and enable them to make more compassionate choices,” Farley said.

Angela Nelson can be reached at angela.nelson@tufts.edu.