It’s hard to keep up with Mercy for Animals (MFA) national campaign coordinator Phil Letten. On his epic “Walmart Cruelty Tour,” he’s been making serious tracks, with a stop in a different U.S. city almost every weekday since July.
Thanks to Animal Issues Reporter’s Krissy Guzman, who we’re proud to have on board at AIR as our very first intern, we managed to catch up with Letten in Texas a few weeks back.
In the towering company of a bloody, wounded, ten-foot-tall mock pig that Letten had parked outside a Houston Walmart store, Krissy spoke with the intrepid MFA campaigner and two of the demonstrators to find out why they were out there in Houston’s blistering summer heat.
Interview by AIReporter Intern Krissy Guzman with MFA’s Phil Letten
Animal Issues Reporter (AIR): Why are you on tour of Walmarts?
Phil Letten: At two different Walmart suppliers we have documented mother pigs confined to these filthy metal gestation crates that are so small they’re not even able to turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives; pigs with large open wounds, pressure sores from rubbing up against the sides of their tiny crates or lying on the hard concrete flooring; sick and injured pigs with severe bleeding wounds or infections left to suffer without any veterinary care; and fully conscious piglets being slammed headfirst into the concrete; as well as piglets being castrated and having their tails chopped off without any painkillers.
So we’re focusing on gestation crates.
It’s high time that Walmart follow the lead of Costco, Kroger, Safeway, and its other competitors in committing to phase out these cruel and inhumane crates. Gestation crates are so patently cruel that the practice has been banned in nine U.S. states as well as the entire European Union.
AIR: What do you hope to accomplish?
Letten: We hope to accomplish Walmart committing to phase these crates out. Confining mother pigs inside these tiny cells where they can barely move for nearly their entire lives is out of step with American values and it’s high time that Walmart realized that and commit to phasing these out.
AIR: Have you had any feedback from Walmart yet?
Letten: We have spoken with Walmart. They are dragging their feet. Basically every major food provider in the country has committed to phasing these crates out except for Walmart, and it is unacceptable.
AIR: So no signs any time yet of them phasing out that policy?
Letten: Nothing yet, no.
AIR: And how about the public response to the demonstrations?
Letten: Yeah, the public response has been incredible. Most people are opposed to animal cruelty and when they learn about the egregious abuses, pigs who are raised and killed for pork sold in Walmart are treated, they are horrified and they don’t want to support it any more.
AIR: And with reaching the public, how far has it gone? Have people decided to ban Walmart from their shopping?
Letten: We have spoken with a number of people who have stated that they no longer want to shop at Walmart until they take care of it.
AIR: And how about the response in Texas? How does that compare to the other states you’ve been in?
Letten: Texas has been the same as everywhere else. I mean, to me it’s like, no matter where you go, if you’re in the middle of nowhere or you’re in some big city, you go up to some random person and ask them, “Do you oppose animal cruelty?” nine times out of ten they’re going to say yes. So the same response we’ve been getting elsewhere we’ve been getting in Texas.
Interview by AIReporter Intern Krissy Guzman with MFA demonstrator Jennifer Gray
AIR: Jennifer, what are you protesting against today?
Jennifer Gray: Walmart’s abuse of pigs and wrongful treatment of them.
AIR: And why is it important personally for you to stand up for the rights of pigs and all the animals?
Gray: Well, because who else is going to do it? They can’t do it.
AIR: How do your family and friends feel about you and this issue, coming out here today?
Gray: My mom knows about it. She’s elderly so she couldn’t come out here. Nobody else really knows because I made this decision last night at a HART meeting. It was my first meeting at HART—Houston Animal Rights Team.
AIR: What did your mom think about it?
Gray: She’s fine with it. She’s slowly switching over to vegan meals because I cook for her.
AIR: How long have you been vegan?
Gray: Geez, not even two weeks, and the health benefits have been incredible. I’m 39 years old, by the way.
AIR: How hard has that been to switch within two weeks?
Gray: Not very hard because I was a kind of lazy vegetarian and then I went to vegetarianism and then I realized that you need to remove the eggs and the dairy. I mean, you need to go all the way, because it’s just across the board, the abuse.
Interview by AIReporter Intern Krissy Guzman with MFA demonstrator Tierra Rodriguez
AIR: Why are you protesting today?
Tierra Rodriguez: I’m protesting because I stand against cruelty to animals. I’m an animal lover and I support compassion toward humans. And, you know, I stand up for protecting human rights, and I think that my ethical system—and everybody’s ethical system—should be broad enough to encompass animals, too, because animals, they have feelings, they’re sentient, and they deserve to have a voice, a stimulating life. When you hear about the conditions that the pigs in gestation crates go through, like, they’re depressed, they’re bored, they’re extremely stressed, and they’re very sick, and, you know, I think once people find this out, they can’t in good conscience let it continue to happen.
AIR: Why is it important to you personally to stand up for the welfare of pigs and other animals? I know you just probably answered that, but do you want to go into more detail?
Rodriguez: To me personally, I guess it fits in my value system. I believe that we have the social responsibility to be caretakers of our Earth and of our resources, and so that’s really why I’m standing up for animals, because they are resources and it’s our responsibility to treat them humanely. It’s just a part of my larger value system, which is compassion, which is respect, responsibility.
AIR: And does your family know that you’re here?
Rodriguez: No, my family doesn’t know that I’m here right now, but a lot of my—I’m kind of like an online activist, so I let everybody in my social network know. I just try to spread the word and educate people. Even before this event I’ve been involved with Mercy for Animals and I support them, I donate, I sign petitions.
AIR: How would they feel about this issue?
Rodriguez: My family?
AIR: And your friends, too.
Rodriguez: You know what? I think they would support it. And I think just a lot of people don’t know. You know, they haven’t seen the images, they don’t know the reality that these animals experience. So I think if I were to tell them and let them know that this is a cause that matters to me, I think they would be on board with me.
AIR: OK, and the ones who do know, what was their reaction to you coming out here today?
Rodriguez: Supportive, you know, excited for me.
AIR: And are you vegan?
Rodriguez: No, but I have in my life made attempts to reduce animal products. I’m like more vegetarian, sometimes vegan, but for me I think what matters is really just having the awareness and making the attempt to reduce animal products and that’s where I’m at right now. But I think eventually I aspire to be vegan.
AIR: May I ask your name and your age?
Rodriguez: My name is Tierra Rodriguez and I’m 28 years old. T-i-e-r-r-a—like “Earth.” It’s kind of, what’s in a name? You know, my name, I stand up for the rights of Earth and its inhabitants.
Krissy Guzman’s lifelong interest in journalism led to her first published article—an interview with Houston Rockets player Robert Horry for the Houston Chronicle. Her other passion is for animals, encouraged by her late grandfather, who often picked up ailing strays, nursed them to back to health, and found them new homes.
Currently Krissy works as a kennel tech for a veterinary clinic. In her previous position she helped a pet supply store connect with local rescue groups to set up highly successful adoption events. Following her grandfather’s example, Krissy often does rescue herself. Her own three dogs are former strays.
As AIR’s first intern reporter, Krissy combines her two passions—journalism and animals—to write about animal issues in Texas and around the world.
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