Mercy for Animals founder Nathan Runkle talks to Vegan Life about inspiring passion and improving the lives of farm animals
“Part autobiography, part hard-hitting exposé, and part action guide,” is how Nathan describes his new book to us. Nathan was on track to be a fifth-generation farmer before he founded Mercy For Animals. In his new book he explains how his experiences led him to Mercy for Animals and how the organisation has grown with the help of many of his “personal heroes” including the many undercover investigators who risk their lives to expose the grim truths of the meat, dairy and egg industries.
It is a thrilling read and one which gives an insight into work on the front line for those people who work undercover in slaughterhouses and farms. Mercy For Animals now has over 130 employees in six countries and is continuing to grow into a household name. We caught up with Nathan to ask him about running a charity.
Tell us a little about how and why you founded Mercy For Animals.
I founded Mercy For Animals when I was 15 years old in my small farming community in rural Ohio.
It started in 1999 because of one baby piglet. A local pig farmer, Steve Jenkins, taught an agricultural class at my high school. One morning Jenkins attempted to kill a half dozen piglets to use in a dissection project. When he arrived at the school, however, one of the piglets was still alive — standing on top of the others, screaming in distress. A student who worked on the Jenkins farm grabbed the piglet by her hind legs and slammed her head into the ground — twice. Her skull was fractured, and she was bleeding.
But she was still alive. Another student, horrified by this abuse, took the piglet to Molly Fearing, a first-year teacher known for being a vegetarian who cared about animals. Molly immediately took the piglet to a veterinarian to have her euthanized. She then initiated animal cruelty charges against Jenkins.
The case went to trial but was dismissed because slamming piglets this way is considered standard practice in the pork industry. In fact, in most states, if an act is deemed “standard agricultural practice,” no matter how cruel, it’s exempt from prosecution. This case convinced me that my community needed an organization that would speak up on behalf of farmed animals. Mercy For Animals grew out of that incident and my commitment to addressing the injustice of systemic animal abuse.
There is a lot in your book about undercover work. What is the hardest part about getting people into undercover work, and what does undercover work lead to?
Undercover investigators are the unsung heroes of the animal protection movement. They leave behind their friends, family, and daily comforts for months at a time. Wired with hidden cameras, they do dangerous and traumatizing work inside factory farms and slaughterhouses. The work is not only physically harmful but also emotionally taxing. We do undercover investigations to show consumers how animals really live and die for meat, dairy, and eggs. These investigations have inspired countless people to go vegan, helped pass groundbreaking legislation, and led to international corporate animal welfare policies.
Some people feel unable to help animals to the extent that you do. How can these people help? I’m not gifted with any superpowers, and neither are the other people I profile in the book. I discuss specific things we each can do to improve the world for animals, but I also encourage readers to find their voice and to use their unique experiences, resources, talents, and relationships to carve out their own form of meaningful advocacy.
I also talk about how giving back is not only the right thing to do but a way to increase our personal happiness. Being an advocate for compassion and love, which is what being an animal advocate truly is, is such a powerful way of living our values and creating a life driven by purpose.
Which issues do you think will be particularly important going forward? We must take a global view. Only two percent of farmed animals are raised and killed in the United States. The other 98 per cent suffer in other countries. Adding insult to injury, we are seeing a dramatic rise in meat consumption in China, India, and Latin America, which is leading to a rise in factory farming and the number of animals killed. Where an animal is born shouldn’t determine whether or not they suffer. MFA is expanding our global advocacy to address this issue.
Nathan’s book is out now and is available at mercyforanimals.org/book