TPBW recently had the opportunity to speak with Josh Balk, who is the VP of Farm Animal Protection for the Humane Society of the United States and also serves on the Plant Based World Advisory Council. Josh and his team at HSUS saw their hard work pay off as Proposition 12 passed in California with flying colors on Election Day. Josh opens up about what makes this piece of legislation so powerful for transforming the animal agricultural system. He also offers his perspective on the future of our food system and valuable advice for anyone out there who has made it their mission to make the world a better place.
For people who haven’t researched or been following the Prop 12 efforts – what would you want people to be aware of as the most important aspect of the legislation?
Josh: I can summarize the legislation in this way: it bans the confinement of baby veal calves, mother pigs and egg laying hens in cages and ensures that the veal, pork and eggs sold in California don’t come from operations that keep those animals in cages. Veal is a 1 year phase-in and pork and eggs is 3 years.
One of the most important things to focus on is that the proposition passed with absolute overwhelming support in a political landslide. My point for bringing this up is that the concern for farm animals is so mainstream that we can have an initiative that will be the most far-reaching law for farm animals in the history of the world and have landslide support for it. I think what it comes down to is that the issue of where our food comes from has risen to such prominence that no matter what argument voters, which are also consumers, hear as to why not to give farm animals a better life – they don’t buy into any of those arguments. They just feel that the treatment of animals in factory farms does not reflect their values, and whenever there’s a situation when the status quo does not reflect the values of consumers, change happens. This is a transformational moment for the treatment of farm animals, but also our food system.
How do you see the passing of Prop 12 influencing the food industry over the course of the next 5-10 years?
With California being the fifth largest economy in the world we’re going to see a lot of change within industrial agriculture in order to comply with these standards. We’re also likely going to see food companies become more stringent on ensuring that their eggs and pork especially don’t come from cage confinement systems, and we’ll likely see other states follow, which is typical for any legislation that California passes. It’s going to put us on a trajectory to do even more.
Now that the Proposition has passed, where are you and your team at HSUS shifting your focus and what do you see as the next important initiative?
We don’t know yet what the next focus will be as far as legislation is concerned, but we can say that continuing to work on plant-based foods is a major priority for us. That work includes what we are doing with major food service providers such as Aramark and Sodexo to bring more plant-based options to their menus across the country.
Along with your work for HSUS, you also co-founded JUST, a company transforming the food industry with plant and cell-based animal alternatives – what excites you most about the innovations coming out of today’s for-profit food space?
I’m excited for more and more plant-based foods being produced that appeal to every day mainstream consumers, as well as the work that is being done with clean meat – that is meat that is being produced without having to raise animals at all… but that is more long term. Products like – for example – JUST Plant-Based Egg is delicious, it’s meant for people who love eggs, eat eggs all the time, and happens to taste just like eggs – if not better – while simultaneously being dramatically better for your health, the environment and animals. So I would say I am most excited for more products that shift consumers’ purchasing away from protein that comes from animals and towards plant-based protein.
Whether in the non or for-profit food space, it is important to be allied with traditional businesses with large influence that may not be 100% in-line with your ethical standards and philosophies. From your experience working to bridge this gap, what advice can you give to both entrepreneurs and activists who are driven to change the world but face the challenge of working alongside the established businesses that may be more profit-driven than mission-driven?
That’s an important question and here’s what I have to say about it… most people who work at companies are good people. You know, most of those working at the established or incumbent companies are not out there to harm animals or pollute the environment or produce unhealthy products for people to get sick and die early. They are good people who most likely want to do an honest day’s living and have income to support their families and send their kids off to college. These aren’t people to be vilified or looked upon as evil doers in society. At the same time I think they would welcome opportunities to work with innovative startup companies that are inherently doing good for the world with the products they are producing. So I think if we look at people as likely good people it’s a good baseline to start.
And I think it’s wonderful to work with all types of companies. I don’t care if you are Whole Foods or WalMart; I don’t care if you are a company that sells predominantly plant-based foods or a chicken company… whoever you are, let’s get everyone in the mix. We need a bigger tent. We can’t start having these litmus tests about who we will and will not work with. We don’t change the world by doing that. We change the world by welcoming everyone into our club, and our club is a group of people who want to go out and change the world, so why not invite everybody?
Big thanks to Josh Balk – not only for taking the time to give these thoughtful and insightful answers, but also for the powerful positive energy that he and his team at HSUS put into their work each day. We at ThePlantBasedWorld.com, along with the planet, and all the animals, salute you!