Activists stage ‘disruption’ at Whole Foods, Hadley restaurants to protest alleged inhumane treatment of egg-laying hens and other animals

Last modified: Tuesday, March 03, 2015

HADLEY — A group of activists claiming to be part of an international movement staged animal cruelty protests at Whole Foods, Applebee’s and Chili’s before being told by police to stop Saturday afternoon.

If they disrupted any other establishments, they would face the possibility of arrest, Hadley Patrolman David Isakson told the protesters in the Chili’s parking lot.

After the protesters drove away, Isakson said their arrival had frightened diners. “You can protest,” he said, “but you can’t breach the peace.”

The protesters — nine in number — first assembled at around 4:30 p.m. in front of Whole Foods, armed with signs and light blue blindfolds they planned to don in the store. They are a part of the group Direct Action Everywhere, known as DxE, which they said was staging similar protests across the world.

“We’re going to cover our eyes to symbolize the way that Whole Foods wants to hide and wants to cover consumers’ eyes from the truth about what is going on at all of the farms whose products they sell,” said Zachary Groff of New Haven, Connecticut, one of the group’s spokesmen.

The group targeted the Whole Foods because the company is a rapidly growing large chain, Groff said.

Fellow activist Ana Wolf of Worthington added that the group was trying to communicate with the demographic that shops at Whole Foods.

“They cater to the upper-middle class, so we’re not targeting people who have a socioeconomic status that might make it challenging for them to make different food choices,” Wolf said.

Groff said the store attempts to claim that meat can be produced humanely, which he said is impossible when the animals don’t want to be killed.

“We don’t want bigger cages,” said Julia Carpenter of Northampton, a 14-year-old middle school student who was part of the protest group. “We want the cages to be empty.”

Inside the store, the group assembled in front of the egg section to protest what they alleged is the cruel treatment of hens.

After being asked to leave by a store employee, the protesters began chanting, “Whole Foods is a lie; animals do not want to die.” They then filed out of the store, waving their signs, which had pictures of farm animals and read “We want to live” and “We will not forget.”

Nearby customers shouted back, saying they enjoyed meats like steak and bacon. They and other shoppers declined to be interviewed.

Hadley Whole Foods store marketing team leader Bill Butcher directed inquiries to Regional Public Relations Manager Heather McCready.

“Whole Foods Market caters to the dietary choices of all shoppers — vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike, and we take a leadership position in helping improve our entire food supply, especially when it comes to farm animal welfare,” McCready wrote in an email to the Gazette. “These activists are not fighting for animal welfare, but rather for an end to animal consumption altogether.”

Following their demonstration in Whole Foods, the protesters went to Chipotle, where they were stopped from entering by a restaurant employee. The group succeeded in getting inside the Applebee’s and Chili’s restaurants in Hadley, where they held up signs and chanted.

As they were leaving Chili’s, Hadley police arrived, telling the protesters to leave. Hadley Police Officer Michael Romano said police had received complaints from both Applebee’s and Chili’s about the protesters alarming customers.

The activists left in their separate cars.

Chili’s customer Brianna Shaw, a University of Massachusetts Amherst student from White River Junction, Vermont, said the protesters were disturbing and frightened a nearby table with children.

“They seemed angry,” she said of the activists.

In addition to their in-store protest, the activists have been promoting a video produced by Direct Action. In it, activists are shown scaling a barbed wire fence and, by cover of darkness, making their way into a henhouse where they filmed what they described as hens crammed together in filthy, disease-ridden quarters. Some had lost feathers and had had parts of their beaks cut off, the activists said, and some had perished.

“Whole Foods is taking over America,” Brian Burns, Direct Action’s lead investigator, says in the video. “And Whole Foods is taking over America not just with stores but also with ideas — with the idea that you can somehow care about animals but kill them, too.”

Groff said the video’s focus was on Petaluma Farms in California. Farm officials could not be reached for comment Saturday, but in earlier news accounts they — along with representatives of animal welfare certification programs that inspect it and other farms producing organic eggs — sharply disputed the activists’ claims.

“We are truly proud of our record as leaders and innovators in the area of poultry care,” Petaluma owner Steve Mahrt said in a written statement, according to the the Press Democrat newspaper in California. “A recent online video uses extremely selective footage to suggest that a few hens that should have been removed are representative of our entire farm.”

Speaking to the New York Times, Mahrt said the video “isn’t anywhere indicative of our operation — they had to go through 15 barns on and off over a year to find three chickens they could use to make their point in this video.”

Some hens in the farm’s barns are raised under organic standards, while others are raised conventionally, Mahrt told the Times. The care of the organic birds has been checked by Certified Humane, a non-profit animal welfare certification program.

The hens shown in the video “were never certified by us,” the group’s founder, Adele Douglass, told the Press Democrat.

And some of the practices decried by activists are actually designed to help birds, said Douglass and other animal certification experts interviewed by the Times.

Trimming beaks keeps the birds from harming each other, she said. “With any group of more than 110 hens together, you have feather-pecking and the risk of cannibalism, and we don’t think that’s good animal welfare.”

Groff of Direct Action countered Saturday that there’s no way to justify cutting off part of a bird’s beak. “If someone were to rip off part of a dog or a cat, it would be a felony in any state in the country,” he said.

The activists make no apology for wanting to eliminate the use of animals for food. Said Carpenter: “Direct Action’s goal is to achieve total animal liberation.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at


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