Mercy for Animals (MFA) works to create a society where all animals are treated with compassion and respect.
In addition to proactive consumer education initiatives, cruelty investigations, corporate outreach and legal advocacy, the LA-based nonprofit organization uses public protest to raise awareness. Often, the protest calls upon theatrics to attract viewers.
Such is true for MFA’s most recent campaign, dubbed the Walmart Cruelty Tour. This peacefully staged protest consists of one major element: a 10-foot tall inflatable pig positioned in the megastore’s parking lots across the U.S. The pig herself is bruised and bloody – and is, for anyone passing by, quite a sight.
On Tuesday, February 19, Mercy for Animals parked its pig in the Irondale Walmart parking lot. To date, MFA has visited 84 cities with the pig-and-crate with plans to stop in 33 more cities (including two more stops in Alabama) before ending the campaign.
“We’ll cut the tour short if Walmart decides to change its policies,” said Phil Letten, the national campaign coordinator for the Walmart Cruelty Tour.
Hailing from L.A., Letten has traveled with the pig-and-crate across the U.S., advocating for Walmart to cease its use of cruel gestational crates for pigs. “At numerous Walmart pork suppliers,” Letten said, “we documented crates that were so small that the animals were unable to move around at all during their lives.”
MFA allegedly sent undercover investigators into factory farms, uncovering poor animal conditions.
“The crates are in fact so cruel,” Letten continued, “that they’ve been banned in nine states. Yet Walmart continues to use the crates. Basically every major food company in the nation except Walmart has decided to phase out these cruel crates. We’re calling on Walmart to follow the lead of its competitors to phase out these cruel crates.”
As for Walmart, the company has yet to release a statement to MFA.
At Tuesday’s protest, no Walmart employees spoke with Letten, Assistant National Coordinator Nick Wallerstedt or volunteer Amy Pedigo.
Pedigo, a local banker, subscribes to MFA’s monthly newsletter and was excited to be part of the Birmingham campaign. “I became a vegan just this past Thanksgiving,” Pedigo said. “But I do shop at Walmart for some things. I wish they adopted kinder practices.”
Many of Walmart’s patrons and passersby on Montclair Road shared Pedigo’s sentiment. Cars honked and children waved, gleefully. Two vegan women and their daughter congratulated the group on their services.
One farmer in overalls approached as the protest came to a close.
“Y’all with PETA or something?” he asked. “I read that book by John Robbins. It’s terrible what they’re doing. I quit eating meat for my health. Y’all are doing good work.”
The oddest form of support, however, came from Birmingham’s 100.5 WERC morning radio personality Jeff “JT” Tyson. The deejay set up camp at the rear of the inflatable pig — with a grill. As folks approached, quizzing MFA on its signs (which simply read, “Walmart tortures pigs”), Tyson offered them a hotdog — “properly” raised pork and beef.
“I support what they’re doing,” he said. “I don’t think we should be cruel to animals.”
Letten said no one had pulled the grill stunt yet but the Birmingham crowd was similar to that in other cities. “An average crowd of volunteers varies — bigger cities, bigger crowds. This sort of abuse is something that nearly everyone opposes.”
The Walmart Cruelty Tour is the third major U.S. campaign for MFA.
“Farm to Fridge was our first campaign,” Letten said. “It’s a short, 11-minute documentary that takes folks behind the scenes at farm factories. We showed that video in 42 cities around the country. We had a big truck with video screens.
“Why Love One But Eat the Other? was the second. We had a big inflatable with a puppy inside a hotdog bun. That got our point across — farm animals are every bit as capable of feeling grief and pain as the dogs and cats that we know and love.”
MFA will be in Montgomery February 20 at the Walmart on 851 Ann Street and in Huntsville on February 25 at 2200 Sparkman Drive. Both events begin at 10:30 a.m. — unless, of course, Walmart decides to make a change.
For more information on Mercy for Animals, visit mercyforanimals.org.