Animal activist Leah Garcés became the first female president of animal-rights group Mercy For Animals (MFA) on October 1. Garcés has worked in animal advocacy for 20 years, most recently as executive director of Compassion in World Farming USA, and was instrumental to exposing animal cruelty and unfair labor practices at Perdue Farms in 2013, which led to substantive changes in the company’s animal-welfare practices three years later. In her activism, Garcés operates under a vegan bottom line that applies to all animals, including humans. “In North Carolina, residents—mostly people of color—are facing nothing short of a human-rights crisis,” Garcés told VegNews. “Factory farms spray manure onto residential properties, which causes serious health issues, and when people protest, they’re sometimes met with intimidation and threats. And disturbingly, many North Carolina lawmakers are rallying to protect the state’s largest meat producers, not the health of their constituents.” Garcés believes veganism is a social-justice movement that must move beyond its singular dimension in order to succeed, connecting with other movements that are fighting to end inequality and oppression. “We have a long way to go, but I have hope that more and more animal advocates are connecting these dots and will stand up not only for animals, but also for communities disproportionately harmed by animal agriculture,” Garcés said. “We can’t build a mass movement to end factory farming alone, and we will only go so far if we stay in our vegan bubbles, only speaking to one another.” In addition to other initiatives, Garcés is currently working with farmers to transition their businesses to produce plant-based foods instead of animal products. MFA was founded in 1999 by Milo (formerly known as “Nathan”) Runkle when he was only 15 years old with the mission of ending the exploitation of animals for food, and the organization has since exposed countless acts of animal cruelty through its undercover investigations—a legacy that Garcés is well-poised to continue. “Thanks to undercover investigators and persistent activists, more and more Americans are aware of the cruelty occurring every day inside factory farms and slaughterhouses,” Garcés said. “In the next two decades at MFA, I hope to be a part of the change that bans the extreme confinement of farmed animals nationwide, that creates a mass movement for farmed animals, and accelerates mainstream adoption of plant-based foods and cellular agriculture.”
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