Our History

Our History

Farm Animal Rights Movement is the world’s first and longest-operating organization dedicated to advocacy for animals raised, abused, and killed for food. Co-founded by chemist, environmental consultant, social justice organizer, and Holocaust survivor Dr. Alex Hershaft, FARM’s roots were planted nearly 40 years ago.

Early Days

In 1976, Dr. Hershaft founded the Vegetarian Information Service to disseminate information on the benefits of plant-based eating on consumer health, animal protection, and environmental integrity. VIS participated in the hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, leading to the periodic publication of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and testified before Congress in favor of the 1978 National Consumer Nutrition Information Act.

Peter Singer’s landmark book Animal Liberation was published in 1975, influencing a number of grassroots animal rights activists who had no national outlet through which to channel their passion into action. After Dr. Hershaft’s vegetarian conferences were repeatedly inundated with concerns about the lack of a guiding animal rights ethic, in 1981 he invited seasoned leaders of the established vegetarian movement as well as animal rights advocates to the firstAction for Life conference.

Action for Life effectively launched the U.S. animal rights movement, with participants including pioneers such as Cleveland Amory, Ingrid Newkirk, Alex Pacheco, Peter Singer, Henry Spira, Gretchen Wyler, as well as radio host Thom Hartmann. Immediately afterward, important organizations including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were formed or formalized, and the Vegetarian Information Service became Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) by embracing veganism and the right of animals not to be used for food.

Pioneering Initiatives

In its first 30 years, FARM initiated a dozen national and global programs which were among the first-ever farmed animal campaigns in the world.

  • 1976: Gentle Thanksgiving (now Compassionate Holidays) was our first event, offering a vegan holiday meal to hundreds who had not yet experienced a turkey-free Thanksgiving. The program now includes a recipe plan for home celebrations and a database of dozens of public dinners.
  • 1981: The Action for Life Conferences (through 1991; subsequently and to the present, the Animal Rights National Conference) provides the only national platform for animal rights leaders and activists to network with and learn from each other.
  • 1982: FARM’s Compassion Campaign (through 1992) brought the concept of veganism and animal rights to key U.S. legislators, executives, and journalists through Congressional hearings, national party platform hearing and conventions, and national polls of candidates for public office.
  • 1982: The Veal Ban Campaign (through 1986) was the first national campaign on behalf of farmed animals in the US. By focusing on what was then seen as the most egregious form of factory farm cruelty, FARM brought farmed animal suffering into public view in a new way.
  • 1983: World Farm Animals Day (now World Day for Farmed Animals) is the longest-running annual effort to call attention to the tragedy of raising and killing animals for food. It is observed annually with dramatic demonstrations outside of slaughterhouses and large farms as well as with educational events.
  • 1985: The Great American Meatout (now Meatout) was launched with the modest request that people explore vegan eating for a single day, March 20th (the first day of spring). Every year, tens of thousands of animal-free food samples are distributed, billboards and bus ads are run, and thousands pledge to eat vegan for a day.
  • 1996: Letters from FARM reach millions of middle Americans every year through a massive network of activists who send a message to their local newspaper about developments that support a vegan diet.
  • 1999: Consumers for Healthy Options in Children’s Education (though 2009) challenged the status quo school lunch program by insisting on healthy, plant-based options at every meal. The program was handed over to like-minded organizations that were better-equipped to run the campaign.
  • 1999: The Sabina Fund, named after FARM President Alex Hershaft’s deceased mother, provides grants to organizations across the world that are engaging in creative activism on behalf of veganism or farmed animals.
  • 2001: Vegan Earth Day directs the heightened public concern for the environment each April towards one of the biggest, yet unnoticed culprits: animal agriculture.
  • 2003: Meatout Mondays grew out of our Meatout campaign to provide yearlong support for a vegan diet in the form of a weekly emailed newsletter, complete with recipes, health tips, product reviews, and inspirational news.
  • 2015: The Vegan Support program grew out of a survey showing that five in six vegans revert back to eating animals.
  • 2016: Thanks to a generous donor, we were able to multiply our Sabina Fund support for Israeli vegan groups.
  • 2017: Launched a program to coordinate Western support and encourage local vegan advocacy in India, Nepal, and China.
  • 2018: As part of a gradual retirement process for Founding President Hershaft, turned over most of our programs and staff to Compassion Over Killing.

Two national organizations were conceived and nurtured at FARM: Farm Sanctuary, in 1986, and A Well-Fed World, in 2009.

Prominent supporters of FARM’s campaigns through the years have included celebrities Ed Asner, Bob Barker, David Carter, James Cromwell, Doris Day, Casey Kasem, Mary Tyler Moore, Alicia Silverstone, Russell Simmons, Steve-O, and Jane Velez-Mitchell, as well as social reformers Corey Booker, Cesar Chavez, Thom Hartmann, Michael Jacobson, Heather Mills, and Jeremy Rifkin.