Photo from by Sarah Von Alt, an animal rights activist working with Mercy For Animals supports the Occupy Movement. "MFA stands in solidarity with anyone who works to help animals, and I appreciate that the Occupy movement has included animals in its Official Declaration of the Occupation of New York City – specifically that corporate interests have 'profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.'"

Von Alt said as the Occupy movement continues to gain momentum, it is becoming more obvious that Americans have grown weary of corporate power in politics and the resulting abuses of humans and nonhuman animals.

"While taking to the streets and participating in peaceful protests is one way to raise awareness about these important issues, each of us can start to remove our financial support from Big Ag by transitioning to a healthier, more sustainable plant-based diet. Since cows, pigs and chickens make up 99 out of every 100 animals exploited and killed in this country, in a very real way, they are the 99%," Von Alt said.

You can find plenty of info about Mercy for Animals online, but here is Von Alt's overview of the organization.

" Mercy For Animals is a national non-profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies. We encourage consumers to open their hearts and minds, and widen their circle of compassion beyond family, friends and their beloved companion animals to include all animals," Von Alt said.

She said more than 99 percent of animal exploitation and abuse in this country is at the hands of the meat, dairy and egg industries.

"Farmed animals may not be as cute or fluffy as our dogs and cats at home, but they have the same capacity to feel love, joy, and happiness, as well as sorrow, fear and pain. The best way to help end the needless suffering of cows, pigs, chickens and other farmed animals is simply to not eat them," Von Alt said.

She said while MFA’s primary focus is on the animals themselves, transitioning to a plant based diet has shown benefits to human health, as well as our environment.

"Currently, the leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, some forms of cancer, stroke and diabetes have been conclusively linked to diets high in meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products," Von Alt said.

The United Nations, Pew Charitable Trusts and other organizations have concluded that animal agriculture is a leading cause of every environmental problem we face – from global greenhouse gas emissions to deforestation to air and water pollution.

"By transitioning to a healthy and humane vegan lifestyle, we can spare animals lives of immeasurable suffering and protect human health and the health of the planet," Von Alt said.

In light of this, boycotts of factory farmed meat, dairy and eggs---if not a boycott of them altogether would seem to make sense.

"Choosing cruelty-free, plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs is a powerful way to put your ethics on the table and vote for a kinder world every time you sit down to eat. If you don’t like that animals are made to suffer and die for your dinner – good news! You have options. Leave the meat at the supermarket. You don’t have to continue to financially support an industry that hurts animals, the planet and your health. You can now find vegan versions of almost all your favorite foods– including veggie burgers, soy milk, and dairy-free ice cream – at nearly every grocery store and restaurant. It’s never been easier to adopt a healthy and compassionate vegan diet," Von Alt said.

I asked her about using marches as part of a movement for animal rights.

"MFA volunteers around the country routinely take part in parades, street fairs and festivals to raise awareness about the plights of farmed animals. This was MFA's sixth year marching in Pride Parades around the country, and as in years past, the crowd response has been amazing. In fact, since MFA's inception more than a decade ago, the parallels between the gay rights, animal rights and other social justice movements has been an important theme in our philosophy and message. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'No one is free when others are oppressed.'"

She said in addition to marching in Pride Parades, MFA seeks to create positive social change by raising awareness about the plights of farmed animals and talking to consumers about the power of their food choices.

"In 2011, MFA conducted more than 1,500 public outreach events including vegan feed-ins, tabling events, leafletings and Paid-Per-View screenings. At Paid-Per-View screenings we pay people a dollar to watch a 4-minute clip from Farm to Fridge, an eye-opening exploration behind the closed doors of the nation’s largest industrial poultry, pig, dairy and fish farms, hatcheries, and slaughter plants. Exposing consumers to the realities of modern animal agriculture is a powerful way to inspire change," Von Alt said.

I asked Von Alt what specific local eateries and markets are better than some others in terms of how animals are treated. I didn't quite get the answer I was looking for but I plan to ask MFA's Rice the same question, hoping he names names---in a good way.

"After learning about the cruelty involved in factory-farmed products, many people think 'free-range,' 'cage-free' or 'organic' meat, eggs and dairy products are the solution. While these products may be less cruel than the typical factory farm products, they still involve needless violence, suffering and death and should not be mistaken for cruelty-free," Von Alt said.

She said any time an animal, even a free-range animal, is used as a commodity to be consumed -- or treated as a piece of property -- corners are cut and the animals lose.

"Animals on 'free range' farms are still often forced to live in overcrowded conditions, are mutilated without painkillers (castration, tail docking, debeaking etc.), denied veterinary care and ultimately shipped to slaughter to have their throats cut open, " said Von Alt.

This may indicate the challenge of forming alliances between animal liberationists and advocates of so-called humane animal husbandry. This also calls to mind how animal liberation gets relatively little attention in both mainstream and non-mainstream progressive media outlets, not to mention non-progressive media outlets. At the time of posting this content, I'm waiting on a reply from Mercy for Animals regarding the points in this paragraph.

Von Alt continued.

"At Mercy For Animals, we encourage people to remember that the only meaningful difference between a dog or a cat and a cow, pig or chicken is the way that we treat them. If you wouldn't eat your free-range dog or cat, why would you eat any other animal who has the same passion for life?"

Von Alt said if a person feels they are not quite willing or able to stop eating animals yet, it is more productive to begin by reducing the amount of meat, diary and eggs one consumes instead of falling for clever marketing schemes designed to make people feel better about paying more for some of the same types of cruelties.

I'm currently looking for more details about such clever marketing schemes. I asked Von Alt about the possible role of civil disobedience in the animal liberation movement.

"Once people become aware of the scale of violence and suffering being routinely inflicted on animals in name of commerce and greed, some understandably turn to civil disobedience to express their outrage and to garner attention on the issue – particularly when the mainstream media seems unwilling to cover these issues otherwise. While we neither condone nor condemn non-violent actions to help animals, MFA continues to work within the law to bring its message of compassion to the masses," Von Alt said.

I plan to ask MFA's Rice about why his organization would not condone non-violent actions to help animals, as Von Alt says above. Without confirmation from Rice, my guess is that Von Alt meant MFA does not condone illegal actions, even those that are non-violent.

I asked Von Alt to offer ideas about engaging with government so as to save or improve farm animals' lives. Though removing our financial support from the meat, dairy and egg industries is an easy and powerful way for individual consumers to put their ethics on the table, we shouldn’t stop there, said Von Alt.

"Concerned citizens can also push their local, state and federal representatives to ban some of the cruelest factory farming practices. For example, MFA volunteers were instrumental in getting California Proposition 2 passed a couple years ago to outlaw veal crates for baby calves, gestation crates for mother pigs and battery cages for egg-laying hens. These types of intensive confinement systems, which don’t even allow the animals to freely move or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives, are perhaps the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse in existence. But by raising awareness among the voting public, Prop 2 passed by a landslide and became the most popular ballot initiative in California history," Von Alt said.

She said MFA also worked with concerned citizens in Ohio to collect signatures to outlaw similarly cruel practices here.

"When it became obvious to the industry that the measure may be as popular as the one in California, they decided to come to the table and negotiated a deal with the governor and the animal protection movement to phase out veal crates and gestation crates, place a moratorium on building new battery cage egg facilities and outlawed strangulation as a form of euthanasia," Von Alt said.

These issues are related to Ohio's Livestock Care Standards Board, which was created in early 2010 after the Issue 2 ballot initiative passed in autumn of 2009. Von Alt said while it is important to remember outlawing some cruel practices does not make these industries cruelty-free, it does help to alleviate the suffering of literally hundreds of millions of animals each year.

"It is because of citizens who care enough to lobby their elected representatives, to write letters and make phone calls and collect signatures, that these types of initiatives have been so successful," Von Alt said.

On the distinction between groups that work for animal rights and those that work for animal welfare, Von Alt said those perspectives are not mutually exclusive.

"MFA believes non-human animals are irreplaceable individuals with morally significant interests and hence rights. This includes the right to live free from unnecessary suffering and exploitation. We can work toward improving the lives of animals and alleviating their suffering while at the same time being clear that animals should not be exploited at all."