Meat industry advertising

Non-profit organizations that advocate for animals urge us to eat less meat or forgo meat altogether at the same time as we face a constant onslaught of advertising from the meat industry urging us to eat more of their meat products. In this struggle between opposing messages, meat-oriented chain restaurants and the meatpacking industry have a significant advantage in financial resources available to them. However, as the message of the animal advocates begins to nick the meat industry bottom line, groups funded by the industry and some in the meat industry press have been grousing over the last few years about the amount of money spent by animal advocacy organizations. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest of the animal advocacy groups to have wrangled with the meat industry, is sometimes described by them as being “too big,” likening it to a gorilla of various sizes ranging from nine hundred pounds to nine million pounds! But, a close look at the numbers shows that this is actually a tussle between a David and a Goliath, except that, in this case, Goliath cannot stop whining about how David is “too big.”

The following graphic helps us visualize the scale of the difference between the dollars spent on promoting meat and the dollars spent on the advocacy of farm animals. In this figure, each red circle represents a meat-promoting entity, with the area of the circle being proportional to just the annual advertising or promotional expenses of that entity. Each green circle represents an animal advocacy organization engaged in promoting vegetarian eating or meat industry reform, with the area of the circle being proportional to the total annual expenses of that organization. If you hover your mouse near the center of any circle, you can see a pop-up bubble that identifies the entity corresponding to the circle, the dollar amount, and the source of my information about the entity (the hover function is unavailable on mouse-less devices such as the iPad or the iPhone). If you click on a circle, it takes you directly to the website of the organization.

Cargill $1,792 million Tyson $552 million Hormel McDonald’s $768 million JBS $1,594 million Smithfield Perdue Burger King NPCC NPB Wendy’s KFC Taco Bell Pizza Hut $593 million Chick-fil-A Jack in the Box AFBF NCBA AMI HSUS $126 mil. PETA FS MFA AWI COK FARM HFA VRG PCRM VO AP WFAS
Advertising expenses (yes, just the advertising expenses) of the meat industry compared against the total expenses of organizations promoting vegetarian eating and/or meat industry reform. The infographic works best on the latest version of your browser (except Opera).

For the meat-promoting entities, I have included the largest meatpackers, meat-oriented chain restaurants, and meat industry trade groups that have a significant presence in the United States. For publicly held companies (such as McDonald’s), I am using their latest fiscal year advertising expenses as reported in their annual SEC filings. For privately held companies (such as Chick-fil-A), I have deduced the advertising expenses using the ad-to-sales ratios published by Schonfeld & Associates, a business research company. For meat industry trade groups (such as the American Meat Institute), I have used their total expenses (since almost all of what they do is promote meat) from their latest (usually 2010 or 2011) Form 990 filing with the IRS.

As for the other side, the graphic includes some animal advocacy organizations with annual expenses of around $500,000 or more and which are substantively engaged in farm animal advocacy in the United States. The total expenses are obtained from their most recent (usually 2010 or 2011) Form 990 filing with the IRS. As a representative sample of smaller non-profit organizations, I have also included a couple that you can find in the graphic if you squint hard enough.

There is an important lesson in this graphic for the meat industry. The advertising expenses alone of a few of the top entities in the meat industry overwhelms the entire expenses of the animal advocacy organizations. In fact, in the case of larger organizations as well as some smaller ones which work on a variety of animal issues, only a portion of their total expenses go into farm animal advocacy. So, the meat industry press should know better than to bemoan the money raised by animal advocacy organizations. A piece in FeedStuffs, a popular agribusiness newsletter, once suggested that “maybe HSUS could lower its voice” to avoid “the blame for promoting a future protein shortage!” Never mind the stunningly flawed logic of it, but the graphic in this post should make very clear who is actually using a louder voice.

Meanwhile, there is an even more important lesson that emerges from this graphic for both the meat industry and the animal advocates. Obviously, animal advocates have no chance of winning this tussle if it was only a matter of who spends more money. But, in spite of the overwhelming superiority of financial resources available to the meat industry, the HSUS and even some smaller organizations like Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing are feared by the meat industry. The Ag Gag laws recently passed in Utah and Iowa are clearly a fear-borne response intended to silence some of these organizations. The fact that the gigantic blood-red blobs in the graphic feel that their interests are threatened by the constitutional rights of some of the tiniest green dots is a recognition by the meat industry of the power of the message carried by the animal advocates. While the animal advocates are steadfastly committed to promoting their message, the meat industry has no such commitment but merely a financial interest in the status quo. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, a few people with a commitment are a social power equal to thousands who have only interests.


Brian Tomasik

Wonderful post, Harish! Of course, not all of the spending by McDonald's et al. is to promote meat. Some of their ads may promote french fries, and maybe some of Burger King's money goes into promoting veggie burgers. That said, some (most?) of the budgets of HSUS and PETA don't go toward veg outreach, either.

"the blame for promoting a future protein shortage!"
This is hilarious. :) I'm so fearful that the country will run out of protein!


Brian, yes, the green circles represent total expenses and not just the spending on farm animal advocacy. But, I suspect the meat industry spends almost all of its advertising promoting meat, especially the meat packers. Plus, my infographic does not include the hundreds of smaller restaurant chains and grocery store chains, etc., which also advertise meat. The reality is even more of a David vs. Goliath tussle than my infographic is able to show.

Yes, imagine the horror of future protein shortage! Some people writing for the meat industry press have great comedic talent and they don't even know it!


It is indeed very impressive the impact the animal advocacy organizations are having, given how small their budgets are in comparison.

It's actually quite disgusting to see the huge amount of money that is wasted on advertising meat.


Great! I've been waiting for something like this. I'm tired of all the one-eyed critics expending so much energy in denigrating animal groups for soliciting donations, etc., yet not a word from them about the huge wealthy companies ruining peoples' health, ruining the environment, and putting animals through lives of misery.


Great post! I hope that you get cited when people are discussing the size of agribusiness vs. the animal advocacy movement.

It's also important for the animal movement to recognize that our power is not in our money, but in our motivated volunteers and our strong moral argument.

Anne Kenney

The first thing I would do if I had money would be to start a huge advertising blitz using pictures of the tortured animals to educate people to the truth. Commercials and bill boards and have it in everyones face as counter advertising, aren't there any wealthy people who want to do this? Anywhere? The only way I even know about animal avocacy groups is through the internet and email. Where are the commercials for chickens? The most abused animal on the planet. It is scary how sick we are as a society.


Can someone point me in the direction of a Cargill commercial? I've never even seen one despite my old library being half-built by them because they wanted to win the public over before passing a ballot initiative that destroyed our wetlands. That said, what companies do they represent? What ads am I seeing that are from them? Any ideas? Also, I'm on the West Coast if that matters.


Kristin, You will usually not see an ad for Cargill itself but for one of its hundreds of brands it owns. Cargill owns so many brands it is hard to list them. You may have seen ads for Preferred Angus beef, Angus pride, Good Nature Pork, Shady Brooks Farms, Tender Choice pork, Honeysuckle White turkey ... the list goes on and on.


Excellent! Exactly what I've wished for during all the debates about the "large sums of money" that come from AR groups. Of course anyone with just a smidgen of sense would know the reality... Still it's so helpful to have the researched facts at hand.

Great job revealing the David/Goliath mis-match and the meat industry's fear of the truth in spite of it all.

Anna E. Mouss

See I believe this graph is a little disingenuous. Whereas PETA and other special interest groups are directly advertising against the consumption of meat, the companies are merely trying to convince customers of the value of their specific product.

They're not arguing that meat is great and amazing. They're competing against one another and saying that their specific dishes are amazing.


Anna - These companies may be competing against one another, but the overall effect is still additive. Are you going to argue that when McDonalds advertises its products all that it is trying to do is to take customers away from Burger King? Of course not. They are in the business to increase their profits and the best way to do that is to lure more customers in more frequently.

Besides, it doesn't even matter. If you look at McDonalds alone, they still outspend by far all of the animal advocacy groups combined.

Also, keep in mind, groups like PETA and HSUS spend a fraction of their overall budgets specifically on "advertising against the consumption of meat." The issues they work on range from puppy mills to fur to circuses.


Your post encourages me to continually think independently with the foods I choose to consume and purchase! Thank you.


I was trying to find figures for McD's 2013 advertising budget and looked at their 10K. It indicates that the $768 million in advertising costs is only for McD's itself and does not include the "significant advertising costs [that] are incurred by franchisees through contributions to advertising cooperatives in individual markets." So I'm guessing that the Philly area McDonald's, for example, all chip in some money to advertise on Philly media. Consequently, the advertising budget on behalf of McD is likely much higher than the $768 million you cited.


Dan: You're right that the actual advertising money spent on behalf of McD is even larger than is reported in their corporate SEC filing because of reasons you mentioned. I don't know if there is an easy reliable way to estimate the larger number. In any case, this further underscores the point made in the post that meat industry ad spending is overwhelmingly larger than the entire budget of the animal organizations.

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