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Meet Scott David of Compassion Over Killing

Today we’d like to introduce you to Scott David.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Scott. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve always been interested in conservation, ecological research or similar fields because, like a lot of people in this line of work, I grew up loving animals. So after I got my masters degree in ecology, I decided to try and make a career out of actively helping animals.

After doing some soul searching, I decided to apply for a job as an undercover investigator at Compassion Over Killing. I was vegan already at the time, so I knew a bit about this kind of activism when I saw the job posting, but at first, I questioned whether it was something I could do. After learning more and getting the position, I was behind the hidden camera on three investigations for COK. That’s how I got involved in the animal protection movement.

For about two years, I was out in the field, working undercover and now I’m “retired” from fieldwork. My last investigation exposed abuse at Superior Farms, the nation’s largest lamb producer, and The New York Times broke the exclusive. I still work for COK, now conducting research that helps COK investigators in the field.

Plus, being out from behind the camera, I can now talk to the public about my experiences, and I enjoy speaking at vegfests, conferences, and other events across the country. I love answering questions and sharing what I’ve seen.

Has it been a smooth road?
Being out in the field as an undercover investigator is definitely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I was away from home, working labor-intensive jobs inside slaughterhouses for several months at a time. It’s very fast-paced, demanding, and repetitive, which usually results in a lot of recurring muscle and joint pain for workers. For example, working on the hanging line in a chicken slaughterhouse is so bad, it can cause permanent damage to your hands.

I’ve heard of people getting their fingers stuck in a bent position because of the cumulative stress. And you also often end up covered in blood and feces, plus you can’t get the stench out of your nose. You work a lot of weekends and 12-hour days. The jobs are so terrible that some slaughter plants have a 100% turnover rate. On top of that, for investigators, every day you have to worry about someone potentially finding out what you’re really there for.

And this is all on top of what was the worst part of this work: witnessing the suffering of the animals. And not just witnessing it, but knowing I couldn’t stop it, and that most people have no idea what horrors are going on behind closed doors. Sometimes I’d sob in my car before work. But I knew I to go back in because someone needed to document the truth so the animals’ stories could be shared with the world.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Compassion Over Killing story. Tell us more about the business.
Compassion Over Killing is a national nonprofit farm animal protection organization. We do a lot of strategic advocacy, from proactive legal campaigns and undercover investigations challenging the status quo of animal agribusiness, to pro-vegan corporate outreach and public education empowering others to stand up for animals every time they sit down to eat.

COK is best known for its powerful investigations, and since I’m in that department, I feel really proud of the work we’ve done there. Even though I’m not in the field anymore, I get to know all the investigators and see their successes and the attention their stories receive. I think what sets us apart is how prolific we’ve been in the number of investigations we’ve released, despite us being an organization with a relatively small team.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In the grander sense, our movement still has a long way to go. Billions of animals are still suffering every year at human hands. But our work is having an impact: our videos have been viewed millions of times and people contact us all the time to say how our videos changed their food choices. We’ve also successfully worked with several corporations to offer more vegan options.

On a more personal level, knowing that most people will never go inside a slaughterhouse, I feel most successful when I can bring that experience to them – whether it’s releasing a new investigation, writing an article about it, or after giving a presentation. The feedback from people, to see how they react to this footage and the reality of where our food comes from, is most meaningful to me.

When I see someone cry during one of my talks, I know the pain they’re going through – I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it up close and personal. If what I’ve shown someone has really opened their hearts and minds, that’s when I feel like I’ve really done a good job.

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