Animal activists busy during 2011

Oct 7, 2011

Each summer, animal activists travel across the country to stir up controversy and create their own version of chaos. These groups start the beginning of each summer with organizational meetings and target planning and they end their summer far more successfully than most in the ag industry realize.

This year’s target was animal agriculture. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) hosted its annual Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) Conference in Washington, D.C., July 15-18 and Farm Animal Rights Movement’s Animal Rights 2011 Conference (AR 2011) was held two weeks later, July 21-25 in Los Angeles. Both events claimed to have “record-breaking” attendance, attracting a combined total of more than 1,600 activists from around the world, ranging in age from 20-60 years old.

Some states are working to counter activists with their own organizational plan.

For example, Nebraska’s major agriculture organizations have joined forces to combat what they describe as “extreme animal rights organizations.” We Support Agriculture was formed to defend the responsible animal welfare practices of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers from attacks by outside animal rights extremist groups. Supported by the Nebraska Cattlemen (NC), Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Pork Producers and the Nebraska State Dairy Association, the group goal is to protect and promote agriculture.

HSUS mounted petition drives in California and Arizona that resulted in restrictions on battery cages for chickens, gestation crates for sows, and crates for veal calves. In Ohio, agriculture groups voluntarily agreed to phase out the tight confinement practices in the face of a petition drive. “In Nebraska, no deal, no compromise,” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said in December after a speech to the NC. “We’re going to stand up; we’re going to beat them. They’d be better off going somewhere else, because they’re going to lose if they stay in Nebraska.”

Jay Rempe, an executive with the Farm Bureau, said that by enacting regulations that will increase the price of food production, HSUS and other animal rights groups would fulfill a longterm agenda to eliminate animal-based food from American diets.

Targeting universities is another practice they have put more emphasis on.

Activists promoting an agenda of animal rights have long protested the use of animals by major research universities and institutions.

Earle Holland, Ohio State University’s assistant vice president for Research Communications, said those activists are increasingly targeting students pursuing degrees in fields known for relying on laboratory animals to conduct research.

“It is much bigger than ever before,” Holland said. “The FBI has designated some animal rights groups and even some environmen tal activists as domestic terrorists. Given the rise in violence and property destruction over the past decade or so, it is much more serious than it was in the past.”

Securing rights for farm animals and the promotion of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle to the mainstream public continue to be the hot topics at the animal activist meetings. Attendees are given tips on how to utilize social media, create “undercover” videos and craft effective messages to share their views with others, according to Animal Agriculture Alliance. Speakers and exhibitors also encourage aspiring activists to hold demonstrations, signature drives for ballot initiatives and leafleting campaigns.

Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, and Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, spoke at both meetings at the beginning of the summer. They encouraged a more aggressive, physical approach to eliminating animal agriculture at AR 2011, which is typically seen as the more extremist of the two meetings.

Both conferences discussed a growing embrace of the vegetarian lifestyle in the mainstream media. Speakers used inflated statistics (often citing their own studies) to increase misconceptions about animal agriculture and its effects on the environment and one’s health. The sessions on farm animal rights were the most widely attended at both conferences, with five presentations devoted to the topic including, “The Global Campaign Against Factory Farming,” “Advances in Farm Animal Protection,” and “Agriculture Campaigns.”

TAFA included a formal vegan banquet with keynote speakers HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle and Congressman Jim Moran, D-VA. Both speakers stressed the importance of lobbying and having a presence in Washington, D.C., to promote animal rights on Capitol Hill. TAFA and AR 2011 featured an exclusively vegan menu for all guests. It should be noted that, in contrast to the lifestyle choices advocated for by the conference speakers, 97 percent of Americans enjoy meat, milk and egg products as part of their diet.

Throughout TAFA, HSUS shared examples of celebrities and mainstream media outlets that promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Though HSUS regularly attempts to portray itself as a mainstream organization, many of its conference speakers and attendees strongly advocate for animal rights. At AR 2011, the recommended tactics discussed were more extreme, including use of violence, sabotage to farms and other illegal actions.

These animal activist groups’ true motives include ending all animal agriculture and ridding the human diet of meat, eggs and dairy. For example, the “Meatless Monday” campaign is marketed as a mainstream idea to cut meat out of the diet for one day a week to improve one’s health and the environment. However, this well-funded campaign was founded by the husband of a wealthy, longtime animal rights activist and it actually pushes an extreme animal rights and environmental agenda by promoting false claims about animal agriculture.

“Meatless Monday” was discussed at both TAFA and AR 2011 by HSUS, Compassion Over Killing, and Mercy for Animals, all who referred to the campaign as a start to a vegetarian or vegan outreach lifestyle. Numerous celebrities, school systems, mainstream media and even cities were mentioned as having joined the campaign. Each presenter claimed that at least 51 percent of the American public is familiar with the “Meatless Monday” campaign and that 18 percent actively participate, though a source for the statistic was not produced. Josh Balk of HSUS discussed the campaign as a way to not only get people to start eating vegetarian, but to “save 1.4 billion farm animals.”

Just last month in Idaho, animal rights activists said they pumped fuel into an Idaho fur and fireworks retailer before setting it on fire.

In California, a lawsuit brought by Stop the Rodeo, Citizens for Environmental Responsibility, and animal rights activist Eric Zamost, challenges a fair board’s May approval of a rodeo sponsored by a nonprofit organization of the Santa Cruz County Deputy’s Association. The rodeo is a benefit for youth activities. Up for debate is whether or not the fair board needs to get an environmental impact review because of the proximity to a creek in the area.

And in Oregon, two environmental activists were recently arrested after using U-shaped bicycle locks to attach their necks to the door of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offices. They were protesting a decision by the department to kill two wolves that had 14 confirmed livestock kills over the last two years.

These are just three of hundreds of animal activist events across the states this summer.

Farmers and ranchers should educate themselves on the threat these groups represent. “Unfortunately, most people are not aware of these extremists groups’ true agenda against animal agriculture. TAFA and AR 2011 showcase animal activists’ real beliefs that are often hidden behind emotionally appealing and celebrityfunded public relations campaigns. It is critical that all stakeholders correct the misinformation presented by these activist groups, showcase the wonderful families and businesses involved in farming, ranching and food production, and share with the public your commitment to your animals, the environment, food safety and continuous improvement,” according to the Animal Agriculture Alliance that works to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers to show that while today’s agriculture industry has evolved to meet the needs of society, the same core values remain. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor