I go to a number of veterinary and livestock-related meetings throughout the year and it’s not uncommon for anti-animal agriculture activists to show up either as a paid attendee (some who come to listen and even attempt to dialogue or quietly “gather intel”), or as a flagrant protestor in a cow suit.
It was refreshing to see our industry do the very same thing (minus the cow suit). Sarah Hubbart, communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, recently wrote a report from one of the Alliance's staffers who attended the Conference to End Factory Farming in Arlington, Va. Hubbart’s intriguing report (read her re-cap here) said the event was co-hosted by Farm Sanctuary and the ASPCA and sponsored by a wide variety of extremist organizations and companies including the Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, A Well Fed World, Compassion in World Farming, E: The Environmental Magazine, Discovery’s TreeHugger, and Whole Foods Market.
Hubbart said there were about 300 people in attendance, the bulk of which were middle-aged women. “Tehre were many of the same people who had attended other recent activist meetings in D.C.,” Hubbart told me.
Hubbart’s report said: Many speakers revealed just how out of step with American values they are during their presentations. For example, Holly Cheever, of HSUS’ Veterinary Medical Association Leadership Council said that “slaughterhouses are a kind of Auschwitz”. This equating of human suffering with agricultural practices not only diminishes the horrors inflicted upon the victims of the Holocaust, but is a sentiment commonly expressed by PETA and other extremist organizations.
Hubbart's colleague also collected a list of disturbing quotes from speakers at the meeting including:
“The lifeblood of Mercy For Animals is our undercover investigations of animal agriculture.” – Nathan Runkle (Mercy for Animals)
“In California, if a farmer came out in criticism of the ballot initiative, they would be subject to undercover investigation and sued.” – David Wolfson (Milbank Tweed)
“Meat consumption shouldn’t be normal.” – Gene Baur (Farm Sanctuary)
Hubbart said it was interesting that many of the speakers and attendees rejected the more mainstream approach of conference speaker Dr. John Ikerd of the University of Missouri, who supports pasture-based, small-scale animal agriculture. “Eliminating animal agriculture entirely is the preferred goal.”
Hubbart added that David Wolfson, who also spoke and is a lawyer and NYU professor, discussed the tactics used against farmers and ranchers during CA’s Prop 2 campaign. “It was pretty eye-opening. The tactic of obtaining ‘undercover’ photography and video was discussed by Nathan Runkle, director of Mercy for Animals. He said it is the ‘life blood’ of his organization, so producers must remain wary of these tactics.”
Activists are not shy about attending livestock events whether in a quiet manner or making a scene. We in the industry should also not be shy about attending their events like the Ag Alliance staffer did. That took some guts. “It is crucial that industry understand the true agenda of these extremist groups,” Hubbart said. “Conferences such as this one can be an important learning opportunity.”
If you don’t know about the Animal Agriculture Alliance, become familiar with them as they are working in our corner. Not only are they keeping tabs on the activists and what they are doing and saying, they are also sharing this valuable information with the animal agriculture industry. Members of the Alliance receive regular and more in-depth reports from activist events. I encourage organizations and individuals to support the alliance as much as they can so they can give farmers and ranchers the tools they need to fight back against the misinformation promoted by these groups.
And you can leave your cow suit at home.