Two recent events, both of which are under the radar of most industry participants, represent classic examples of how the animal activist community generates support for its agenda—and more importantly, how a divided, disinterested citizenry often plays right into their hands.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Whenever any halfway organized animal welfare group raises concerns about alleged abuse, the ultimate goal is to eliminate whatever practice or industry sector is under attack. The movement’s end point isn’t reform, it’s elimination.
These examples demonstrate how they move toward that goal.
First, activists pick a target that doesn’t enjoy a lot of support from the public. For example, how many people attend rodeos on an annual basis? And how many of the spectators who do purchase tickets are diehard fans who live for the sport? Not many, which makes campaigns against the alleged abuse of calves, bulls and horses a perfect target for the activists.
At the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta, which concluded last Saturday, the animal rights group Voice for Animals Humane Society took direct aim at calf roping, which they managed to portray to the media as “a controversial staple at rodeos across the country.”
Executive Director Tove Reece told the Global News service that getting rid of tie-down roping would be a good place to start “reforming” rodeos.
“You’ve got a tiny little calf running at full speed being lassoed by some big cowboy on a horse,” Reece said. “We consider it the worst event at the rodeo.”
Ralph Murray, CFR Animal Welfare and Safety Officer, offered a weak response that tie-down roping is “part of cowboy life,” with competitors being mostly ranchers who do it routinely out on rangeland.
That reply doesn’t exactly crush the opposition, and rodeo protesters over the last several years have forced changes in how events like the chuckwagon races at Canada’s famed Calgary Stampede are conducted. And this is guaranteed: The protests will continue, with more and greater demands for “safety” leading to what activists ultimately want: A drop-off in attendance significant enough to eventually force the cancellation of rodeos altogether.
On the other hand, what would be the impact of similar protests against the use of live animals as college football mascots? Can you imagine a campaign aimed at banning the appearance of horses, such as USC’s mounted Trojan warrior or other university mascots on horseback, such as Florida State, Texas Tech or Texas A&M? Or how about a protest aimed at banning Oklahoma University’s Sooner Schooner chuckwagon that races across the field at home games?
It’ll never happen, because those events are attended by passionate fans who live and die with their teams and their traditions.
Rodeos—different audience, and thus the opportunity for activists to push their agenda.
Meat and mutton on the hoof
The second strategy activists employ is to capitalize on campaigns that connect with allies, however unlikely, whose interests intersect those of the animal activist community. That way, the protestors can portray the controversy as a choice between multiple benefits for several constituencies that would accompany change, versus continued “exploitation” that can be painted as favoring only Big Business.
A good example of that tactic is the ongoing protests in Australia against live animal exports of cattle and sheep, mostly to East Asia and the Middle East, where beef and mutton are dietary staples but where domestic production cannot meet demand.
Search any Aussie news service and you’ll find all kinds of reports about Australian cattle being “routinely slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs while fully conscious,” and sheep shipped to Pakistan “being clubbed, stabbed and buried alive.”
As a result, there have been renewed calls for a ban on live exports, led by pressure from Members of Parliament representingLabor, the Green Party and even Independent MPs.
Why the widespread support? It’s not just soft-hearted politicians who care deeply about sheep and cattle. Since the 1970s, unions representing packing plant workers have campaigned to halt the exports, arguing that livestock ought to be slaughtered and processed domestically to preserve Australian jobs.
Animal activists have capitalized on those sentiments, uniting the goals of two groups that, if logic prevailed, would understand that their interests are in direct conflict. As a result, plenty of Aussies who would normally be uninterested in a campaign against alleged problems in Indonesian abattoirs are energized to support a live export ban because they’re worried about the loss of jobs.
But while plenty of otherwise intelligent citizens Down Under will likely vote to ban live exports, thinking that a ban is the end point of the protests, activists understand that success in stopping live animal shipments is but another milepost on a journey whose destination—in their minds—is the conversion of humanity to a vegetarian lifestyle.
Maybe that won’t ever happen, but if activists keep winning “little” victories along the way, those engaged in animal agriculture might one day find themselves marginalized right out of existence.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.