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The Misconceptions of Animal Rights Activists: Part II

Last week, I gave an overview of some of the more general misconceptions presented at the FARM Animal Rights National Conference that I attended during my internship here at the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

As I am studying to become a veterinarian, I want to break down some of the over-simplified misconceptions presented at the conference. I hope you’ll see that science and animal husbandry are too complex to describe in the rudimentary—and baseless way—which the animal rights community often does. Read on to learn more…

Misconception: The calf is heartlessly ripped from its mother.

Reality: On dairy farms it is often the wiser choice to separate the calf from mom because: 1) The dam (mother cow) could be Johne’s positive, and 2) You have no idea what the dam’s colostrum quality is.  So, let’s get scientific.  Johne’s disease is a contagious, degenerative bacterial disease that does not present symptoms until later in life.  It is contracted from Johne’s-positive manure, mostly as a calf when the immune system is most susceptible.  There is no cure, leading to early culling of cows, so to separate the calf early is protecting the herd later.  Second, colostrum is the first milk that calves receive that is dense with immunoglobulins (immune-supporting proteins) to build their immune system.  There is a threshold for the concentration of immunoglobulins in colostrum where the concentration can be so low it leaves the calf susceptible to illness.  The only way to test the quality of colostrum is by collecting it from the dam – a first and second collection – discarding anything less than excellent.

Which leads to another misconception…

Misconception: Calves are denied their first milk.

Reality: Of course not!  What the animal activists fail to acknowledge is an essential practice in the dairy industry: collecting and feeding colostrum.  Colostrum quality is measured several ways, one being with a hydrometer to see the density of the colostrum: the denser, the more the hydrometer will float in the milk and therefore the more immunoglobulins present.  The best quality colostrum is frozen to be fed to a future calf while the calf of that current dam is fed thawed, high quality colostrum from a previous cow.  Formula colostrum is also available for purchase, but that is less recommended.  Basically, before jumping to conclusions, ask a farmer (or do the research).

Misconception:  Sick calves are left to suffer without veterinary care.

Reality: At the conference, Taylor Radig, a previous undercover investigator with Compassion Over Killing, was applauded for her story of “jumping the fence” into a sick calf’s hutch because no one was giving it love.  Well, Taylor, your ignorance may have cost several calves their lives if you then proceeded to track scours-manure into other hutches.  This is a matter of Biosecurity, something we have addressed before as a serious danger associated with these undercover investigations.  Scours is an illness in young calves characterized by diarrhea, dehydration, and fever.  In most cases, farmers are able to get the calf through this with proper identification protocol and replacing milk feedings with electrolytes.  For farmers, it is critical that they have the knowledge to identify and treat an animal, acting promptly.  Having the ability to do this means minimizing that animals’ suffering while waiting for a veterinarian.

Misconception: Cats make great vegans.

Reality: Excuse me?  The term is “obligate carnivore”, and that applies to all cats – felids – both domestic and exotic.  I was made aware of this misconception not only by the pictures of emaciated cats on the news (ahem) but in the conference session “When is Killing the Lesser Evil?”  The dilemma presented was how owners can feed their animals meat if they themselves don’t agree with it morally.  This, my friends, is irrelevant: if you are a responsible pet owner and want your companion to prosper, work with your veterinarian to understand their nutritional requirements.  As obligate carnivores, the cat’s metabolic needs are met by the nutrients found in animal-protein, such as the amino acid taurine. And this doesn’t even consider cats’ biochemical physiology, having virtually no means of digesting complex carbohydrates: aka plant starch.

Misconception: Veterinarians today are only motivated by money.

Reality:  This is news to me because I don’t know many wealthy veterinarians, and yet it was referred to on several occasions.  One instance was when LA Councilman Paul Koretz spoke about working to end declawing of domestic and exotic cats in Los Angeles, his efforts being compromised by veterinarians in opposition; he credited this to the fact that “this is where they make a lot of money.” Again, clearly people need to reevaluate their ideas of a veterinarian’s salary.  Not only that, it is an issue of medical necessity, not money.  Then, Gene Baur mocked veterinarians when explaining that they only agreed to examine rescued farm animals after being offered some “green stuff” – the audience snickered, the idea being that if you truly loved animals you would help them for free.  This is not a new obstacle for veterinarians, who have to be realistic with clients regarding finances, but to have the animal rights activists claiming these medical services should be pro bono is only fueling the misunderstanding.  The veterinary community is made up of kind-hearted individuals knee-deep in debt, and whether they are vegan or like chicken is irrelevant.

Veterinarian

Ultimately, these misconceptions and more are the foundation to the animal rights movement, as exemplified at the FARM Animal Rights National Conference.  What I ask is that if you are someone with an undefined opinion of where you stand on the issue, educate yourself.  Do not just listen to the first person ready to rant on the subject of animal agriculture.  The people in attendance believed that they somehow loved animals more than the people who worked with said animals every day, and that is hard to imagine.  Animal welfare and animal rights are essentially different, the first complementing a utilitarian view that the interests of all living beings should be considered, with the latter providing inalienable rights to animals.  Just because I eat meat and love working on a dairy farm does not mean I am going to aim for the next turtle I see in the road, or kick a cat just for the fun of it.  On the contrary, I will continue to work to educate others and be the best “agvocate” I can be.

An official report on the conference will be published by the Animal Agriculture Alliance soon!  As a member, you will have access to this and more; for now, though, read our monthly Newsletter to keep up with the Alliance and all things #ag!  As for me, this blog serves as my farewell, saying a sad to goodbye to DC as I pack up for one more year at the University of Vermont!  Thank you all, and as always, have a #dairygood day!

 


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If Animal Rights Organizations had Glass Walls: Part 1

Whether it is the grocery store isle or a sorority function you can ‘bet the farm’ that I will be ready to explain, discuss and sadly, in some cases, defend animal agriculture. I have a true passion for the animal industry. I can’t help it, animal agriculture has surrounded my entire life, I mean I was the girl who brought the water buffalo calf to show-and- tell in the third grade.

Tracing back to the early 1700s my ancestors came to the piedmont of North Carolina to farm the same land where two siblings live today. Both raised on dairy farms, my parents milked cows themselves early in their marriage. My father has raised, owned and supplied exotic and domestic animals to parks and zoo across the nation for the past 40 years and today, my parents own two drive-thru animal parks. My siblings and their spouses range from farrier to veterinarian to a past animal waste management engineer.

I can recall so many examples of people who visited our ranch and did not know the simple basics about animals; meaning they had not the slightest clue where their food comes from. Most of these people lacked the knowledge that milk only comes from female cows and some cannot decipher between a cow and a llama. These interactions truly ignited my understanding of the need for agricultural education and advocacy.

Those who have no experience, education nor understanding of animals constantly ridicule my family’s business and the industry I proudly advocate for. Our two-agritourism businesses have been the target of multiple PETA ‘campaigns’ and a few years ago PETA alleged my father was guilty of animal cruelty. Long story short, PETA’s own witness testimony did more to ensure we won the case than support its poorly based argument.

Fast forward through a state FFA officer year, years of showing livestock and three years of college experience and I find myself applying for an internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance and somewhere else I never thought I would be:

Attending the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Taking Action for Animals Conference (TAFA) in Washington, D.C. and the Farm Animal Rights Movement’s (FARM) National Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. I registered as myself—a student from North Carolina, not using an alias or forged identity.

Though I had two extremely different experiences, I came to the same solid conclusion. All this time, I have given these ‘activist’ groups too much credit.

Both conferences clearly wanted to embed into their attendees that the animal rights movement was ‘winning’. Almost every speaker began with “we are winning” yet, lacked solid supportive evidence to back up this claim.

Speakers at both conferences depicted farmers as big, beefed up, money hungry, evil destroyers of planet Earth who walked around punting kittens and biting the heads off bumble bees. I mean everyone in our industry can agree on that, , right? Wrong.

Undercover investigators were defined as the “special forces” of the ‘movement’ because they had to do ““heartbreaking, stomach wrenching work” that included “backbreaking labor” and many times had to get up at 4 am in morning. Oh, those, poor undercover investigators. Never mind that farmers who raise livestock and/or crops get up early every morning, go to bed late every night and constantly do “backbreaking labor” to provide the world with food.

These undercover investigators are “truly necessary” because they prove that ALL animal agriculture is full of abuse.

HSUS supported tactic to manage the Whitetail deer population

HSUS supported tactic to manage the Whitetail deer population

Here in Washington D.C. I attended HSUS’ TAFA. Going into the conference I expected the top notch political ‘animal advocates’. This is the nation’s capitol, after all. What I was expecting and what I experienced were quite different. The TAFA attendees seemed to consist mainly of middle age to older individuals with very few millennials. The older generation attendees labeled their ‘service’ to HSUS as their “retirement job.” Others seemed to openly question the tactics and workings of HSUS. During session Q and A time some attendees demanded that HSUS “needed more boots on the ground” and more finical support on the local level to carry out the wishes of the organization.  Shockingly, some attendees actually told the truth including a college junior who stated she “noticed they [agriculturists] are not all evil and they want the best for animals”.

All questions and comments made were responded to in a cult-like fashion beginning with “that was a great question” or “thanks for asking that question” but the responses lacked substance.  I heard over and over again: “we are working on that,”“trust me” or “we don’t have enough money.” Apparently almost 113 million dollars isn’t enough money for HSUS.

Speakers at the TAFA included representatives from Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary and Compassion Over Killing. The conference even included a whole hour session on praising HSUS CEO, Wayne Pacelle, where when asked “where he saw the animal rights movement in 50 years?” he responded with:“We will run through dog fighting, grey hound abuse and wild life issues.” This was contrary to other HSUS speakers who noted that farm animals were HSUS’ #1 concern.

Unique to this conference in comparison to the National Animal Rights Conference was the focus on Meatless Mondays, which originated as a way to conserve animal protein for the troops during World War I, and was not a vegan marketing scheme as advertised at the conference. At every opportunity, speakers boasted how Meatless Mondays were key to convincing future vegans by convincing schools, hospitals and governments to adopt the campaign. According to many speakers at TAFA, Meatless Mondays are easy for beginners and help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes and to save 1.4 billion animals from ‘factory farms’. If you want to read the truth on the MM campaign, check out the Alliance’s Why Meat Guide.

Want to know “how many animal activists it takes to change a light bulb?” Check back next week as I discuss my time at the 2014 National Animal Right Conference in Los Angeles.


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The Misconceptions of Animal Rights Activists: Part 1

As a rising senior at the University of Vermont studying Animal Science, I have made it my priority to study the health and husbandry required by all animal species.  My desire to become a veterinarian has been fueled by my exposure to amazing professionals that are the hero to every single one of their patients.  No dog, cat, or cow is worth anything less than everything, which is what allows me to believe that people in the animal industry are some of the most empathetic human beings.  With experiences ranging from caring for the UVM dairy herd, interning at a rural animal sanctuary, and working in several veterinary clinics, it has been my goal to acquire a well-rounded knowledge of animal welfare.

It is for this reason that I take it personally when people accuse those who love animals the most of hurting them.  The farmers I have had the privilege to work with are the pillars of their communities, as are my friends who have dedicated their lives to a ground-up animal sanctuary in the backwoods of Maine.  Why then, do some people see it fit to take their efforts out of context and paint a picture that those involved in agriculture don’t care?  In the animal agriculture industry, animal welfare is a cornerstone to an efficient and long-standing business, giving no credibility to a statement made during the 2014 Animal Rights National Conference by Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary that farmers believe animals are “worth nothing, all they are is meat.”  You know what? For the animals raised for meat, how is it in the producer’s best interest to have a stressed/battle-scarred animal with intentions of turning it into a hearty, safe food product?  Ask any farmer, rancher, and other animal caretaker whom they credit most for their success and happiness: they’ll say the animals.

Lilly

My goal with this blog is to address several misconceptions presented as fact at the FARM Animal Rights conference, hoping to provide a counter source for those still determining if that movement is one they believe in. From the dairy industry to veterinary medicine, these misconceptions are detrimental.

Speaking specifically to the Speciesism and Cowspiracy movie presentations featured at the conference, it was incredibly educational to be an animal “aggie” amongst animal rights activists.  In both films, whenever an animal agriculture representative filled the screen, moans and remarks were inevitable, laughing if that individual were to reply to a question with “no comment”.  Meanwhile, one of the scientists interviewed for Speciesism at one point admitted that he had “never seen a bull calf castrated”, but if it’s anything like piglets, it must be bad.  Because that obvious display of ignorance was perfectly acceptable, it showcased the ever-present source bias throughout the conference.  With much of our work at the Alliance being the monitoring of undercover investigations, these films also exemplified footage being taken out of context to promote an agenda.  While speaking to the “abuses” of dairy, the screen showed cows filing out of a milking parlor with red, shiny teats; the audience gasped in sorrow, seeing it as blood.  Fighting the urge to shout “IT’S IODINE!”, I could finally understand the methodology used by producers to take an image and skew it.  Obviously many people in attendance were not “new” to the movement, but had they been, their impression of animal agriculture would have undoubtedly been negative; I couldn’t have even blamed them.

Next week, I’ll be getting technical and breaking down the more complex misconceptions presented at the conference. Until then—be sure to check out our #TBT! Have a #dairygood day!

 


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20 Years an Ag-vocate: Then and Now

Imagine a time with no Internet (or online shopping), no smart phones, no laptops or iPads. Correspondence outside of the office took three-days to be received and at best another three days for a reply to be received back, unless by phone (land line of course) or fax (if you even know what that is – believe me, many today don’t!) Relationships were built through personal connections, face-to-face – not virtually via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. International conversations required flying long distances on planes or through very, very expensive telephone calls. And researching anything meant pulling out the Encyclopedia Brittancia or scouring newspapers – possibly requiring library visits to only find archived stories on microfiche (again, anyone know what that is?)!

To my teen and probably many on my staff, I’m sure I seem ancient – and after writing the above – I sound ancient to even myself! “We’ve come a long way, baby!” (anyone remember that phrase?) Some good, some that has made the Alliance’s work even more challenging. A lot has changed in my 20 years at the Animal Agriculture Alliance (originally named Animal Industry Foundation), yet we still focus on the same issues we did back in the 1994 when I started and in the mid-80s when the Alliance was founded. What’s changed most are the tactics, the technologies and the funding of the groups that oppose animal agriculture. In the eighties, the animal rights organizations turned their attention to farm animal agriculture, as they indicated, for the sheer number of animals raised for food and fiber and because many were being raised in doors – for their own protection, mind you, from predators, the elements, disease, and oh yes, to ultimately allow farmers to produce safer food. These extremists believe eating meat or using animals for any purpose is immoral. They believe all animals were equal. Remember the famous quote from PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk: “…a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”?

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In the ‘90s, some of the most common tactics to get attention was to sling buckets of paint, symbolizing blood, on mink coats or to dump truck loads of manure in front of hotels and convention centers where farm animal trade associations held their annual conferences. Today, they often sling lies and innuendo about farmers or threats to CEOs of publicly traded companies with brand names using social media to post “undercover” videos obtained by activists who have gained employment illicitly on farms or in processing facilities.
The top executive of one extremist group has boldly stated on national television that “the lifeblood of [our organization] is our undercover investigations of animal agriculture.” Another group’s executive is described in a Boston Globe article as accomplishing “his wins by playing to both the fears and desires of corporate executives.”

While these extremist groups certainly are threats to agriculture, I think what disturbs me most about today’s trends are more and more food chain partners marketing against U.S. farmers and ranchers and the modern advances of farms today to improve animal well-being as well as food safety. Many are even disparaging processes and technologies used by their own farmer suppliers.

Just this week, my husband brought me a laminated card handed out by the Cosi restaurant next to his office which reads: “New Chicken! Antibiotic and hormone free, vegetarian-fed; Raised in a humane, cage-free environment; Costs a little more, but…taste, quality and source is superior.” Really??!! This is NEW CHICKEN? News flash! ALL meat chicken is antibiotic free, and comes from chickens raised without added hormones or in cage housing. But sadly, they bank on the fact that its highly millennial clientele doesn’t know that. It makes me very frustrated and sad as well.

Why sad? I’ve met so many great people over the past 20 years who strive every day to do the right thing by their animals, their employees, their customers, their families and the public. These people are really the driving passion behind what I do and why I love what I have done for my 20 years here, and in my previous role at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

The conversations I’ve had with many farmers who ask questions like, “Why are they (meaning activists) doing this to me and my family”? Why do they portray us as evil? Why can’t they be happy their lifestyle choice and leave others alone? How can they get away with attacking farm families with their rhetoric, lies and false representation of our businesses? Don’t they understand the harm they present to the animals when they’re traipsing from farm to farm, potentially spreading disease?” The questions go on and on, and the individuals asking are truly hurt by the false accusations presented.

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do know the activists are not going away. Unfortunately it took too long for stakeholders to believe these groups were truly a threat and their campaigns would impact their businesses. The “sucks to be you” and “I just hope they won’t bother me” mentality lingered way too long, and now we’re behind the curve.

But the good news is, 97% of the American public enjoys meat, milk and eggs on a daily basis. Developing countries around the world are incorporating animal protein into their diets and world food needs to grow by nearly 50% in the next 20 years and 70% in the next 40.

So it’s important we all proactively seek opportunities to share the amazing story of animal agriculture and let the public know more about the incredible people who produce our food in America and beyond. We have to actively engage in conversations whenever and wherever possible to ensure our collective voice is represented in the same spaces as the activists.

Fortunately more than 20 years ago, forward thinking ag leaders understood “united we stand, divided we fall”, thus the Alliance was formed. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to work for such a noble mission and with such absolutely amazing people across the world. I look forward to continuing the Alliance’s work on behalf of America’s farmers, ranchers and producers of food and so many other crucial products, and invite you to join in our effort!