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When a farm kid goes to an animal rights conference…

I grew up on a cattle farm in rural Missouri. I am a classic, stereotypical farm kid that was involved in the local 4-H and FFA. I raised cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits and ducks. I know how to drive a tractor and drove a truck in a field before I drove a car on the highway.I'm a farm kid, and I went to animal rights conferneces.

Bullying farmers and ranchers 

I became aware of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) from their pessimistic TV commercials trying to gain more donations by appealing to viewers’ emotions. I knew these animal rights organizations always said they were trying to help dogs and cats, but when they said they needed to “rescue” farm animals, that’s when I started to do research.

In August of 2014, Missouri residents voted on a “Right to Farm Bill”- ensuring Missouri farmers and ranchers are guaranteed the right to farm for forever in the state. I advocated heavily in favor of this bill, yet I met several people who were skeptical, and the majority of those people were misinformed on the bill by anti-agriculture groups. Therefore, I attained a dislike for these groups that felt the need to bully and pressure their way into getting what they think is best for animals – which often does not align with science.

blog picBlending in with the activists

After that, I never thought that I would attend multiple events sponsored by the organizations that are trying to annihilate the industry that possesses my livelihood.

That quickly changed when I moved halfway across the country for my summer internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The Alliance sends representatives to national animal rights conferences each year so that it can inform the industry about what strategies and tactics activist groups may be using next. Not knowing what was going to be said or done, I sat quietly and noted what the organizations had to say about the animal agriculture community.

I did not know exactly what to expect when I walked into the first conference, the HSUS’ Taking Action for Animals Conference. My first thought was that I was not going to blend-in with the activist crowd. During the opening session, Paul Shapiro, HSUS’ vice president of farm animal protection, said something opposing the animal agriculture industry that made the whole audience stand up, clap and cheer. Since I was trying to blend in, I had to stand and clap as well. I was weak in the knees to stand and applaud somebody that doesn’t understand the importance of animal agriculture and the hard work and dedication that farmers like my family possess.

The second conference I attended was the 2016 National Animal Rights Conference hosted by FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) in Los Angeles, California.

The banquet entree at the 2016 Animal Rights Conference was "chicken" in a mushroom sauce.

The banquet entree at the 2016 Animal Rights Conference was “chicken” in a mushroom sauce.

While at this conference I tried vegan food, which added to the eye-opening experience of being exposed to the animal rights movement. This conference was much larger than the one hosted by HSUS and included more radical sessions that made me cringe by just reading the titles like, “The Spirituality of Veganism,” and “Getting to Know Our Adversaries.”

While sitting through hours and hours of similarly themed sessions I did learn a few things. I learned that most of the animal activists will believe the lies of “factory farming” without ever hearing the truth from farmers themselves. Several of the activists think that animal agriculture is an abomination to mankind that needs to be destroyed and the animals need to be “liberated.” I also learned of the different tactics that are being used by groups to essentially spy on farms, fairs, and other similar events. From drones, telephoto camera lenses, body cameras and the use of the Freedom of Information Act, activists are willing to stop at nothing to “free” the animals. To see what these people are willing to do to “liberate” animals is intimidating, because their tactics are ruthless and unethical.

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SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) uses drones like this one nicknamed “angel.”

Controlling my emotions 

A skill I learned while attending these conferences was to control my thoughts and expressions while listening to the lies spewed by speakers. During the HSUS conference, Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals, specifically said that “4-H is a child’s first betrayal of animals.” I retired as a 12-year 4-H member and Missouri State 4-H President in early June. It took courage for me to clap at the comment rather than speaking out to defend the organization. I learned that the activists are willing to say anything to make people believe their lies about farming.

Leading with lies and misinformation

As I unwillingly applauded several animal rights leaders, listened to speakers preach about plant-based diets, tried vegan food and talked with people about “how horrible farmers are,” I realized the key difference between myself and the activists. While claiming to care about farm animals, activist groups rely on lies and misinformation to spread their goal of ending animal agriculture while I rely on truths, farmers’ experiences and science to promote the industry I love.

If you have questions or concerns about how farm animals are cared for please ask a farmer who cares for their animals every day, not animal rights groups with a radical, unrealistic, and downright absurd agenda.

The Alliance has published one report on the HSUS conference and is currently working on a report from the 2016 National Animal Rights Conference. These reports are exclusively available to Alliance members.


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Reflections from the Animal Rights National Conference: what can we learn

Attending Animal Rights Conferences blog picture

The Animal Agriculture Alliance frequently attends conferences hosted by animal rights groups. The purpose of attending – to get inside information straight from the source and generate reports for its members. I attended Taking Action for Animals, hosted by the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Rights National Conference, hosted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement. The experience was eye-opening. I went in open-minded and intrigued by the conference themes. The themes targeted the rights and welfare of all animals. After a few phrases were repeated, the strategic position these organizations held was clear: these conferences are an attempt to undermine the animal agriculture community.

While attending each of the conferences, I did not see eye-to-eye with much of the information shared. Oftentimes the information was outdated, out of context and invalid. There was one speaker howbeit, that I did side with in one regard, Steve Hindi. Hindi is president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness). During his presentation Hindi said, “We’re winning? That’s absurd.” A statement which I applaud. The animal rights movement is far from a winning force. Hindi verified this truth in front of all attendees at the Animal Rights National Conference.

Why They Are Not Winning farmer-657332__180

Taking Action for Animals and the Animal Rights National Conference are the two primary conferences hosted for animal rights activists. As a result of their significance, messages conveyed were synonymous and presentations paralleled. Despite undeniable resemblance, the animal rights movement as a whole lacks synergy. There is no combination of strengths among organizations. Instead, speakers denounced other animal rights activist groups discrediting their effectiveness as an organization. Besides the lack of unity, the animal rights movement also fails to convey current and original information. Repetitive speeches at workshops with replica information and analogies was a common occurrence.

The animal agriculture community has become the primary focus of activist groups. By targeting animal agriculture, these groups claim they can “spare” the most animals. To do this they attempt to discredit scientifically-backed practices and protocols. With these tactics, activist groups draw profound attention to the animal agriculture community; but these organizations have forgotten a key business strategy –  never underestimate your opponent, but never make them bigger than you either. In attempt to discredit farmers and ranchers, these conferences do just the opposite. The conferences sing the praise of how far we as a collective, undivided industry have come and shine a light on what we are – science based.

My Take-Away 

AAA_group_con-eng-pro_4CAs a result of these conferences, the animal agriculture community must face the “marketing campaign” of the animal rights groups. Immediately, the question “how?” is raised. My answer – we don’t. Instead, we should aim to expand public knowledge about how farm animals are cared for and broaden the understanding of animal agriculture practices. At these conferences Wayne Pacelle and Nick Cooney said, “People are smart.” They are correct, the public simply has minimal exposure to agriculture. Animal welfare is a driving force that influences both the farmers and consumers. The well-being of animals’ health are valued by each, and because of this, practices reflect both values. By seeking what is understood by the public, and further developing their knowledge, there is no fight. The importance of animal care will be unquestionable. So I thank the conference speakers for drawing attention to animal agriculture – now it’s our opportunity to shine a light on the indisputable, humane methods of America’s farmers and ranchers.

The Alliance recently released its report from the 2016 Taking Action for Animals conference, available to Alliance members only.


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How will you answer when someone asks – Why do youth show livestock? What is the point?

Shane Potter,  State 4-H Youth Development Specialist at the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, shares his insights on how to engage about livestock showing at the fair.

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I was recently asked “Why do youth still raise livestock and show at the fair?” I love questions like this. They open the door to not only inform and educate but to also share the impact involvement in 4-H and livestock can have on the lives of youth. Here are the main steps I walk people through and teach my 4-Hers.

Start with a Personal Story – Leverage your Experience

I could tell you all kinds of amazing benefits gained, in general, when youth are involved in livestock projects. They gain grit and resiliency through the completion of difficult goals, creative problem solving and management skills through the process of caring for and showing animals, and are better prepared for college and careers because of the experiences and connections made in their 4-H clubs. This is all true and sounds great, but without the personal story it just doesn’t stick.

Instead I might tell you about myself, a young boy, who took part in the catch-a-lamb project. Not having sheep of his own, a local farmer provided the boy with an opportunity to raise, train, and then show a lamb at the county fair. (At this point you would see the twinkle in my eye as I think back to the pride I had in my catch-a-lamb project). The fact that someone else believed I could be successful and take care of and train a lamb was exactly what I needed to build confidence in my abilities.

As the story unfolds a picture should start to form in your mind. The triumphs and challenges the boy had in the project seem more tangible. You can understand how he gained problem solving skills when his lamb ate wood chips and bloated and he had to figure out what to do. The story attaches your main points to tangible anchors people can more easily remember.

Know Your Facts – Science is our Friend, Use It1280_0E6YI9l8MRFt

Not only are youth livestock producers and exhibitors gaining important Life and Soft skills, they are also mastering vast amounts of animal science knowledge. Through 4-H livestock projects youth become experts on animal care including things like nutritional needs of their livestock, facility needs and maintenance, and health care.

A personal story is excellent, but don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. If someone asks you about docking a tail be ready to explain the how it helps reduce parasite infestation. I usually tell 4-Hers – This is your chance to shine and show a bit of what you have learned. It is also OK to not know everything. That is one of the great things about showing livestock, it is supposed to be a learning experience.

Model the Behavior You Describe in Your Story – Be Confident and Kind

Above all – regardless if you agree with the person you are talking to or how they are acting, be gracious and kind. Anyone who has ever worked with livestock knows they have a mind of their own and may not do what you want them to do. This is excellent training for keeping your cool when talking with someone who you may not agree with.

As a final thought, I again go back to my story about the boy and his lamb project. I remember how the project was just the spark needed to develop a passion and drive to improve and work hard to accomplish his goals. This is true for thousands of youth each year who raise and show livestock.


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Don’t let misinformation become someone’s truth

We are all consumers. We all have our preferences regarding the types of foods we like to purchase and eat, but our purchasing decisions should be based on facts, not fear and misinformation.

IMG_17411I recently attended the annual Glenview Dairy Breakfast and Stockshow at the Historic Wagoner Farm, a family-oriented event filled with games, a tasty breakfast and barnyard animals. My job was to answer any questions people had about animal agriculture and animal care. Almost every person I spoke with didn’t necessarily have a question, but rather a statement they wanted me to verify. Unfortunately, all of their statements were laced with misinformation.

Here are a few of the myths and misinformation I heard:

“I don’t buy products in the store that come from factory farms.”

When people say “factory farm” they are usually referring to large farms, but size does not automatically make a farm good or bad. What matters is how the farm is managed.

It takes farms of all sizes and types to make up the agriculture community and provide consumers with healthy food choices. Large farms can be conventional, organic or local and the same is true for small farms. Large farms often have the resources to hire animal care specialists, veterinarians and animal nutritionists to be on staff to help care for the animals using advanced technology that not only benefits the animals, but the farmer as well.

Farmers may prefer to raise their animals or grow their crops in different ways, but one thing all farmers share is the commitment to animal care and food safety. One way the animal agriculture community ensures their herds and flocks are healthy and receive the best care is through quality assurance programs and constant research and dedication towards continuous improvement.

Advances-in-Animal-Ag

Advances in Animal Ag Infographic

Perfectionism does not exist in agriculture because farmers are always looking for ways to improve and evolve as new research and technology becomes available. The Alliance recently released a report and infographic highlighting the advances in animal care, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and sustainability achieved by animal agriculture.

“What are you doing to prevent farmers from abusing their animals?”

To assume that farmers mistreat their animals is quite disheartening because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Farmers and ranchers care about the well-being of their animals and work hard to ensure they are providing the best possible care every day. Groups that want you to think otherwise often use scare tactics, misinformation and highly-edited videos to convince you not to support American farmers and ranchers. When a farmer takes care of his/her animals, the animals are healthy and comfortable which yields a safe, wholesome food supply for consumers. Farmers are striving to feed us, while activist groups are striving to take protein-packed meals off our plates.

grassfinished-or-grainfinished-beef-1-638“What’s the deal with grass-fed and grain-fed?”

A common misconception is that grain-finished cattle never eat a blade of green grass, but all cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture. Some cattle are grass-finished and others are grain-finished. Grain-finished means they are fed a nutritionally-balanced diet of grains, vitamins and minerals for the last 3-6 months of their lives.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians, animal nutritionists and animal care experts to ensure their animals receive the right amount of nutrients at the right time. Whether the animal is grass-finished or grain-finished does not correlate with the quality of care they receive. Ninety percent of United States cattle are raised under the guidelines established by the Beef Quality Assurance program – a science-based program that helps farmers and ranchers raise their cattle using proven techniques and recommendations from animal care specialists.

Myth-busting marathon

What I honestly hoped would be a day filled with sharing coloring books with children and Alliance resources with parents quickly turned into a myth-busting marathon, but I would run the marathon again in a heartbeat. The people I spoke with were only repeating what they had heard from advertisements, activist groups and misinformed friends. Once I started a conversation with parents addressing their concerns and sharing the truth about how farmers care for their animals, they planted their feet in the ground and we had long discussions that left them smiling and thankful to hear the other side of the story.

We need to share our agriculture story so they hear the truth. Go to events, be active on social media, talk to people in your community and don’t let misinformation become what they think is the truth!IMG_17621

About the author: 

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day.