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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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Cage-free eggs: a PR battle or concern for animal welfare?

To a lot of consumers, cage-free eggs probably seem like they are the best thing ever. Almost every week another restaurant or retailer is pledging to transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply, but these complex decisions have more implications for food costs, supply chain logistics and even animal welfare than many realize.

A one-sided story in the media

It’s not hard to understand where many people get the idea that cage-free egg production is ideal. The news coverage of the cage-free movement is picturesque. Animal rights organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals, are often quoted as claiming they “worked with” the company and want to express their appreciation for a “step in the right direction” for animal well-being.

What is often left out of the story is how those groups try to influence companies in their decisions to go cage-free.

Activist pressure, praise and repeat

Animal rights groups are notorious for “pressure campaigns.” They target a consumer-facing brand, restaurant or retailer with an often misleading campaign which aims to put the company in a spotlight as being supportive of animal mistreatment. With sales and a reputation on the line, the company needs the negative attention to cease.

The Humane League, another animal rights organization, placed an online ad for a “Kroger Campaign Organizer” to launch a pressure campaign against the grocery by motivating “local consumers to boycott their Kroger and Kroger subsidiary locations.”

Mercy for Animals recently launched a pressure campaign against Safeway. One of their tactics included a snapchat asking their followers to “politely ask why Safeway continues to torture egg-laying hens in tiny cages when Trader Joe’s, Target, CVS and Costco have committed to going 100 percent cage-free.” The message included the Safeway CEO’s name and a phone number. Less than a week later the Albertson’s Companies (one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States which includes Safeway) announced they would be going 100 percent cage-free by 2025.

To think that activist pressure will cease once a pledge is made is just not the case. Animal rights groups pressure a restaurant or retailer to change their sourcing policies, then praise them once a new policy is announced only to repeat and pressure the food company again. They either argue that the food company isn’t moving fast enough and demand a quicker timeline or argue that cage-free isn’t enough and hens need to be raised on pasture.

cage free eggsShouldn’t science have a say?

Many of the recent policy announcements are based on animal rights activist demands and what some consumers think is best.  Letting hens out of cages sounds like a rational decision for animal welfare, but many fail to address what science says is best.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply is a multi-stakeholder group made up of leading animal welfare scientists, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, and restaurant and food retail companies. The Coalition conducted a three-year study to evaluate various laying hen housing systems by considering the impact of multiple variables on a sustainable system. The three types of housing evaluated were: conventional cages, cage-free aviary and enriched colony cages. The research assessed five areas of sustainability: animal health and well-being, food safety and quality, environmental impact, worker health and safety, and food affordability.

The final results revealed that in regards to animal health and well-being, cage-free has substantially worse cannibalism/aggression and keel (extension of the breastbone) damage compared to both conventional and enriched colony systems. Both cage-free and enriched colony have better tibia/humerus strength and feather and foot conditions compared to hens raised in conventional cages and the enriched colony proved to have the lowest mortality rate compared to both the conventional and cage-free systems.

In terms of worker health and safety, the cage-free had substantially worse particulate matter exposure and endotoxin exposure compared to the conventional cages and enriched colony. For the environmental aspect, the enriched colony has substantially better ammonia emissions, while the cage-free has substantially worse indoor air quality and particulate matter emissions with slightly worse natural resource use efficiency.

Bird health, worker safety and product sustainability are complex topics, and reducing them down to just cage size is an extreme oversimplification. Instead of following the commitment to continuous improvement based on science and selecting the solution that works best for their individual operation, most egg farmers are being forced to switch to cage-free systems with risk of being dropped by their buyer if they don’t comply. This would understandably frustrate any farmer.

Take action and stand with science 

Farmers and ranchers are not only committed to continuous improvement, but they also hold the experience of caring for their animals every single day. They work tirelessly to provide a safe, affordable and nutritious food supply for people who take it for granted.

Some animal rights groups may act like they have the best intentions in mind, but in reality they are only moving our society towards a more vegetarian and vegan way of life. They want prices to increase and eventually take milk, meat and eggs off your plate for good.

Whether you are a restaurant, retailer or consumer, I challenge you to stand with science, not animal rights extremists.

 


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Should we use animals to save human lives?

I missed my father’s birthday last week. No gift, no card, no call; I forgot. I remembered the next day and gave him a call. I figured I could wish him a happy birthday in a public way to help make up for it. He’s not on Facebook so here it is: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD! I’m especially grateful he was able to spend his birthday enjoying the northern New York sunshine and perfect temperatures – because last year he spent it recovering from heart surgery.

Sadly, animal rights activists would rather he wasn’t able to celebrate any more birthdays than have a lifesaving procedure to transplant a healthy valve made from bovine tissue in his heart to replace the one that was failing him. Although animal rights activists may engage in what looks like animal welfare advocacy from time to time, their true goal is total animal liberation. If they ever succeed, this would mean no more pets, zoos, animals used for food and clothing, and animals used for research that could lead to life-saving medicines and procedures for humans.

My dad is healthy today and living a normal life because of advances in science, technology, medicine and the use of animals in medicine.allyson and dad

Should we use animals to save human lives? I’m not talking about the big picture, philosophical debate. I’m talking about standing next to a loved one’s bedside in the hospital room and wondering if you’ll see them tomorrow, if they’ll get to celebrate another birthday, if he’ll be there to walk me down the aisle. In those moments, the only answer is yes. Yes, we should use animals. I have a hard time imagining that anyone who has experienced this feeling would advocate against using animals to save human lives.

There were options to not use animal tissue to mend him; however, doctors discussed the complications and risks associated with those options. Using bovine tissue was the best option for my dad. It’s possible the medical community would not have been able to develop these other options without studying and researching using animals. Animals have been helping improve research and medicine for ages. Research on dogs and cattle in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to understanding insulin and treating diabetes, which was a deadly disease at the time.

Currently, there is a shortage of human organs donated to those who need transplants. According to the U.S. Government Information on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, an average of 22 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. That is not acceptable. Scientists are working every day to discover solutions to this problem. If you or a loved one are depending on this research, the only option is for scientists to use all available resources to find solutions, including using animals.

It’s important for me to note that I also believe animals should receive best care possible throughout their life. I care that animals are raised in comfortable conditions, are free from pain and suffering, are provided quality nutrition and are treated for illness. Every farmer, rancher and researcher that I’ve met has shared these feelings on animal care. I know those I’ve worked with are doing their best every day to give their animals the best.

I’m thankful for modern medicine, just as I’m thankful for modern agriculture. We are better off today because we have both.


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PETA may be crazy, but other groups aren’t that different

If you had cream in your coffee this morning or had meat for dinner last night, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants you to seek help for your “addiction.”

PETA supports a new group called Meat and Dairy Eaters Anonymous by providing sites for their meetings. The support group follows a 12-step program like any other addiction support group, except they are providing guidance on how to be vegan. They are comparing eating meat to being a drug or alcohol addict essentially, which is insulting to people who actually struggle with addictions that negatively affect their physical and mental health.

I think we all can agree that PETA is on the extreme end of the spectrum with their insane publicity stunts, but maybe you’re thinking this is just PETA and other animal rights groups really do care about animal welfare without wanting to stop everyone from eating meat.

activst web

Activist Web

Animal rights groups have the same mission

PETA and other animal rights extremist groups like The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing  have the same end goal: total veganism. This means no more cream in your coffee, milk in your cereal, cheese in your macaroni or grilled meat on the Fourth of July (or any other day for that matter). Sure there are meat and dairy substitutes, but do you really want to eat tofu, veggie burgers, soy milk and fake cheese the rest of your life?

The Alliance has tracked animal rights activity for almost three decades and has identified connections between the groups that illustrate how similar they are despite their differing public appearances. Our activist web shows the transfer of money and/or personnel between the groups and our top profile pieces include key campaigns and quotes to show their true agendas.

John “J.P.” Goodwin, the director of animal cruelty policy at HSUS, is one example of key staff members moving between animal rights groups. Goodwin was a former spokesperson for Animal Liberation Front (ALF) – one of the most extreme animal rights groups that exists.  ALF is known for acts of violence including property damage and threats all in name of “total animal liberation.”

Another example is financial support between HSUS and PETA. Why would you send financial support if you don’t agree with and support the core beliefs of the organization? The answer is simple – it’s because HSUS does share the same core beliefs and values as PETA.

HSUS is PETA in a business suit

HSUS is on Capitol Hill (literally in business suits) lobbying against animal agriculture while PETA advocates are standing on the front steps in fake blood demanding that people go vegan. This isn’t just a coincidence. HSUS and other groups rely on PETA and ALF to be crazy and obnoxious so that they seem level-headed and rational when in fact they each have the same goal of ending animal agriculture and meat consumption.

Animal rights advocates argue that it is impossible to care for animals and also eat meat, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Animal rights organizations are concerned about animal rights (treating animals as equal to humans), not animal welfare (making sure animals are well cared for). They will spread misinformation and use undercover video smear campaigns in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of hardworking and dedicated farmers and ranchers and make consumers uneasy about the food supply.

You can care about animals and still eat meat, milk and eggs11731729_10152937901995636_1288857164315442414_o

Animal welfare is a top priority for the animal agriculture industry. If it weren’t, why would there be so many industry programs and organizations dedicated to ensuring livestock and poultry receive the best animal care?

Animal rights groups will never be happy until meat and dairy products are off the menu for good and all animals are “free,” so the next time you think an animal rights group sounds rational and has the best interest of the animal in mind, ask yourself who is caring for that animal 24/7, 365 days per year – the animal rights organizations and activists or the farmers and ranchers?


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Concerned about how animals are cared for? Discover the Truth Yourself

Kay Johnson Smith, President and CEO at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, joins us this week to share her experience at Discovery Cove which is owned by Sea World. 

When I was a child, the worst thing you could do in my home was lie.  It was my parents’ most important rule, and we knew no matter what we did that would make my parents disappointed or mad, it would be even worse if we lied about it.

Unfortunately, that rule does not appear to apply to many of the activists we in agriculture and other animal-related businesses have to deal with every day.  We find ourselves constantly responding to and defending against the lies and propaganda of those who feel humans and animals have no business working together or even interacting for the greater good of mankind.  The activists throw out accusations, innuendo and flat out lies at times, hoping anything will stick in the minds of the public who has little or no experience with farm animals, wildlife or any animals beyond their pet dog or cat.

Kay holding a starfish at Discovery Cove

Kay holding a starfish at Discovery Cove

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Discovery Cove in Florida which is owned by Sea World.  It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget.  Being submerged in the midst of thousands of tropical fish and manatees was an experience you could only get otherwise by scuba diving – which I’ve never done and most people never do.  I swam with dolphins and even got to kiss one.  I fed an anteater, otter and birds you would only otherwise see (but never interact with) in a zoo and saw other species of animals that you could only otherwise see if you traveled to Brazil.  But how many Americans will ever go to Brazil in their lifetime?

While there, I witnessed the behind-the-scenes work of some of their employees and their genuine passion for caring for these amazing animals was evident.  When introducing people to the animals, there was such respect for them and their environments demonstrated by the employees and required of us as guests.  I learned that Discovery Cove alone has nearly 200 employees in its zoological department!  That doesn’t include employees such as lifeguards, food service, hospitality or administration.  It was also impressive how many years many of the employees I met had worked there – some 10, some 15 and at least one for 30 years!  I took that as a sign that this company takes care of its employees in addition to its animals.

kay and peyton dolphinThis was truly an opportunity to interact with creatures I’d otherwise never get to experience in my lifetime.  And that’s the whole point of parks like Discovery Cove and Sea World – to give the average person an opportunity to discover, experience and learn about wildlife which in turn creates respect and appreciation.  It’s about education and conservation so that we can leave the world a better place for future generations.

This adventure was much like what I’ve experienced with farmers every time I have visited a farm during my nearly 30 year career in agriculture.  The people who raise animals, whether for food or education and conservation, love what they do.  They love their animals and respect their needs, and they expect others who enter those environments to do the same.

kay kissing dolphinSo the next time you see an “undercover” video about farming or a big budget movie like “Blackfish” disparaging companies like Sea World, don’t believe everything they say or show.  From my experience, every one of these videos is edited and narrated in ways specifically to mislead you with their emotional charges, when really the incidents shown are either staged, taken out of context (showing you 30 seconds of a 30 hour video) or they’re edited in ways to completely misrepresent what’s really happening.  One of our interns whose family owns cattle recently wrote a blog demonstrating that very point.

Do bad things happen at times?  I’m sure – we’re talking about nature and living creatures interacting with one another.  But these videos are edited to present a false impression about the people who grow our food or provide educational experiences about wildlife because they do not believe we should benefit in any way from animals.  And the activists producing these videos know that the majority of the American public has never had the firsthand experience to know otherwise.

That’s why it’s important for everyone to discover the truth about farming and other businesses that involve animals for yourself.  Talk to those who own and are responsible for the direct care of the animals in question.  Don’t believe the propaganda of activists with an agenda whose only mission is to take away your opportunities to interact with and benefit from animals in our world.

Lying for a living may be profitable, but it certainly wouldn’t pass the test of my parents – or likely theirs either.

 


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Why undercover videos aren’t the answer

They wear two faces, two hats, one hidden video camera and have one goal: to put all farming operations that produce meat, milk and eggs out of business. Undercover animal rights activists gain employment on farms across the United States and Canada under false pretenses to help animal rights groups produce undercover video campaigns.

Undercover video map

Undercover video map

Undercover videos

In the past two weeks I’ve watched more than 90 undercover videos from start to finish and researched past news coverage about each video, how the company responded and what actions were taken after the video surfaced. Sure I’ve seen undercover videos before, but this was the first time I actually sat down and not only watched, but analyzed about six hours worth of footage and media content.

Watching the edited videos filled with haunting background music was frustrating more often than not, but I’m glad I had the patience to analyze each video because I was able to find exactly what I was hoping for: reasons why these videos are not the answer to addressing concerns of alleged animal abuse in animal agriculture.

Before I dive into some common trends, let me first say that when actual animal mishandling or abuse occurs, the animal agriculture industry does not condone it or try to hide it. Farmers, ranchers and industry leaders are dedicated to providing the best animal care possible, but activist groups are not concerned about animal welfare and are hindering the ability of the animal agriculture industry to strive for continuous improvement.

Common trends 

As I was going through footage and reading what the activist groups claimed to have happened, I couldn’t help but notice common trends start to emerge within each video – all of which supported why activist groups aren’t concerned with stopping alleged abuse.

Here are just a few (I could write a book on this, but I’ll spare you the time):

1. Out of context

Dehorning cattle

The average length of an undercover video is about 3-4 minutes by design. Activist groups rely on the viewers’ lack of familiarity about animal agriculture to convince and mislead them into thinking that what they are viewing is without a doubt animal abuse when they could very well be watching a procedure that is for the long-term welfare benefit of the animal, approved and supported by science and for the safety of employees that work with the animal.

One example of something being taken out of context would be dehorning. This procedure may not be easy to watch for someone unfamiliar with raising cattle, but imagine how much pain another cow or an employee would be in if they had their side cut into by a sharp set of horns. People have even died from these types of injuries. Naturally polled cattle (cattle that are born without horns) are growing in popularity, but a transition to an entirely polled population wouldn’t be possible overnight. As long as there are cattle being born with horns, dehorning will be a necessary practice for everyone’s safety.

So remember… don’t believe everything you see and know that these videos only show what the animal rights groups want you to see.

2. Staged scenes

Undercover activists are paid up to $800 per week to capture footage of what they deem as inhumane. So what if they don’t find anything worth capturing? What if nothing they see is worth splicing together for an undercover video? We’ve heard that activists only get paid if they capture footage the animal rights groups can use, and this could very well explain why some activists are known to stage scenes and either encourage other employees or partake in abuse themselves.

Mercy for Animals ad

Mercy for Animals ad

One video taken at a poultry processing facility showed chickens in a room of the facility where they should have never been and was later determined that that the activist had access to the facility at night and staged the chickens and put them in danger just to shoot a video.

In another video at a dairy farm, the activist made sure cows were led through deep manure when the cows had no reason to be walking in that area. It was later found that this scene was staged and that if the cows were living in the conditions that the activist group had claimed, then they would be covered from head to tail in manure, not just their legs.

So if I am aware that undercover activists are staging scenes and even encouraging employees to break animal welfare protocols, then the animal rights groups must be aware since they supposedly expect an update from the activist each day. This begs the question that if they are aware then are they actually encouraging it too? Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are aware, but aren’t encouraging the activist to go to any measures possible to obtain footage of alleged abuse, then what are they doing to stop activists from encouraging or even being a part of what they claim they are trying to put an end to? From what I can see, nothing, because it continues to happen and a handful of activists have been charged as a result of their actions.

3. Refuse to cooperate with farm owners and law enforcement

Farm owners and law enforcement have requested to view the full, unedited video footage that the undercover activist obtained while working on the farm for the purpose of getting the entire story and finding out what exactly (if anything) went wrong and how to fix the situation so it doesn’t happen in the future. If activist groups were concerned about helping animals they would be willing to help management and law enforcement to take corrective action.

In all cases, the undercover activists leave employment before the video footage is released and therefore not available to answer questions regarding their concerns and what they allegedly witnessed because they are already undercover on another farm working on producing another video. If they are concerned about animal welfare, wouldn’t you think they would stick around and help in any way they possibly can?

4. Playing the innocent bystander

On many farming operations employers require their staff to sign an agreement stating that they will report any concerns about animal welfare immediately. Do the undercover activists sign this agreement? Yes. Do they adhere to the agreement and report concerns of abuse immediately? No, they just stand there and videotape. If I was witnessing something that I truly felt needed to be stopped, I wouldn’t be able to just stand there and watch from an arms-length distance. Would you?

Animal rights supporters often fire back with the argument that “we need to get as much evidence as possible” when asked why they wait to report concerns of abuse. Not only are undercover activists breaking protocols if they did sign an agreement, but all this so-called “evidence” that they are getting is not doing anyone any good. It is only prolonging this alleged abuse that they deem as their top priority. If you actually are witnessing true animal abuse it doesn’t matter if you have one instance or three weeks worth of footage.

5. Taking forever to release the video

I think I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – this day in age it does not take more than a day to put video footage online. One activist group claims undercover “investigations” are the “livelihood” of their organization, so they should be pros by now and be able to edit together their catchy three-minute videos in a few hours, right? But they wait for days, weeks, months and sometimes even up to a full year to release video footage! A year!

Honestly, this is the most glaring flaw of the animal rights groups in my opinion because it screams hypocrisy. The fact that they wait so long to release and report concerns of abuse just proves that they are more concerned about fundraising and perfectly timing video releases within the media cycle and their own PR campaigns than stopping the alleged abuse.

What it means for farm owners

For farm owners, the concern has shifted from if they will run into an undercover activist to when will they encounter an undercover activist which creates distrust between employees and supervisors. Now owners have to worry about hiring people that are there for the wrong reasons instead of focusing their attention on how to improve their operation and take care of their livestock. Concerns of abuse need to be reported immediately so management can know about the situation and resolve it as soon as possible. Supervisors can’t be everywhere at all times and they can’t fix what they don’t know about, so they rely on their employees do their job and to report their concerns immediately, not five months down the road after their footage is made into a video or commercial.

What can you do?

Ask yourself: if you were concerned about the welfare of animals, would you help and report your concerns immediately or just stand there and do nothing for the sake of a campaign?

If you answered the former, then don’t let the activist groups mislead you into thinking they are here to improve animal welfare. I encourage you to speak up and share why you don’t support undercover video campaigns by posting your thoughts with the hashtag #ReportNotRecord, started by Dairy Farmers of America in response to an undercover video targeting one of its member farms.


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Why do people believe the Food Babe?

The world we live in is undeniably complex and filled with wonders that we may never fully understand. This concept of complexity is nothing new, but when people take pride in being knowledgeable and yet prefer simplicity, it can cause a certain chaos to erupt within our own minds.

We like to listen to people whose beliefs align with our own and when something arises that questions or challenges what we believe, we often find ourselves at a fork in the road. Do we put blinders on or offer an ear to the different viewpoint?

I’d have to say that the Food Babe is one who definietly wears blinders.

The Food Babe

The Food Babe

The Food Babe

The Food Babe, aka Vani Hari, is a blogger, author and activist who is known for her criticism of the food industry. She has credited herself with Kraft, Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, Chipotle and Subway reconsidering or changing ingredients in their products.

So what does the Food Babe do? Well, she reads food ingredient labels and finds ingredients that she either can’t pronounce or are in other products that are not food and labels them as “toxins.”    She has about 88,000 Twitter followers and almost 950,000 Facebook fans. Her devoted supporters are called the “Food Babe Army.”

Does credibility matter?

How people assign credibility is a fascinating and terrifying phenomena. Does the level of education one has matter? The amount of experience in a certain field? A combination of the two?

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.13.56 AMIf either were the case I wouldn’t be writing this post. Hari is not a nutritionist, dietician, doctor or food scientist. She has a degree in computer science. Yes, you read that right. Hari has no formal education in food science, yet she’s making tons of money telling people that their food is allegedly filled with toxins that are making them unhealthy.

Why is it that an “army” of people believe her every word when she has no credibility whatsoever?

Maybe people follow her because they find her weight loss story relatable and inspiring. Personally, I think one reason she’s become so popular is because people are always looking for something to blame their personal problems on and the way that Hari is attacking the food industry as the culprit for her former health issues provides people with an easy scapegoat.

Playing with your emotionsScreen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.04.17 AM

Fear is an incredibly effective tool when persuading an audience to buy into an idea or product. From a marketing standpoint, Hari is arguably brilliant, but do you really want to fall victim to someone’s marketing strategy when they don’t have your best interest in mind?

Think about it. Hari is relying on the consumers’ lack of knowledge and familiarity with the food industry in hopes that they will be receptive to her outrageous claims and become part of her army of uneducated followers.

I don’t necessarily blame anyone that uses fear as a tactic to get what they want because it is so effective, but I think it’s more important to share a story that is true and have your audiences’ best interest at heart because people are putting their trust in your product or idea and should know the full truth that they are investing in.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.01.11 AMShe’s definitely creative…

Although I don’t agree with her scare tactics, I have to give her props for being so creative. The allegations and claims that she declares as fact are something I would only think a screen-play writer to conjure up.

Here are just a few things she’s claimed: microwaves destroy food nutrients, the air in the front of the airplane is better because that’s where the pilots sit, no chemicals of any amount should be in our food (last time I checked water was a chemical and we sort of need that to survive) and food companies “sneak” untested/unapproved ingredients into food.

When I first heard of this woman and her far-fetched ideas, I asked myself if this was real life because I couldn’t imagine her to be anything but a joke. Then when I learned she had so many followers I was at first in a bit of shock, but it’s really nothing new.

People are finally starting to wonder Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.07.55 AM

When I do a search for recent news about the Food Babe, the majority of the articles that appear are ones not in her favor and I’m relieved to see that people are finally starting to question her credibility and ask for proof to back up her allegations.

When people share information without any factual backing and become as popular as the Food Babe, they are bound to be brought off their high horse eventually and it has become apparent that the Food Babe will no longer be on her horse for much longer. She’s a fad that is fading out.

The only thing I really ask of anyone who eats is that as you navigate through the sea of opinions about the food and agriculture industry, and honestly any industry out there, is that you not only hear what people are saying, but listen. Listen and understand what they are really saying and don’t wear blinders. Be aware of their agenda, whether it be in your best interest or not and make educated decisions and base your opinions off factual information.

 


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Don’t believe everything you see: the truth about undercover videos

Years ago, whenever I saw one of the undercover videos that animals rights groups release, I was sure I was watching torture to farm animals. My heart would beat like I had just finished a marathon and my eyes would sting with fury as I watched the poor animals endure so much pain. How was this kind of cruelty taking place on American farms!? I wanted an answer and I told myself I would eat a salad instead of a burger every chance I got.  At least that’s what my naive self thought before I became interested in agriculture and learned the truth.

Undercover videos are one of the most powerful tactics that animal rights groups use in an attempt to portray animal abuse on farms. The thing is, the tactic is a lot more unethical than you probably think.

Farmers make sure everyone stays warm in the winter! Photo credit: Carrie Mess

As part of my job I am responsible for researching animal rights groups and their campaigns. I was recently researching exactly how many undercover videos the Alliance has on file that resulted in convictions. As I was going through all 82 cases* and reading the background information on what allegedly happened in each facility, I couldn’t help but question how much abuse actually happens in agriculture. What the videos claimed to be describing would make any human squirm in their seat.

What’s really going on?

Then I reminded myself that these activist groups have a specific agenda and don’t care that they are spreading lies to get what they want. Out of all 82 videos only six cases resulted in convictions*. This one fact makes the point that what undercover videos capture is not always animal abuse. It may not always be pretty to the eye of someone outside of agriculture, but it is not abuse.

Slaughterhouses are a perfect example. When the animal reaches the slaughterhouse they are not meant to live through the process, as I’m sure we all can agree on.

Piglets stay safe while they eat breakfast! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Piglets stay safe while they eat breakfast! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Although they are meant to end up in grocery stores, farmers, scientists and industry experts are continuously working to ensure the animal is treated as humanely as possible.

Just last month Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group, posted an undercover video from a chicken processing facility in which they claimed showed “horrific animal abuse.” An expert panel comprised of a veterinarian, an animal scientist and an ethicist reviewed the video and said that there was no animal abuse.

“If people want to eat meat, we must kill animals,” Dr. Chuck Hofacre, the veterinarian on the panel, said. “Some of the process isn’t camera friendly – it’s not pretty. There are systems and processes in place to make sure it’s carried out in a humane manner.”

Why go undercover when you can jump on Twitter?! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

Why go undercover when you can jump on Twitter?! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

The different protein groups (poultry, beef, dairy, pork, goat, sheep) have programs in place addressing animal care. The National Dairy FARM Program and the Beef Quality Assurance program are two examples.

As this thought came to mind, I realized that if I work in the agriculture industry and am a true advocate for it, what would the average person who doesn’t have the background knowledge to remind themselves of all this think?

Unfortunately, media and consumers often take the videos at face value. They don’t ask questions and the activist groups have won their donation and support.

So what all contributes to the making of an undercover video?

Piglets staying warm and cozy under their heat lamp! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Piglets staying warm and cozy under their heat lamp! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Animal rights groups get people to apply for a job at a farm or processing facility and act as if they are genuinely interested in the job, but in reality are plotting how they can hurt the company by filming what they see as animal abuse.

These workers who are hired to do a specific task on the farm choose to be negligent and film what they think is abuse instead. Sometimes the consequences of them not doing the job they were hired to do leads to things not getting done properly and animals get hurt, all in the name of animal rights.

Why do we never hear from the undercover investigators who “worked” at the farm? It’s because they find an excuse to disappear months before the video surfaces. Wonder why?

One thing I bet you didn’t realize is that in the case that actual animal abuse does occur, the undercover investigators don’t report the incident immediately. Nope. They continue to film the abuse for weeks and sometimes even months at a time just to provide the animal rights groups with a PR campaign to further their vegan agenda.

If someone really believes they are witnessing animal abuse, they need to report it to authorities right away rather than sitting on the footage for a few weeks to produce a catchy video.

Farmers love welcoming new farm babies into the world! Photo credit: Carrie Mess

Farmers love welcoming new farm babies into the world! Photo credit: Carrie Mess

How do undercover videos affect the farmer?

Animal activists commonly single out corporations that the farm supplies to in order to get as much attention as possible, which causes a misrepresentation of the agriculture industry to spread. The videos are just a tactic that pressures farmers and corporations to cave into activist demands in order to make the negative attention disappear, even if what is being demanded isn’t what science says is best for the animals’ health.

You may see free-range as hens roaming in big, green pastures, but agriculturalists see it as a threat to the birds’ safety. An open pasture means open for everyone including predators and diseases, making the birds look like free prey.

Now don’t get me wrong, in the case that animal abuse actually does happen, it is horrible and the animal agriculture industry does not condone it by any means.

The emotional toll farmers take from the impact the videos have is crucial. It takes a strong connection to animals for farmers to devote their life to them 24/7/356 year after year. Despite how passionate farmers are about their work, there is a reluctance to even respond to the videos that do show abuse. The industry as a whole doesn’t want to give credibility where credibility isn’t due. If we give them credibility, then videos that capture humane, industry standard practices will seem more credible to someone who thinks a cow or chicken is just like their cat or dog.

Farmers don't just talk to their cows! They want to talk with you too! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

Farmers don’t just talk to their cows! They want to talk with you too! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

What should you do?

These videos are not a representative sample of what actually does happen on farms across the United States. So what should people do when another undercover video surfaces? Don’t judge a book by its cover, or rather a farm by its undercover video. Be realistic and ask yourself if what you’re viewing is actual abuse or a humane process that just doesn’t look like a bouquet of roses.

If you have questions or concerns with what’s happening on farms, ask a farmer. I’ll have a future blog post providing guidance on ways you can easily get in contact with someone who would be glad to answer your questions!

*Statistics included is this post are as of April 10, 2015.


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Activist Framing at Its ‘Best’: Analyzing Activist Communications

Two weeks ago, I posted my first blog for the Alliance. My previous post focused on the idea that agricultural communication IS political communication and activist groups are currently doing a much better job than agriculturalists at communicating to the general public. I also talked about the concept of framing. Communication of all types, especially agricultural communication, is expressed to the public through framing, which refers to when a particular fact or information is taken and portrayed in a certain way to influence others and project a certain reality.

Among the most notable examples of activist opposition framing that I’ve seen is a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) advertisement that shows pigs that HSUS claim to be “trapped in cages for their entire lives without the ability to move”.

HSUS bus advertisement on gestation crates

HSUS bus advertisement on gestation crates

What this picture ACTUALLY depicts are gestation crates, where pigs and piglets are kept in a protected environment to keep the piglets from being injured or killed by  members of their own species. Farmers, like me, know that pigs by nature can be naturally aggressive. However, the average person that likes his eggs served with bacon thinks of pigs like Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. Groups like the HSUS play on the average person’s perception and frame their version of reality based off this unfamiliarity with modern agriculture . In this, groups like the HSUS successfully frame their issues and, in this example the frame is the “Attack on Big Pork.”

In this campaign, the advertisement contains no numbers or statistics, but rather a surge of dramatic imagery and rhetoric in one sentence: “How would you like to spend the rest of your life in a space as small as a bus seat?” This provocative advertisement elicits unsettling and angry emotions for people taking the advertisement at face value and accepting it as reality.

Here, the HSUS has framed American pork production as a savage practice where animals are mistreated to satisfy the greed of the American factory farmer. This is only one of many examples, but it certainly is one of the more powerful activist messages being cast upon the public. If a massive advertisement on the side of a bus used for public transportation is not enough to convince you that the activists mean business, I don’t know what is.

So… what SHOULD we do to improve our communications strategies?

Get ourselves off of the defensive: It is tempting to want to respond to every negative piece of media attention. It’s certainly frustrating to see how so many people respond so easily in favor of activist messages when what they are portraying are not glimpses into reality. On a personal level, it angers me that so many people attack the very farmers who produce the food they put on their tables every day. That being said, no matter how cohesive the response to negative activist materials, always being in the position of responding makes you appear to be on the defensive. Being on the defensive paints a picture of guilt, where being on the offensive is attributed to being passionate and devoted to educating the public about the truth.

Humane Watch graphic exposing HSUS's spending

Humane Watch graphic exposing HSUS’s spending

The best example of the industry being on the offensive I have seen recently comes from Humane Watch. In their visually appealing graphic, which my fellow intern Casey wrote about in a recent post. Humane Watch sheds light on the truth behind HSUS’s spending practices. This graphic does an excellent job of putting HSUS on the defensive. With net assets exceeding $187.5 million dollars according to their public 2014 tax return, you would think the “world’s best animal protection organization” would shell out a lot more money to help animals in the 50 states. In this, the numbers don’t lie, but it’s pretty clear who does. As a collection of livestock industries we need to continue to present ourselves proactively on the issues that are important to us. By not waiting to respond to blatant lies and misrepresentations of our industries, we will garner a much better image with the public.

A HSUS holiday card from 'Wilbur'

A HSUS holiday card from ‘Wilbur’

***As a fun side note- when writing this post I came up with the Charlotte’s Web reference on my own. It was only a few days later while searching for something entirely different that I came across the HSUS holiday card! ***

(Editor’s note: When published, this blog contained an erroneous explanation about how gestation crates are used. We’ve corrected the post, and encourage you to visit this site to learn more: http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/faen/gest%20crates.html.)