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Animal rights activists masquerading as consumers

Consumer demand is powerful. It can be the champion of a company’s success or the culprit of their failure. What I find even more interesting is how consumer demand is defined. Does a group of people with no intention of ever buying a restaurant’s product qualify as their consumer? With the avalanche of recent restaurant and retail pledges caving to pressure from animal rights organizations, it seems so.

At the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s recent Stakeholders Summit, speakers offered insights about consumer demand – suggesting consumers aren’t the ones demanding restaurants and grocery stores to change their supply chain policies at all. Dr. Dan Thomson of Kansas State University stated, “activists today are masquerading as the consumers.”

I have yet to hear a person order their chicken sandwich only with meat from “slower-growing” chickens, so Thomson’s statement didn’t surprise me. Although I understand why restaurants adopt certain sourcing policies in the face of mounting activist pressure, it would be refreshing to see a company stand up against the “self-appointed food police” as Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate calls them. Thankfully, there is still at least one brand with a backbone – Domino’s Pizza.

Tim McIntyre of Domino’s Pizza

Tim McIntyre from Domino’s shared how the pizza company hears from animal rights “extremists” all the time, but they value the hard work of farmers and ranchers and will never make a policy announcement threatening farmers’ livelihoods [cue standing ovation].

Animal rights organizations hide behind the guise of being concerned about animal care and well-being, but in reality they are campaigning for animal rights. No matter how well animals are cared for, if it benefits humans in any way it is unacceptable in their eyes. The pressure campaigns are about one thing – driving up the cost of production and in the end, consumer costs to put farmers and ranchers who raise meat, milk and eggs out of business.

I urge the consumers who don’t want to be bullied by animal rights organizations to take a page out of Domino’s playbook and stand up and take action. A simple thank you to our favorite restaurant or the manager at your grocery store can go a long way.


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HSUS bullies animal ag and hurts low-income families

Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, shares her story of standing up for agriculture while the Humane Society of the United States pushed for a ballot in Massachusetts that would hurt low-income families at the grocery store. 

Less than a year ago, I attended the 2016 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, my first real introduction to agriculture beyond labels on products in the grocery store. I had recently learned about a ballot initiative filed in my state that, despite efforts to legally challenge its certification, would become Question 3 on the Massachusetts 2016 ballot.

As I considered engaging in this food policy debate, I reflected on my own family’s experience with hunger, homelessness and poverty which drives me in my work for social justice. I recalled the times I would dig through my sofa for change just to purchase a dozen eggs to feed my children some protein for dinner. In deference to the real victims of Q3, I would later agree to become campaign manager for Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice.

In my work, I have always sought to break down the stereotypes we all know too well – that poor people are lazy and uninspired; that if we would just go to work, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather than focus on solutions to poverty, policies began to look more like punishments, as broad brushes of accusations of fraud, waste and abuse taint us all when one bad apple makes a new headline.

While attending last year’s summit, I quickly learned that those of you providing the gift of nutrition have your own unique, yet similar challenges. I noted to Brian Klippenstien of Protect the Harvest at the time that low income families and farmers have their respective stories to share, stories that left untold by us, would be told for us by others with self-serving interests.

My years in policy work have also shown me that when we start to solve for a problem that does not exist, there will be unintended consequences. More often than not, the poor will suffer the worst. Q3 is the very definition of social injustice, those elite with money and satisfied choices imposing burdens on those with neither.

On its surface, Q3 would appeal to the good-hearted voters in Massachusetts who want to prevent cruelty to animals. In reality, Q3 was a cruel indifference to those of us who struggle to feed our families in a state ranked 47th in housing affordability and where our food costs are already 26 percent higher than the national average. Like most everyone, I don’t want to be cruel to animals, but I refuse to be cruel to people.

The Humane Society of the United States and their supporters would ultimately spend $2.7 million on the passage of Q3, while ensuring that the good and truth of agriculture would be a story left untold in my state. HSUS would continue to ignore not only the economic impacts for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, but also the animal welfare trade-offs for the very livestock they claim to protect.

The politics is strange. Imagine if President Trump were to propose doubling the cost of the most affordable and accessible source of protein available to low income families. Outrage would ensue as advocates for the poor and the media would express their disdain for such a heartless and reckless act. Yet, when merchants of veganism do it, compassion for our fellow humans can simply be set aside, it seems.

Thankfully, Mr. Forrest Lucas and the National Pork Producers Council would provide enough funds for me to give voice to the voiceless in this debate. Sadly, we would ultimately be outspent 10:1 as funds directly from HSUS and their supporters in places like California, New York and DC poured into their campaign. Citizens for Farm Animal Protection rained down TV ads that portrayed animals in awful conditions, duping MA voters into thinking these conditions existed across farms in our state and were acceptable, normal agriculture practices across the country.

Walking into this debate, I had no idea how extraordinary our food producers and science partners are at providing healthy, affordable and sustainable nutrition. I am among the grateful who appreciate why your work is so critical and meaningful. I know why, going forward, the coalitions that I am accustomed to working in must be working in partnership with you all who feed us.

HSUS cleverly played on the emotions of voters in a progressive state where we, in general, know very little to nothing about agriculture. HSUS has bullied our local farmers into submission with direct threats to their livelihoods. HSUS lied about the cost, as they did in CA, selling their ‘penny-an-egg’ story to unsuspecting voters. HSUS claimed that consumers were driving their cause, not mentioning the consumers they were referring were retail executives who know about a good marketing plan, not your average shopper on a budget. HSUS called me as a pawn for big agriculture.

HSUS would soon learn that my supporters hadn’t just come to MA to randomly pick some low-income woman to be the face of this campaign. HSUS wasn’t certain how to handle me. This low income grandma, working 2 jobs to survive, with a solid record of 15 years in anti-poverty work, was on a crash course in agriculture. I found myself being the voice for not only those victimized by Q3, but also in defense of agriculture.

I created a unique challenge. HSUS couldn’t protest in front of my home: my neighbors would have had a field day with them. HSUS couldn’t threaten a boycott of my business: I don’t own one. HSUS couldn’t bully me out of this debate: though they tried. Their supporters suggested that I be locked in a cage. Some commented that my children should not exist if I ever struggled to feed them.

Despite our efforts, Q3 would pass overwhelmingly in MA, with a 2022 implementation date. As predicted, HSUS has moved along to another small, coastal state that, like my own, ranks among the very lowest in agriculture receipts in the country. HSUS is taking to state legislatures and ballots what they have been losing at the check-out counter where 90 percent of us purchase conventional eggs.

As I consider my next steps in this debate, I am reminded that HSUS did not happen overnight. Campaigns take time. Now, I know there has been an on-going food policy debate where those most impacted – and harmed – have been absent. I am here to take my seat at the table. HSUS is now pressing further, trying to bully big agriculture into producing slower growing broilers driving up the consumer price of chicken meat. That negotiation does not include the voice of those most adversely impacted. Any meaningful debate on these issues requires the presence of one of its major stakeholder groups –low income consumers.

In MA, nearly 800,000 residents rely on the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). Nationwide, that number is 45.5 million. We know that these numbers only scratch the surface at what food insecurity in the United States really looks like.

We must be more united and assertive in protecting and distributing our abundance. We must have the victims of this debate join with those who produce. The voice of low-income consumers can no longer be excluded from the negotiating tables. It is critical we unite urban and rural partnerships to promote food security and protect our dinner plates from the self-appointed food police.


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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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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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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.