Last November, Martha Stewart taught her viewers how to prepare a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner after stating that animals on farms are "tortured." Jonathan Safran Foer’s meat-bashing book Eating Animals has put him on the best-sellers list and in the media spotlight. Animal activists continue to release horrific videos depicting alleged mistreatment of animals at processing plants and farms.
These deceitful campaigns aim to discredit the work of farmers and ranchers by manipulating images and using scare tactics. Because most people have never stepped foot on a farm to experience how producers care for their animals, activists have had some success in intimidating consumers with misinformation. Many producers have been left wondering how to defend their way of life against these inaccurate claims.
It’s important to understand that these groups are not truly focused on improving animal welfare; they aim to entirely eliminate animal agriculture. In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spent millions of dollars to push through a ballot initiative in California that devastated the state’s egg industry. And despite Ohioans’ support of Issue 2, a measure they passed in November to create a livestock standards board, HSUS has already announced plans to bring a ballot measure with harsher restrictions to the state. These campaigns have nothing to do with the kittens and puppies that HSUS and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) use on their fundraising materials.
Although Foer’s new book Eating Animals is presented as simply one man’s personal decision to go meatless, the author has long been involved with the animal rights movement. In 2006, he joined up with PETA and Animal Liberation Israel to create a video discouraging the Jewish community from eating kosher meats—a fact he doesn’t mention in his book. In Eating Animals, Foer illegally breaks into a Californian turkey farm in the middle of the night. He writes that “farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals,” an absurd and untrue statement. His actions and history show that Foer isn’t simply the “concerned Dad” that he is misleading people to believe.
In October, PETA released Downed, a ‘new’ video depicting cruelty at a Kentucky stockyard, without noting that the facility in question had been closed since 1979! While animal cruelty should never be defended and high standards of animal welfare should be upheld by all producers, it is important to note that activists play a role in allowing the alleged cruelty depicted in these videos to continue. By releasing videos directly to the media months after filming, activists allow the alleged mistreatment to continue in order to facilitate strategic fundraising campaigns. These actions lead to concerns about the possibility that some of the alleged cruelty shown could be staged strictly for the purpose of making the video.
With attacks coming from all fronts, what can farmers do to protect their way of life?
The Animal Agriculture Alliance has served as the go-to organization for all stakeholders in animal agriculture and the food industries since 1987. We work closely with those in the animal agriculture industry to address the threats posed by the animal rights movement and by anti-modern farming activists. The Alliance focuses on educating the public about agriculture through innovative communications programs and serves as a conduit for information across the nation.
First, the Alliance encourages farm operators to implement nationally recognized animal-care policies and guidelines. It is absolutely essential that all businesses and individuals responsible for the well-being of their animals provide the best care and handling of their animals at all times. Producers should train employees on appropriate handling techniques and hold them accountable for following company policies. Operators should review their practices from the perspective of a typical consumer to see if any improvements can be made.
The public is showing increased interest in getting to know farmers and how their food is produced. Every day, millions of people log into their “Farmville” accounts on Facebook to take care of their virtual farms. Everyone involved in agriculture needs to take the initiative to educate the public about real farms.
The Alliance offers the following suggestions to help producers share their stories:
- Start a farm blog describing how food is grown on your operation.
- Create a Twitter account to share photos and thoughts from the tractor
- Set up a Facebook account to show how you care for your animals.
- Post videos of your farm and animals on Youtube.
- Pay your membership dues and become active in agriculture commodity groups at the state and federal levels.
- Talk to your local radio station and newspaper reporters about your farm.
- Write letters to the editor or comment on online news articles that unfairly characterize agriculture.
- Become an active member of your community—join the school board, donate to local charities and introduce yourself to neighbors and visitors.
The Alliance has taken an active role in utilizing social media to educate the public. We joined with the American National CattleWomen Inc. in October to launch the College Aggies Online program, a nationwide contest for college students interested in agriculture that will help them become confident ‘agvocates.’ More information about the network is available at www.animalagalliance.org. The Alliance posts agriculture news items and updates through Twitter (www.twitter.com/animalag) and shares positive stories about farmers and ranchers on our Facebook account. We also have a newly-updated, Youtube channel, including our video comparing real and online farming called “The Real Farmville”.
The Alliance will continue to monitor actions from activist groups and educate others about the important role that animal agriculture plays in this nation’s food security and vitality. However, the Alliance can’t do it alone—farmers and ranchers must get involved in the ongoing conversation about food to protect their way of life!