Philip Lobo, Communications Director, Animal Agriculture Alliance
A recent survey, funded by Vegetarian Times, indicated that just over 3 percent of Americans say they follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately, 0.5 percent claim to be vegans, consuming no animal products at all.
Though this survey probably overstates the number of vegetarians and vegans in the nation, the Animal Agriculture Alliance (Alliance) has no concern about people choosing to be vegetarian. However, the Alliance is concerned about a movement of animal rights extremists, many of whom are vegans, who are willing to use drastic measures in their attempts to impose their dietary choices onto others.
Most notorious of these groups is Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the FBI's top domestic terrorism concern, along with Earth Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. All three groups operate in independent cells like other international terrorist groups. ALF cells have firebombed restaurants and meat processors, smashed computers, etched windows, glued locks, and much more.
Next are unabashed vegan animal-rights groups that do not participate in violence, but often do not denounce it. A well-known example is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). On its website, PETA sells buttons with the message, "Animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on." The organization has proudly touted the phrase for over a decade. These groups would like to impose veganism upon the world, but their weapons of choice are most often the video camera, the internet and nude protestors.
Finally, there are groups that appear to be mainstream animal welfare organizations, but whose primary goal is to slowly wage a methodical multiple front attack on the food chain in order to drive meat from people's diets. Chief among these groups is Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS is often confused with American Humane Association. But under 6 percent of HSUS' $121 million annual budget goes towards supporting animal shelters. The rest goes to various lobbying campaigns, fundraising and other expenses.
Rather than directly state their purpose, groups like HSUS tend to mask their objections to animal use in concerns about animal welfare, public health and the environment, using these issues to advance a vegan agenda. Like PETA, one of their favorite weapons is the video camera.
What food processors can do
If you are a processor of meat, milk or eggs, you need to understand that your plant is likely to be on a target list of one of these groups (one list of meat processing facilities can be viewed at www.finalnail.com). Given the variety of approaches and varying level of threats, understanding what actions your plant should take can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, it isn't.
First, make sure your own house is in order. So called "undercover video" where an activist group employee gains employment then films poor management is a technique that is rapidly rising in popularity. It currently is most popular at plants handling live animals, but it is likely to be just a matter of time before these groups target substandard practices that may exist in facilities that don't handle live animals, but instead process meat, milk and eggs. Keep in mind that their goal is to promote vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.
How do you make sure your house is in order? The first way is to implement top notch practices and training. The second is to either conduct audits or assessment to make sure these practices are correctly implemented across the board. In addition to assessments, third-party audits, internal audit programs and web-based video surveillance systems can prove effective.
Another key is to enhance security. Taking this action does not have to be a massive expense. Most people either are not watching for warning signs of trouble or are not taking action on what they see. One suggested solution is an approach called "SCAN," which is an acronym for See, Contact, Ask, Notify. Using this technique, you don't need to hire security experts, or invest in additional physical security, like fences and checkpoints and cameras. You leverage the knowledge of your existing staff to help prepare for and solve potential problems, often before they happen.
A final way to proactively address threats, whether from video camera or firebomb, is to improve your personnel management. Some firms offer employee screening techniques which help match the personalities of employees, whether applicants or current employees, to tasks that need to be addressed. This testing pays for itself by increasing employee satisfaction, improving product quality, reducing employee turnover and decreasing workers' compensation claims. As importantly, the testing also will make your facility a much harder target.
As a food manufacturing facility, you may be many steps removed from the farm. But, if customers want to know about the welfare of the animals that go through your facility, our suggestion is that you be prepared to answer. To be prepared, ask your suppliers about their animal welfare programs.
What else can you do? Certainly, gaining a deeper understanding of what farming and ranching groups are doing to improve animal welfare is important. All the groups that represent America's farmers and ranchers have adopted animal welfare guidelines. The Animal Agriculture Alliance has information about these guidelines available on our website and will be happy to provide further information to show the steps that farmers and ranchers are taking to enhance the welfare of their animals.
What does all this mean to you?
Animal rights activists are targeting consumers and legislators - the majority of whom have little understanding of how farm animals are raised or how food is produced - with a lot of misleading information. Many activist groups use animal welfare as a wedge issue, when their real goal is eliminating animal protein from our diets. If you are processing meat, milk or eggs, the goal of these groups is to shut down your facility.
It is important that you take steps to improve and secure your facility. Other parts of the food chain are taking similar steps. The groups that represent America's farmers and ranchers, while working hard to provide consumers with the safest, most abundant and most nutritious food in the world, have all adopted animal welfare guidelines. It is important to understand their commitment to their animals, their land and their communities. It's important to recognize that as a nation, we must not create an environment that will prohibit all pieces of the food chain from working together to meet our nation's - and a growing part of the world's - food needs.
Philip Lobo can be contacted at (703) 562-5160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.