Ag operations should be prepared for activists
Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of strategic engagement for Animal Agriculture Alliance was the first speaker in the Colorado Livestock Association’s seven-part virtual meeting series.
Thompson-Weeman said responding to activist threats is one of the key actions to take in securing the future of your operation as well as the protecting the reputation of the livestock industry. She said there is no shortage of opportunities to set straight the record when it comes to false narratives and accusations aimed at the livestock industry.
When the Animal Agriculture Alliance was established in 1987, it was partially in response to the growing need for defending the industry against activist action, even then. She did, however, say vegetarians and vegans make up about 5% of the U.S. population, a number that has been steady for decades. The percentage of those self-proclaimed vegetarians and vegans who are extremist activists is even lower. The majority of Americans fall somewhere between the portion of the population with a direct connection to animal agriculture and the small percentage of the population that believes animal agriculture ought not exist.
“Because (so many people) don’t have a direct connection to agriculture, activists are trying to fill in that blank with a version of what we do that none of us here would agree is accurate or depicts what we’re up to,” she said.
This is the same reason, she said, activists don’t present a full-fledged and upfront “go vegan” agenda, but rather capitalize on the public’s disconnect with animal agriculture to make agriculture appear nefarious. In addition to targeting end consumers, activist groups are targeting investors, policy makers, corporations, influential organizations, media, restaurants and food service brands are pressured with disinformation.
“The Alliance has group profiles on more than 175 different organizations that are targeting animal agriculture in one way or another,” she said. The groups are often connected to one another and are well-funded.
The Fence Post Magazine’s coverage of the PAUSE Act was highlighted in the presentation and Thompson-Weeman said she guarantees animal rights activists will again try to make their way to the ballot in Colorado. Ballot initiative states, including Colorado, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Montana, are often targeted by animal rights groups
Undercover video and photos taken by an activist posing as an employee remain popular. The footage, she said, is paired with dark lighting and dramatic music to make it look salacious, or the actions they witness are actually legitimate mistreatment. Rather than reporting that poor treatment to farm managers or owners, the activists allow it to continue in the name of capturing footage.
Drone and “frontline surveillance” to monitor agriculture operations and take photos from the public roadway is increasing in prevalence. She said installing cameras and recording devices is also seeing an increase, particularly in the processing space.
If this occurs, Weeman-Thompson warns not to shoot down a drone. She recommends finding the vehicle with the drone driver to get a description.
Open rescues, protests, and stealth visits on farms and ranches remain popular with activists, the most recent was a large-scale protest in California at a processing plant. The past year, the Alliance has seen an increase in demonstrations at the homes of food company executives.
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