GREEN BAY, Wis. — Animal rights activists are focused on undermining trust to convince consumers to turn away from animal agriculture.
“Animal rights are very different from animal welfare,” said Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of strategic engagement for the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
“Animal welfare is how an animal is doing and making sure the animal is healthy and thriving,” Thompson-Weeman said during the Dairy Strong event, the Dairy Business Association’s annual conference. “Animal rights means the animals should be treated the same as humans, and they should be given the same rights as people.”
For animal rights activists, Thompson-Weeman said, it’s not about improving animal care.
“They don’t believe people should consume milk, meat or eggs,” she said.
The alliance has profiles on more than 175 groups that are targeting animal agriculture, Thompson-Weeman said.
“They are well-funded with more than $500 million per year to target animal agriculture, and their agenda which is about promoting veganism,” she said.
Thompson-Weeman highlighted some of the trends livestock producers should be aware of during the virtual conference.
“Activist groups will pay people to get hired on farms with the intention to capture video or pictures that can be used against the operation and the industry,” she said. “They have a vested interest in capturing things they can depict negatively even if they are standard industry practices or if they see incidences of mishandling they don’t report it so they have footage to use in campaigns.”
Some activist groups are stealing animals from farms or demand farmers release animals to get the activists to leave the farm.
“This has happened on a duck farm and at broiler operations,” Thompson-Weeman said. “Activists will say they are rescuing animals and they’ll try to negotiate and say if you give us one animal, we’ll leave you alone.”
Activists have gone to farms or meat processing facilities and left behind cameras or recording devices and then come back later to collect them.
“They will pose as a vendor and pretend to be a technician,” Thompson-Weeman said.
“Keep an eye out for devices or suspicious people coming onto your property,” she said. “When you’re in your barn, get out your phone and look for a Wi-Fi network. If there’s a network that you don’t recognize, it could be a device that’s transmitting information.”
If a device is found on a farm, Thompson-Weeman said, don’t touch it.
“Contact law enforcement because it’s a pretty serious charge to spy on someone,” she said. “Law enforcement needs to see the device firsthand and collect the evidence.”
Another tactic is for activists to befriend farm employees or vendors to try to get them to be whistle blowers or provide information about a farm.
“The activists become part of the community by joining organizations and later using that to get information,” Thompson-Weeman said.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in 2020, Thompson-Weeman said, and the animal activist groups got involved, too.
“There were efforts by the activist groups to tie the pandemic to animal agriculture,” she said. “They claimed animal agriculture is what caused the current pandemic and will cause future pandemics.”
To avoid problems with activists, Thompson-Weeman said, the most important thing livestock producers can do is YouTube proof their farms.
“Make sure there’s nothing on your operation that you wouldn’t want livestreamed on Facebook,” she said. “There are some practices we might have to explain, but make sure you’re continuing to improve and focus on innovation.”
However, livestock producers can do everything right and still find themselves targeted by animal activist groups.
“Take some efforts to make yourself a harder target by installing locks or keypads on your doors and gates, installing sensor lighting, making sure cameras are visible and putting up no trespassing signs,” Thompson-Weeman said. “The fact that door was locked and you had a sign will help you immensely with law enforcement if there is an incident on your farm.”
If there is suspicious activity, Thompson-Weeman said, farmers should tell everyone.
“Make sure people know so neighbors can be alert, as well,” she said.
When hiring new employees, a written employment application should always be completed.
“Always call references by using a business’s main number so you make sure the reference is who they say they are,” Thompson-Weeman said.
“Keep an eye out for red flags because if something doesn’t seem right, there’s probably a reason,” she said. “It might be someone who is overly educated for a position they’re seeking, their background doesn’t line up or their license is from one state, their car plates are from another and their bank is in a different state.”
It is important for all livestock producers to know their local laws on trespassing and protests.
“Activists will misrepresent what the law says and where they are allowed to go,” Thompson-Weeman said. “If you have an office at your farm, be mindful of suspicious phone calls asking questions about the farm and the number of animals you have.”
Livestock producers should consider developing a crisis plan.
“You need a plan instead of figuring it out when the crisis is unfolding,” Thompson-Weeman said. “The best time to plan for a crisis is yesterday and the second best time is today.”
However, Thompson-Weeman said, livestock producers cannot let concerns about activism stop them from engaging with consumers online and in person because that is the goal of the groups.
“Make sure you are taking opportunities to be the face of dairy, to share information and be transparent to take away the mystery for people if they’re not familiar with the industry,” she said. “Be proactive so people are coming to us to have discussions about animal agriculture and not buying into the myths and misinformation.”
The alliance has resources for livestock producers to use.
“We have information on farm security, ways to have engaged conversations, animal welfare and sustainability,” Thompson-Weeman said. “We have information about the hot topics to support you in navigating these issues.”
For more information about Animal Agriculture Alliance, go to www.animalagalliance.org.