Myths Promoted At "End Factory Farming" Conference
November 17, 2011 - About 300 activists representing the animal rights, environmental, and public health movements converged in Arlington, VA on October 27-29 for the first-ever "Conference to End Factory Farming". More than 25 speakers attempted to gain the attention of decision makers in Washington, D.C. with sessions titled "The Hidden Costs of Factory Farming", "Inside the Industry", and "Building Coalitions for Change". The goal of the event? To create synergy between competing activist campaigns and frame their extreme goal of eliminating today's animal agriculture industry as a mainstream effort.
The event was co-hosted by Farm Sanctuary and the ASPCA and sponsored by a wide variety of extremist organizations and companies including the Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, A Well Fed World, Compassion in World Farming, E: The Environmental Magazine, Discovery's TreeHugger, and Whole Foods Market.
Many speakers revealed just how out of step with American values they are during their presentations. For example, Holly Cheever, of HSUS' Veterinary Medical Association Leadership Council said that "slaughterhouses are a kind of Auschwitz". This equating of human suffering with agricultural practices not only diminishes the horrors inflicted upon the victims of the Holocaust, but is a sentiment commonly expressed by PETA and other extremist organizations.
Jonathan Balcome, author of Pleasurable Kingdom and former HSUS and PETA employee, referred to the the push for animal rights as comparable to "African colonialism, slavery, women's rights, and the civil rights movement". Many of the extremists seemed to realize that while their beliefs are not mainstream, they could still seek to influence the public through emotional appeals. As speaker Nick Cooney of The Humane League put it: "revolution is not a question of virtue, but of effectiveness."
Notably, the single presenter who suggested compromise to target large-scale producers rather than eliminating animal agriculture in entirety, Dr. John Ikerd of the University of Missouri, was met with ridicule from the audience and fellow presenters. HSUS Senior Director of Farm Animal Protection Paul Shapiro responded to Ikerd by saying that "combating factory farming and promoting veganism are not exclusive concepts".
Promoting veganism - and as speaker Mark Bekoff claimed, sharing the idea that meat is a "who" rather than a "what" - was a main goal of the meeting. Farm Sanctuary President Gene Baur eleborated on this ambition during a pre-conference media interview, saying: "But at the end of the day, it's not necessary to eat any animal products. We'll continue to hold up the vegan ideal, but we will also support and encourage any steps that move away from the industrial factory-farming model."
The activists discussed tactics to intimidate farmers and ranchers using litigation and legislation while promoting the "factory farm" stereotype to the public. Nathan Runkle, Director of Mercy for Animals, indicated that undercover videos represent the "lifeblood" of the organization. Speaker David Wolfson, a partner with the Milbank Tweed law firm and professor at NYU's school of law, said that providing pro bono work to activist groups is one of the most important things lawyers can do to help the movement. He also elaborated on the legal strategy used during California's Proposition 2 campaign, saying that "if a farmer came out in criticism of the ballot initiative, they would be subject to undercover investigation and sued".
Selected Conference Quotes:
"For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows, the better."
- Dr. Michael Greger (HSUS)
"Slaughterhouses are a kind of Auschwitz."
- Dr. Holly Cheever (HSUS)
"The lifeblood of Mercy For Animals is our undercover investigations of animal agriculture."
- Nathan Runkle (Mercy for Animals)
"In California, if a farmer came out in criticism of the ballot initiative, they would be subject to undercover investigation and sued."
- David Wolfson (Milbank Tweed)
"Meat consumption shouldn't be normal."
- Gene Baur (Farm Sanctuary)
"Everyone can agree that cutting down on animal consumption is better for the public."
- Paul Shapiro (HSUS)
"We need the poultry industry not to exist."
- Wenonah Hauter (Food and Water Watch)
"Agribusiness… they're the radicals!"
- U.S. Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA)
"Let's hear about veganism as an alternative. Taking on meat should be the real war."
- Dr. James McWilliams (The Atlantic)
The Alliance provides a full 12-page report on the conference on the Members section of its website. Everyone involved in food production should be made aware of the goals and tactics discussed at this first conference dedicated to ending animal agriculture. While vegetarians and vegans represent just a tiny fraction of society - about 97 percent of Americans include meat, milk, and eggs in their diet - they are beginning to have a disproportionately loud voice. It is critical that all stakeholders correct the misinformation presented by these extremist groups. The Alliance will continue to work to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers to show that while today's agriculture industry has evolved to meet the needs of society, combining technology with tradition, the same commitments to the animals, the land, and food safety remain.
The full text of the Alliance's report on the "Conference to End Factory Farming" is available on the Members section of its website. For more information, contact Communications Director Sarah Hubbart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Alliance:
The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is a broad-based coalition of individual farmers and ranchers, producer organizations, veterinarians, scientists, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry and retailers. The Alliance's mission is to communicate the important role of animal agriculture to our nation's economy, productivity, vitality, security and that animal well-being is central to producing safe, high-quality, affordable food and other products essential to our daily lives. Find the Alliance on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.