I think everyone would agree with me when I say that 2020 didn’t exactly play out the way anyone would have expected. I’ve been extremely proud to be part of the animal agriculture community and the broader food chain which has continued to adapt despite the challenges of an ever-evolving situation. Now more than ever farmers are being acknowledged for their essential work and most Americans are deeply appreciative – in fact, according to a recent Gallup Poll, farming and agriculture is the most positively-rated industry in 2020 with a 69 percent positive rating (an 11-percent increase compared with last year). Unfortunately, there is a very small (but vocal) portion of the population who does not agree with that assessment: animal rights activists.
Animal rights activist groups have been busier than ever this year as they’ve attempted to take advantage of the pandemic to spread negative messaging about animal agriculture. One trend we’ve seen is activist organizations repeatedly attempt to tie the current COVID-19 pandemic to animal agriculture and saying that meat consumption and animal agriculture will lead to future pandemics. Despite the fact that these claims have no scientific backing, activists are playing into fears about pandemics to call for animal agriculture to be ‘canceled’ and demand moratoriums on plants and large-scale farms.
Activists have also turned to online methods of gathering and spreading their messages (as have many of us given restrictions on travel and events). All of the major animal rights conferences were held virtually this year, but the content remained focused on ending animal agriculture. Pandemics were a major topic, with speakers saying things like, “if you look at a factory farm where there are hundreds of thousands of chickens surrounding Miranda [one specific chicken]. One gets sick, they’ll all get sick, and then the disease starts mutating because there are so many opportunities. That’s why scientists call factory farms a ‘laboratory of disease.’” Speakers also dwelled on climate change and the environmental impact of animal agriculture, making statements such as “factory farms poison our environment.” Ultimately, speakers at these conferences believe that “a movement like ours is the beginning of the end of animal agriculture” and that activists need to step up their efforts to do everything from holding vigils and protests at farms and plants to trying to engage with legislators and major food brands.
While some parts of activism have gone virtual (including aggressive social media campaigns targeting the pages of farms and agricultural organizations), other groups have continued to hold in-person protests despite gatherings being discouraged. This year there have been several protests by animal rights activist organizations at the private homes of agricultural companies and organization executives, something that has not happened very frequently in the past. Activists have also continued to gather for protests outside of restaurants, grocery stores, plants and government buildings. One group held a 48-hour vigil outside of a meat processing plant in California with about 100 activists. The event culminated with several activists gaining access to the plant and chaining themselves to equipment and others chaining themselves together to stop trucks from entering the plant.
As the examples above demonstrate, 2020 has been a crazy year for animal rights activism along with everything else. Unfortunately, we do not believe these aggressive tactics are going to slow down anytime soon as animal rights groups believe the pandemic is the ‘tipping point’ they need to achieve their goals. As we brace ourselves for what 2021 may bring, we all need to make sure we are taking steps to protect our farms, families and livelihoods from the threat of activism. The first step is being beyond reproach and making sure animal welfare and environmental stewardship are always top-of-mind at your farm. You can still be targeted even if you are doing the right thing, so you also need to adopt basic farm security principles such as cautious hiring, ‘no trespassing’ signage, a policy for verifying visitors and vetting requests for information and a crisis plan for how you would handle a protest or other activist incident.
I’m crossing my fingers for a quieter 2021, but regardless of what comes in the new year the Animal Agriculture Alliance will have your back with the latest in activist trends and farm security recommendations. Visit our website (animalagalliance.org) or contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information or support.
Hannah Thompson-Weeman leads the development and implementation of communications strategy for the Alliance as the vice president, strategic engagement. She lives in Maryland with her husband.
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