Time for animal interests to come together

I just exchanged emails with an old friend and colleague who runs a trade association dedicated to the professional use in entertainment and education of marine mammals. She and I survived the animal rights wars of the 1980s and 1990s, and were both struck by the fact that never has the legitimate animal use community been so energized by the resurgence of the animal rights assault on all of our endeavors.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m paid to manage a group called the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (FAWC), which exists to coordinate the messaging and lobbying of the nation’s largest ag groups when it comes to thwarting ill-advised and downright stupid legislation aimed at eliminating most of the on-farm technology we enjoy today. This was a group started back in the 1980s and coordinated by me when I worked on-staff at the American Feed Industry Assn., and as a consultant, I’ve worked with the American Farm Bureau Federation and others to reinvent and reenergize FAWC for the battles we currently face.

And because of my personal conviction that the activists are wrong, that we’re right, and that not only farmers and ranchers, but society as a whole will lose so much if the activists prevail, I spend a lot of time on airplanes, speaking across the country on the immediate need for all of animal use to coalesce behind an effort to win back the trust of the American public. We must reassure the public that when it comes to legal, safe, humane and professional animal husbandry — along with preserving the right to use today’s and tomorrow’s technologies to help us do our jobs — that the animals in our care enjoy the best care avaialble.

I’ve done battle in the animal rights wars for nearly 25 years, and I’m proud of the fact that animal rights groups have never been able to achieve a significant federal anti-agriculture legislative or regulatory victory. I’m also proud of the fact that we in agriculture do not knee-jerk to any recommendation that our on-farm production practices could/should improve. Our industry has always been dynamic and always will be.

Today we’re almost embarrassed by the number of interests who are rallying to stop attacks on all animal use, whether for food, biomedical research, education, entertainment, clothing or companionship. The interest is gratifying.

However, as with any new-found energy comes a need to keep that energy coordinated and measured. Groups which have never before taken on the animal rights issue need to know what’s come before, what’s worked, what has not, and what is a waste of time. Every group which cares about beating back the attacks, needs to know the ground rules for engaging the other side.

We need to coordinate these efforts. I’m not saying that every group follows one script when voicing its opposition to the anti-technology, anti-animal use forces arrayed against us. I’m saying we must all pull in the same direction, coordinate our messages and use our strengths for proactive engagement of politicians, media and the public.

Without such coordination, there is a risk of taking out allies with “friendly fire.” Without such coordination, some groups will inevitably attack the activist community without the benefit of facts, resorting instead to unverifiable urban myths that can easily be refuted, injuring our reputation far more than the other side. Without coordination, groups will spend a lot of time, money and energy reinventing the wheel, and these are commodities which we cannot afford to waste.

There is also a need to cleanse our agendas of the notion we can negotiate with these organizations or that we can form “alliances” that will somehow mitigate the attacks. While, for instance, the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is the 800-lb. gorilla when it comes to attacks on agriculure, even if we could make HSUS happy, that doesn’t mean by any stretch that you’d satisfy PETA, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Assn (HFA)or other anti-ag groups.

Coordination and unity are the keys to success. If you’re out there and you’re rallying your troops, send an email to [email protected]. We should talk.

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