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Ag Industry Threatened by Animal Rights

by Eric Prescott Wednesday, Feb. 07, 2007 at 8:48 PM
eric@ananimalfriendlylife.com

As both the law and Big Ag respond to consumer pressures for humane treatment of animals, agriculture representatives fear a slippery slope that could lead to an end of their business as they know it, adding a meaningful wrinkle to the debate between so-called new welfarists and abolitionists, who ought to be teaming up in a full-court press on the industry (keeping them on the defense) rather than wasting time and efforts criticizing each other.

As an animal advocate, I can speculate all I want about which non-profit organizations and which tactics are most effective in bringing about a cultural shift in favor of animal rights, but speculation only goes so far. Sometimes it helps to hear from the opposition.

I have read here and there that the industrial animal product suppliers (formerly known as farmers) are nervous about shifting consumer attitudes in the marketplace, but this story (sent to me by Paul Shapiro, director of HSUS's Factory Farming Campaign) spells it out in the headline: "Ag Industry Threatened by Animal Rights."

What we see looks an awful lot like the concerns over a "slippery slope" that keep organizations like HSUS pressing on the vulnerable welfare positions that they do:"It's only a matter of time before we are defending whether beef cattle should be in a feedlot," Loos said.

While producers may not think such a ban on feedlots could pass, urban residents in even major cattle-feeding states are much more distant from the industry, Loos noted.

"I'm not sure that wouldn't pass in even our greatest cattle-feeding states," he said.They're scared folks. It's not that we're threatening their livelihoods, necessarily, despite their concerns. After all, business is business. Follow the money. But change is hard, and it is costly and, frankly, big business doesn't like to lose.

This story serves as a fresh reminder that the consumer is in charge. We forget this sometimes. The government serves us, for instance, but we often take a fatalistic approach to politics. Why? The same is true of commerce. It's our wages we're spending. We can spend them where we see fit, and companies know that. They smell our money, and they want it. If enough consumers rise up and demand not just less inhumane treatment of animals, but animal-free products, those who meet that demand will succeed, and those that don't may well be destined to fail. It's up to them to chase after us. If they don't adapt and meet our needs, that's their problem, not ours. After all, it's only business.

We've already been seeing the impact of a shifting marketplace in different ways. For instance, both Smithfield and Maple Leaf announced long-term transitions away from sow gestation crates due to consumer concerns over cruelty, concerns which have to be attributed to tireless efforts of those in the field of animal protection, including HSUS. Of course, these sows are still going to be raised in close quarters with one another, probably on concrete, and treated more or less as an inconveniently alive source of animal protein, doing absolutely nothing to end the ultimate cruelty to these animals: an untimely death. But the point is, animal advocates working directly with the public are demonstrably responsible for shifts in producer behavior, behavior which is likely to have some sort of domino effect on the industry.

"So what?" you may ask. "This is just supply and demand. We know how this works. If people ended their demand for animal products altogether, that would really be something." And it would. But seeing is believing. Seeing the results of activism on the public and the results of shifting consumer concerns on the industry should invigorate the efforts of animal-friendly people to reach out to consumers and let them know that banning gestation crates isn't enough. Vegan outreach must strive for mainstream acceptance and critical mass, and we must hurry.

The industry has been slow to react and lately has been ineffective at stopping animal-friendly measures from passing, but a lot of money will be spent both on misleading advertising and behind closed doors in politics, and it wouldn't be too hard for allied deep-pocketed multinational corporations to stall activists' efforts.

In this particular article, we read some rallying cries calling for just this sort of response:Loos told cattle producers the livestock industry must show the public that there are moral and ethical justifications for taking the life of an animal to feed a person. The industry is losing that argument in some segments of society, he said.And they will continue to lose that argument as it becomes clear that animal products are no longer required for sustenance in modern society. In fact, as the medical evidence against meat-centered diets grows, we are seeing quite clearly that the opposite is true.

Further, as the environmental evidence against eating animal products grows stronger, the ethics of this issue will expand well beyond our own health and the morality of breeding and eating billions of other sentient beings.Jim Warren, a sale-barn operator from Aromas, Calif., said ... "It's a challenge for us as an industry to tell the rest of the world what goes on in our business."And it will continue to be a challenge as long as our compassion grows and your business remains inherently cruel, Mr. Warren.

Despite what my fellow abolitionists think about the tactics of welfare-oriented organizations like HSUS, the industry sees their goals as being the same as ours: ending animal agriculture. And it sees us as being very effective: The Humane Society also has led the charge to ban horse slaughter. Legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but stalled in the Senate. New bills are already being offered and such a ban could also find its way into the farm bill. Such battles should be a "wake-up call to what this movement has actually accomplished," [said Trent Loos, a rancher, journalist and vocal livestock supporter].To help combat the inroads activists are making, look at animal agriculture to devote more resources to helping out more vulnurable industries. The article suggests, "Cattlemen need to help defend the pork and poultry industries, whose practices are facing more referendums and lawsuits."

It may behoove animal activists to show that level of support for one another, despite our concerns over whether one approach is superior to another. After all, if the industry doesn't like it, shouldn't we support it? It brings to mind the famous Sun Tzu quote: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Politics may make for some strange bedfellows, but we're stronger united against a common opponent than against each other. Also, unlike other uncomfortable alliances, when our mission is accomplished we won't find ourselves facing a new enemy.

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