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Comment: Dropping in on the animal rights movement

No change — they still want everyone to go vegan

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, the industry’s advocacy group in the U.S., recently sent me a report by two young interns who were sent to “blend in” at the National Animal Rights Conference held outside Washington this summer to gain some insight into the movement’s plans.

The short answer is more of the same, as 1,500 activists from 47 states and 22 countries spent three days discussing ways to eliminate the consumption of meat and advance the vegan diet.

On the whole it was a chilling summary. There were workshops on everything from organizing factory farm campaigns to the use of drones to gather damning video and how to garner media attention for the cause.

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Overall, the alliance pulled five themes from this report: people need to be convinced they are doing the greatest good for the greatest number; target young people because they want to be different; lead people step by step to veganism; focus on the public because the government and police are not your friends; vandalism is warranted if it can gain media attention and pressure restaurant and retailer policies.

None of this is secret information. Animal rights organizations have been following this manifesto for decades now. If anything, this report seems to show that the movement is becoming more widespread, and more organized over time.

Some of the workshops got into the nitty-gritty of direct action.

One well-known activist mapped out a strategy by which college kids opposed to health research on animals could trick the university into banning students from a building used for animal testing. Then he told them how to inflame the story to make it into something the media would pick up and pressure the university to respond.

He also encourages activists to start a blog and link to the bigger blogs that mainstream media watch for emerging stories.

Another encouraged activists to look at every action as a stepping stone, to scale back their initial demands to something acceptable and then build on each small victory toward the end goal. One example would be to campaign for the end of battery cages in poultry operations on your university, then push to end them in your state and eventually end them in the U.S.

His means of obtaining those small steps involves activists gathering video evidence that could be viewed as animal cruelty.

This strategy really hit home to me as I scanned through the report, as we’ve had a few fresh examples of its success hitting the news wires.

First came the announcement that McDonald’s was going to gradually switch to free-range eggs over the next decade starting with five per cent of its supply last month. According to Sylvain Charlebois of the University of Guelph Food Institute, McDonald’s buys 120 million eggs a year in Canada alone. That requires the services of 3.2 million laying hens that must be pulled from cages over the next decade just to satisfy this one customer.

Slowly over time, enough of the public has been encouraged to believe battery cages are bad, that a major buyer is now forced to tell its suppliers to switch. It means higher costs, which in Canada will certainly be passed on, but we can only imagine that McDonald’s factored that into its decision.

The same company has the cattle industry ramping up to raise fully sustainable beef, although the exact details of what that means are still to be determined. This, too, is in response to public pressure, much of it traced back to the actions of activists.

In August, McDonald’s and Tyson Foods jointly dropped a chicken supplier in Tennessee after Mercy for Animals released a video taken by an activist of workers beating and stomping some chickens.

In September, the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a video taken at a Tyson plant in Texas and filed complaints with the USDA for inhumane animal-handling practices and food safety violations, then asked the attorny general of Delaware to investigate Tyson Foods for similar violations.

You could almost hear them planning it at the annual convention, which by the way had a whole section on dealing with government, law and politics.

These stories are so frequent now we sometimes grow numb to them, especially when they hit other sectors or another country. But activists don’t think that way. They are happy with the long view. Every little success counts.

Meanwhile livestock producers are kept busy devising welfare plans, environmental farm plans, codes of practice, best management practices to show they do deal with their animals humanely. But we know it will never be enough.

If this report from the alliance says anything it is that the activist’s end goal is elimination of the livestock industry. Maybe we need to start asking, what is our end strategy?

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Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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