20 Years an Ag-vocate: Then and Now

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Imagine a time with no Internet (or online shopping), no smart phones, no laptops or iPads. Correspondence outside of the office took three-days to be received and at best another three days for a reply to be received back, unless by phone (land line of course) or fax (if you even know what that is – believe me, many today don’t!) Relationships were built through personal connections, face-to-face – not virtually via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. International conversations required flying long distances on planes or through very, very expensive telephone calls. And researching anything meant pulling out the Encyclopedia Brittancia or scouring newspapers – possibly requiring library visits to only find archived stories on microfiche (again, anyone know what that is?)!

To my teen and probably many on my staff, I’m sure I seem ancient – and after writing the above – I sound ancient to even myself! “We’ve come a long way, baby!” (anyone remember that phrase?) Some good, some that has made the Alliance’s work even more challenging. A lot has changed in my 20 years at the Animal Agriculture Alliance (originally named Animal Industry Foundation), yet we still focus on the same issues we did back in the 1994 when I started and in the mid-80s when the Alliance was founded. What’s changed most are the tactics, the technologies and the funding of the groups that oppose animal agriculture. In the eighties, the animal rights organizations turned their attention to farm animal agriculture, as they indicated, for the sheer number of animals raised for food and fiber and because many were being raised in doors – for their own protection, mind you, from predators, the elements, disease, and oh yes, to ultimately allow farmers to produce safer food. These extremists believe eating meat or using animals for any purpose is immoral. They believe all animals were equal. Remember the famous quote from PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk: “…a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”?


In the ‘90s, some of the most common tactics to get attention was to sling buckets of paint, symbolizing blood, on mink coats or to dump truck loads of manure in front of hotels and convention centers where farm animal trade associations held their annual conferences. Today, they often sling lies and innuendo about farmers or threats to CEOs of publicly traded companies with brand names using social media to post “undercover” videos obtained by activists who have gained employment illicitly on farms or in processing facilities.
The top executive of one extremist group has boldly stated on national television that “the lifeblood of [our organization] is our undercover investigations of animal agriculture.” Another group’s executive is described in a Boston Globe article as accomplishing “his wins by playing to both the fears and desires of corporate executives.”

While these extremist groups certainly are threats to agriculture, I think what disturbs me most about today’s trends are more and more food chain partners marketing against U.S. farmers and ranchers and the modern advances of farms today to improve animal well-being as well as food safety. Many are even disparaging processes and technologies used by their own farmer suppliers.

Just this week, my husband brought me a laminated card handed out by the Cosi restaurant next to his office which reads: “New Chicken! Antibiotic and hormone free, vegetarian-fed; Raised in a humane, cage-free environment; Costs a little more, but…taste, quality and source is superior.” Really??!! This is NEW CHICKEN? News flash! ALL meat chicken is antibiotic free, and comes from chickens raised without added hormones or in cage housing. But sadly, they bank on the fact that its highly millennial clientele doesn’t know that. It makes me very frustrated and sad as well.

Why sad? I’ve met so many great people over the past 20 years who strive every day to do the right thing by their animals, their employees, their customers, their families and the public. These people are really the driving passion behind what I do and why I love what I have done for my 20 years here, and in my previous role at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

The conversations I’ve had with many farmers who ask questions like, “Why are they (meaning activists) doing this to me and my family”? Why do they portray us as evil? Why can’t they be happy their lifestyle choice and leave others alone? How can they get away with attacking farm families with their rhetoric, lies and false representation of our businesses? Don’t they understand the harm they present to the animals when they’re traipsing from farm to farm, potentially spreading disease?” The questions go on and on, and the individuals asking are truly hurt by the false accusations presented.

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do know the activists are not going away. Unfortunately it took too long for stakeholders to believe these groups were truly a threat and their campaigns would impact their businesses. The “sucks to be you” and “I just hope they won’t bother me” mentality lingered way too long, and now we’re behind the curve.

But the good news is, 97% of the American public enjoys meat, milk and eggs on a daily basis. Developing countries around the world are incorporating animal protein into their diets and world food needs to grow by nearly 50% in the next 20 years and 70% in the next 40.

So it’s important we all proactively seek opportunities to share the amazing story of animal agriculture and let the public know more about the incredible people who produce our food in America and beyond. We have to actively engage in conversations whenever and wherever possible to ensure our collective voice is represented in the same spaces as the activists.

Fortunately more than 20 years ago, forward thinking ag leaders understood “united we stand, divided we fall”, thus the Alliance was formed. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to work for such a noble mission and with such absolutely amazing people across the world. I look forward to continuing the Alliance’s work on behalf of America’s farmers, ranchers and producers of food and so many other crucial products, and invite you to join in our effort!


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