A report from a recent Animal Rights National Conference provides several insights into methods vegans and vegetarians are adopting in their ongoing efforts to try to turn the public against animal farming, and how they rate their success to date.
The conference, hosted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement near Washington DC in August, had a vision is to end “all forms of human exploitation of animals”. Nearly 2000 individuals reportedly attended the four-day event, representing 90 organisations and 12 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico, and the United States.
Also in the audience were members of the Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA), a non-profit, united livestock-industries group with the stated aims of bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and “exposing those who threaten our nation’s food security with damaging misinformation”.
In AAA’s post conference wrap, Alliance President CEO Kay Johnson Smith said the speakers at the 2017 Animal Rights National Conference made their goals clear: “ending all forms of animal agriculture, regardless of how well animals are cared for”.
“Their persistent focus on pressure campaigns targeting restaurant, retail and foodservice brands is of great concern to the Alliance and our members.
“We encourage anyone with a vested interest in producing, processing or selling meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, to read this year’s report and hear how determined these groups are to eliminate food choices and make our society vegan.”
Activists in attendance were encouraged to be as extreme as necessary to advance their goals.
“Breaking the law can often be a good thing to do,” said Zach Groff, Animal Liberation Collective. Groff spoke about the ‘nature of confrontational activism’ such as “protests, open rescues from farms without permission, vigils…” According to Groff, “this is a type of activism that can often upset people, it can rile people up.”
Some speakers described how undercover groups are using drones to record videos and gain an aerial view of a facilities before infiltrating the property in-person. Audience members were advised on how to disguise cameras on a target property to aid with undercover investigations. Some groups, the conference was told, are also using trackers on livestock trucks to monitor where animals move to and from.
A major focus of this year’s conference was on pressuring restaurant, retail and foodservice brands to adopt certain policies, with the end goal of forcing them to stop selling animal products.
In one session on “Engaging Institutions,” a speaker from The Humane League said the group had “basically harassed” one national sandwich chain with a campaign. When an audience member commented about ‘humane’ policies not being as good as complete liberation, Krista Hiddema, Mercy for Animals (Canada), hinted at no animal products being sold as the end goal, stating “we’re never going away.” Hiddema also stated that “we [the animal rights movement] are winning against the largest organizations in the world,” and “they are terrified of us.”
“It’s the beginning of the end of animal welfare and the beginning of civil rights for animals,”one activist told the conference.
Other speakers shared Hiddema’s confidence in the movement’s success, with Jon Camp, The Humane League, stating “they [food companies] don’t make policies due to altruism, they do it because of the pressure.” David Coman-Hidy, also with The Humane League, told attendees to research companies before launching a campaign, asking “what can we use to make them look like hypocrites?” Coman-Hidy emphasized “we are not here to negotiate,” and activists “are essentially a pain in the neck for companies.” He suggested that attendees should attempt to damage companies’ brand reputations, stating “I recommend putting blood drips on their logo.”
Consistent with previous years, another key message from conference speakers was for attendees to focus efforts on eliminating farms of all types and sizes, not only the large-scale, modern operations (declared to be “factory farms”) that have historically been targeted. “Please, stop saying “factory farming” – it’s done its job,” said Hope Bohanec, projects manager, United Poultry Concerns as she emphasized that farms of all sizes are equally cruel. Bohanec continued to accuse the food industry of “humane washing” and trying to “dupe the public.” Bonahec touched on recent movements to go ‘cage-free,’ stating that all animal agriculture is bad, regardless of what labels say.
One speaker was ridiculed by the audience for his ‘Reducetarian’ approach, which encourages people to reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, meat consumption. An audience member stated that veganism is a lifestyle, not a diet, and that “’reducetarianism’ is the animal rights version of greenwashing” (trying to make an organization seem more environmentally responsible than it actually is).
Several speakers and panels also discussed animal agriculture’s impact on the environment, a talking point the Alliance has seen animal rights activist groups relying on more heavily in recent years. Jeffrey Cohan, Jewish Veg, stated that “we know animal agriculture is the leading cause of pollution on our planet.” Lisa Kemmerer, author, Sister Species and Eating Earth, said “eating hamburgers is like driving a bulldozer over the rainforest” and “being an environmentalist who is not vegan is nonsense on stilts.”
Also speaking at the conference were Nick Cooney (founder of The Humane League) and Vandhana Bala, Mercy for Animals; Ingrid Newkirk, PETA; Erica Meier, Compassion Over Killing; Steven Wise, Nonhuman Rights Project; Anita Krajnc, Toronto Pig Save; Bruce Friedrich, Good Food Institute; and Paul Shapiro, Josh Balk and Kristie Middleton, all with the Humane Society of the United States.
The conference clearly underlined that the movement’s “end game” is not animal welfare, but animal rights and complete animal liberation. Speakers compared the fight for animals rights with the social justice movements of the past, such as ending human slavery and the struggle for racial and gender equality.
Celebrated wins included claims of a generational shift, with one speaker suggesting that one in 10 millennials (those born in the 1980s-1990s) are either vegetarian or vegan. “How to engage with millennial and Gen Xers should be our number one question,” one speaker commented. Another speaker, a doctor, told the audience that “Veganism is the only way to save the planet and ourselves”, adding “the younger generation is going to make eating meat look as uncool as smoking cigarettes and wearing fur.”
The conference heard estimates that “clean meat” (artificially-produced or plant-based ‘meat’) – will comprise one third of the meat industry by 2050. The conference also heard that the release of recent anti-animal farming movies such as ‘Okja’ and ‘What the Health’ had caused a spike in the number of Google searches for “go vegan”.
Challenges included how to recruit more members into the movement, how to expand vegan options in the market place, and how to engage children in vegan advocacy.
One speaker noted how including pictures of baby animals on social media increased impressions by 20 percent and posts with companion animals increased impressions by 55 percent.
A PETA marketing spokesperson spoke of the importance of using videos on social media. A key aim was “to make people cry”, but the speaker also noted that censorship filters on platforms such as Facebook were hurting the animal rights movement’s attempts to share its message on social media.
Various workshops offered guidance on a range of topics including using meditation and training in mindfulness to ‘calm and direct the mind’ (each conference day started with a meditation session and yoga training).
Individual sessions focused on the power of individual advocacy and stories to evoke an emotional response, and theories and techniques to win the hearts and minds of the public. Workshop session topics included “Surviving our activism (dealing with despair, disillusionment and burnout)”, The need for courageous deviance from social norms to achieve social reform; “Getting to know our adversaries” – who is driving animal exploitation and how they are likely to stop”; and “The power of inclusivity and compassion (living with the knowledge that even vegans die)”.
Lawyers reminded the audience of their rights to free speech and assembly and advised them on the use encryption when communicating with each other. They were also told to look for three signs that can help them identify infiltrators who may not be on the animal rights movement’s side: for example if the suspect appears to be using a fake social media profile, using aggressive activist behaviour as cover and are being nosey and trying to collect information.
The Humane Society of the US described how it has started a culinary campaign with food service providers in university campuses, hospitals and schools to help them to “move away from animal abuse” by teaching their chefs how to prepared plant-based meals.
Developing cheaper alternatives to meat was also a priority: “Want it to be based on ethics, but for many it has to be based on price,” one speaker noted.