Last May, farmers, slaughterhouse managers, policymakers, veterinarians, restaurant owners and other links in the animal-based food chain met in Arlington, Virginia, for the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit. Not surprisingly, in the wake of Prop 2 and other successful campaigns on behalf of animals, the theme of this year’s summit was “Politics, Activism and Religion: Influencing the Debate on Animal Welfare in America.”

The Cattle Network published an interesting summary of the event this week, and it offers a glimpse of how agribiz hopes to take on what it fears most: animal activists. The plan includes stepping up security at factory farms and processing plants so activists have more difficulty with undercover investigations — clearly, it’s easier to get away with cruelty when the public doesn’t know about it. They’re also mighty concerned about activists controlling the message, as well as ballot measures and other animal welfare initiatives.

“Aggressive animal rights campaigns are being mounted globally, and it is important that we address them strategically and in a unified manner,” said Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, before the summit.

Other speakers included Wes Jamison, associate professor of communications at Palm Beach Atlantic University and a Southern Baptist Minister. Jamison is a longtime critic of animal activism, and he has erroneously claimed that activists want to give animals the same rights as humans. He recently told a convention of pig-flesh producers: “Never forget that you do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. Be proud of it.”

At the May meeting, Jamison unveiled a study on how animal rights groups are using religion to advance the vegan or vegetarian message, and he suggested that meat-eaters with companion animals are particularly vulnerable, since they must confront the moral implications of treating some kinds of animal like family members while treating other kinds of animals like dinner. Jamison said animal advocates use that guilt as an advantage, noting that “God is compassionate; factory farming is not.”

Also notable is big ag’s concern that campaigners are using technology to advance the interests of animals, effectively controlling the message. “Activists have learned to use the Internet better than industry has,” reads the article. They’re even upset at mainstream media, noting that The New York Times and other outlets are still using the term “Swine flu,” rather than the industry-preferred (and less blameworthy) “H1N1 virus.”

In her PowerPoint presentation, Kay Johnson Smith advises those working in animal agribusiness to:

  • Thoroughly screen job applicants and implement a security plan. (In other words, why treat animals better when you can suppress what’s happening behind closed doors?)
  • Implement the industry’s animal welfare guidelines. (Yes, those guidelines that are basically meaningless. For more information, see Farm Sanctuary’s in-depth report on agribusiness welfare programs.)
  • Strengthen state laws to protect farming and ranching. (Another attempt to prevent animal advocates from educating the public and working to improve the lives of animals.)

It’s always important to know what the opposition is doing; after all, we want to continue to keep the pressure on.

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