All friends of animal agriculture have an enemy and its lurking just outside the door of rural North Carolina counties like Sampson, an audience of some 350 were told Thursday night.
Dr. Wes Jamison, professor of public relations at Palm Beach Atlantic University, used slides and a touch of humor to deliver a powerful message to those attending the 12th Friends of Agriculture rally in Sampson County — and to urge a organized fight against the enemy, namely the Humane Society of the United States and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, otherwise known as PETA.
“If you consider yourself a friend of agriculture, be warned, they are coming for you,” Jamison said. “These people have one general outcome — they want to stop animal agriculture.”
But those with HSUS and PETA, he said, aren’t going to come right out and say that, instead they will begin to play on people’s emotions, using Americans’ love for animals to launch the attack.
“They are going to tell people they want to help animals. They’ll come and shut down what they call puppy mills and they’ll tell you they want to help you do a better job … but that’s simply not the case. Don’t be fooled,” Jamison said.
Before introducing Jamison, Friends of Ag chairman Ronnie Jackson readied the crowd for the speaker’s remarks, reiterating earlier statements that people in Sampson County needed to realize that there were more people moving into North Carolina cities than on the farm, a situation that was changing the landscape of the General Assembly and would impact laws coming from that body.
“We are quickly losing representation on the rural side,” Jackson stressed. “While it’s not true in Sampson or even Duplin, take a look at the Legislature. There aren’t that many full-time farmers in the General Assembly, and those who are making the laws that impact you and me don’t know a whole lot, if anything, about agriculture. That’s a scary fact for us.”
Using that points to jump-start his findings, Jamison honed in on the issue that touches so many in Sampson — home to hundreds of farmers, many livestock, poultry and pork producers.
“The movement you might remember from 10 or 20 years ago isn’t the movement of today. The enemy is very sophisticated and very powerful, and they are very good at what they do.”
Using slides representing the past, the present and future of animal welfare, Jamison pointed to previous views that were around 20 years ago. Animal welfare groups, he said, thought it was OK to use animals as long as farmers didn’t cause unnecessary pain; animal rights activists, he said, used to say farmers had no right to use those animals.
“There was a clear distinction then, but animal welfare has become radicalized now,” Jamison asserted.
Talking about HSUS, the professor said any belief that the Humane Society of the United States was aligned with local humane shelters, like the animal shelter here in Sampson, was an incorrect one. “Don’t let them fool you; they aren’t tied to local shelters. The money they raise from those emotional commercials you see on TV don’t go to the animals, probably no more than 10 percent goes there.”
Most of that money, Jamison believes, goes to fund activities aimed at stopping animal agriculture.
“Even if they call themselves animal welfare groups today, they are nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and they are coming to your state.”
He called PETA the “lunatic fringe” with its cloak and dagger antics to get press coverage by sending people onto farms to infiltrate them with undercover video showing what they say is the unfair treatment of animals.
“They want to play on people’s emotions, and they do,” Jamison said.
The strategy of such groups, he said, is to narrowly define the issue so that agriculture cannot defend itself.
“It’s an effective campaign, talking about why we love one but eat the other,” he said referring to a consumer’s love of animals yet desire to continue eating meat.
“That’s the essence of their campaign.”
And their campaign is effective, Jamison said, because the majority of Americans look at agriculture differently than those in rural counties do. “People have a difficult time distinguishing between farm animals and pets. In fact, statistics show that 50 percent of Americans think farm animals should be treated the same as a pet.”
“Think about that fact. That is what will make it easier for organizations like HSUS to come to North Carolina and get significant legislation passed.”
Calling them consumer hypocrites, Jamison drew the analogy of those who sit down to a dinner that includes meat but yet cry foul when the animal they are eating is harmed.
“They want their pet and eat them, too,” he admonished.
The core message of those groups, he said, was targeted at making the pet-owning, animal-caring public feel bad. They’ll say they are for the animals, that they aren’t asking you to quit eating meat but rather to help the animals … and that’s how they get a typical consumer to support HSUS legislation.”
Making the public feel uncomfortable and pressuring grocery chains to the point they feel as if their brand is being damaged are ways they wheedle their way into the psyche of consumers.
And then, he stressed, those groups will talk about production practices like castration, gestation stalls, teeth clipping and the way animals are transported, making those practices look unpleasant to the pet-owning public.
The time is now, he asserted, for friends of agriculture to push back.
“They are food bigots, and they are trying to take their values and force them down the throats of consumers. It all boils down to your right to choose animal products.”
Jamison said he firmly believed that meat would be a target much like tobacco was several years ago. “You heard it hear first — meat will be framed just like tobacco was.”
He called on farmers and supporters of the agriculture community to organize themselves against the ensuing battle, protecting themselves against the fight that is coming.
“Understand that animal agriculture has an enemy and that the enemy really wants all animal agriculture banned. Oppose this early and hard, defend agriculture. Do things right and certify it, then let it be known. People just want to know you are doing what’s right.
“You see, most people tend to forget that something has to die for us to live. You farmers are very valuable to society. It’s time to learn how to defend yourself.”