Those of us in animal agriculture are no strangers to the fact that there are extremist groups calling for the end of using animals for food. A tiny but loud fraction of the population believes animals should not be raised on farms no matter how well they are cared for.
Another animal industry faces similar threats, though, we might not even think of it: pets.
During the Animal Agriculture Alliance Summit, Mike Bober of the Pet Advocacy Network described that his group has dealt with many of the same issues animal agriculture has as extremists call for “personhood” for pets and more restrictive care standards. That includes court battles and political measures like ballot initiatives. All politics are local, he noted. It is easier for extremists to start small on the city or county level than the federal or even state level.
He explained that his organization works with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to implement and follow regulations for companion animal professionals such as dog breeders. These guidelines are primarily set by the Animal Welfare Act, which establishes standards for the treatment of animals in research, testing, teaching, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. However, even those guidelines are not enough for extremists.
“Don’t think just because you follow the standards you are safe from attacks,” Bober added. An extremist viewpoint leaves no room for animals to be used by humans in any way.
Agriculture has its own examples of that negativity. Ballot initiatives and other legislation around the country have imposed restrictions on animal housing, animal care, and even attempted to make artificial insemination a criminal offense. Bober also indicated that there is growing concern extremist voices are making the delineation between livestock animals and pets less clear. That could mean farm animals would be more regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, which includes expansive standards for recordkeeping, identification, shelter, food and water, transit, and more.
Bober shared, though, that he sees animal agriculture as a partner to combat this misinformation that attempts to impose a minority viewpoint on the other 99% of the population. Agriculture and pets don’t always have the same issues, but they may have similar roots, he said.
From the public relations perspective of standing up for those who care for animals, defense loses, added Jack Hubbard later in the meeting when discussing how well-funded animal rights groups are. If you’re answering questions, you are behind.
Instead, Bober offered four “Fs” for effective communication with legislators on behalf of our industries:
- Face: We cannot be represented only by our statistics. Build relationships with your lawmakers.
- Facts: Bring the data for your cause and be precise. Show legislators the impact animal industries have on your (and their) community.
- Focus: When meeting with lawmakers, stick to two or three key points to keep their attention and ensure they know what you are asking for.
- Follow up: Use a meeting with your legislator as a jumping off point to a deeper relationship and establishing yourself as a resource on the subject to them.
Though the extremist voice is not a large one, it is a loud one, and those who work with animals can benefit from working together to share the truth of value and continued improvement. Animals play an important role in our society as food, fiber, and companions. Protecting those needs is something we can all get behind.