Feb. 10 2016 07:37 AM

Animal activists are becoming bolder in their actions; even events like dairy shows could attract guests with ulterior motives.

dairy show
You've lined up the judge, secured the award sponsors and ordered the ribbons. The entries have been received and organized, the food vendor is ready to go, and the show veterinarian is on deck for health checks. Your checklist for planning a spring show looks complete - but you may be forgetting to prepare for the unexpected.

Animal rights activist groups have never been known to shy away from protesting or otherwise disrupting events, but their activities have seemed to escalate in recent months. We've seen activists interrupt football games, speeches by presidential candidates, and even the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show. Many of these can be attributed to Direct Action Everywhere, a group with the mission "to empower activists to take strong and confident action wherever animals are being denigrated, enslaved or killed, and create a world where animal liberation is a reality."

While this group has offices in select cities, it relies on offering resources to activists scattered across the country - which may mean there are individuals looking for opportunities to make headlines in a community near you. A dairy show or other agricultural exhibition may seem like an unlikely target, but as the protest during the PA Farm Show demonstrates, no event is immune.

A few simple steps can help show organizers prepare for any potential issues.
  1. Contact local law enforcement officers to raise awareness of potential activist activity and ask for recommendations that are consistent with local ordinances. This could also be an opportunity to build a relationship with your law enforcement community by inviting them to stop by the show to meet area farmers and learn more about the dairy industry.

  2. Work with show leadership and volunteers to establish a protocol to be followed in the event of a protestor or other confrontational individual. Be sure to designate clear roles and responsibilities - and have backups in case the primary leaders are unavailable.

  3. Have a media statement prepared and a spokesperson lined up. Be sure your spokesperson is an expert in animal care - farmers and veterinarians are usually trusted and well-received.

  4. Establish an animal welfare policy for the organization or club hosting the show. Provide copies to each exhibitor and have the policy posted and readily available during the event. It may seem like a hassle to provide guidelines to farmers who you know are doing the right thing, but just having commonsense policies on animal care written out will help demonstrate your commitment if it's called into question.
If you'll be exhibiting at a show, you can also take steps to make sure you're prepared to positively represent your industry. Practice answering questions you may receive from interested consumers or the media. Dairy Management Inc. and your region's dairy checkoff are excellent resources for key messages that have been tested to resonate with consumers. If you do end up confronted by protestors, remember that their goal is to provoke you into conflict and create a scene. They thrive on publicity of any kind - avoid giving it to them by not engaging.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is also always available to provide additional messaging and security resources or advice. Visit us at www.animalagalliance.org or call our office at 703-562-5160 if we can support your efforts in any way.

While I hate to add to your "to-do" list, I hope you'll include a few proactive security measures as you plan for spring shows and fairs to help ensure a safe, fun and educational experience for all involved.

Hannah ThompsonThe author is communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance, Arlington, Va. For more information on farm security and animal rights activism, visit the Animal Agriculture Alliance website at www.animalagalliance.org.