Aug. 18 2016 06:00 AM

4-H livestock projects were blasted at a recent HSUS annual conference.

Like many of you in the dairy industry, some of my best memories and closest friends are from my time in 4-H. My experiences showing and judging dairy cattle taught me invaluable lessons in hard work, decision-making, and time management, not to mention influencing my choice of a college, major, and career. As you can imagine, it doesn't sit right with me to hear animal rights activists attacking this phenomenal organization.
Part of the Animal Agriculture Alliance's mission is to protect the animal agriculture industry from damaging misinformation being spread by activist groups who oppose any and all use of animals by humans no matter how well those animals are cared for. One way we attempt to shield the industry is by sending a few lucky representatives each summer to some of the animal rights movements' most prominent events, including the Humane Society of the United States' Taking Action for Animals Conference.

At this year's event in June, along with the usual targeting of farmers, ranchers, and agriculture organizations, 4-H had an unfortunate turn in the spotlight when Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals referred to it as "the first betrayal of animals." He also added, "Children are distraught by this organization."

How a program that puts so much emphasis on teaching kids about proper handling, nutrition, and care for livestock can be described in such a way is beyond me. I remember meticulously filling out my record book each year and thoroughly documenting how I cared for my dairy project animals, including veterinary and feed records. These activist groups should be praising youth organizations like 4-H because their work teaches kids to understand the importance of animal care, not tearing them down.

While it may be tempting to dismiss Runkle's statements as those of a radical outlier, take note that Mercy for Animals claims to have "worked with" major, brand-name companies to end "abusive practices" in the dairy industry, which it has identified as one of its five priority areas.

As an industry, we need to defend and promote the value of organizations like 4-H and not allow activist groups to tarnish its reputation. Summer fairs and shows give us fantastic opportunities to do that. I challenge us all to step up to the plate and have conversations with our friends and neighbors this month about 4-H's role in our industry. Putting our "head, heart, hands, and health" to service for our communities has only benefits for animals.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman

The 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