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3 Open Minutes with Kay Johnson Smith

Kay Johnson Smith President and CEO of Animal Ag Alliance Published on 10 December 2019

The Animal Ag Alliance recently attended the 2019 Animal Rights National Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. The nonprofit organization, which helps bridge the communication gap between farm and fork, wrote a summary report about the conference for its members and other industry stakeholders.

After reading the report, Editor Walt Cooley thought dairy owners might be interested in some of its highlights. He interviewed Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the alliance, to discuss anti-animal activists’ plans for 2020 and beyond.



Kay Johnson

Kay Johnson Smith
President and CEO
Animal Ag Alliance


First off, could you tell me what the Animal Ag Alliance is?

SMITH: Sure, the Animal Agricultural Alliance is a national nonprofit organization. We were actually founded in 1987 to provide a positive voice for animal agriculture. Everything we do falls under our three pillars – connect, engage and protect.


We connect across all segments of animal agricultural. We work to arm these segments with responses to emerging issues and to help them better understand threats.

We also work to engage food chain influencers. We promote consumer choice by helping the public and influencers of public opinion better understand modern animal agricultural.

Ultimately, our role is to help protect the agricultural community by exposing those groups, individuals, campaigns or tactics that are used to threaten our nation’s food security or attempt to damage it with misinformation.

How long have you been attending the National Animal Rights Conference?

SMITH: We have representatives that have been going to this particular conference for about 20 years. We send somebody to the conference because we feel it is important for people in our industry to understand animal rights groups’ strategies, their tactics and where they are going to be focusing their efforts. We know that they are plotting strategies to attempt to damage the animal agriculture industry.

Do you have to go undercover to get in?


SMITH: We get asked that question a lot, and the answer is no. These events are open to the public; anyone can register. Our folks who have attended register as themselves. We will not allow them to use false identities. We don’t want to be using the tactics we know that activists use.

What do animal rights people do when they get together? Is it any different from when other groups get together?

SMITH: It is very similar to a conference we might go to within the agricultural community. They share ideas; they share recommendations for how to accomplish their mission; they bring in speakers who they considered to be experts in their field. I will say that the messages that are presented at their conference are far from our perspective. They are 100% completely opposed to anything that anyone in the agricultural community would believe in. While we obviously care about improving animal care, these conferences are really more about animal liberation and action to end animal agriculture, and not about improving animal welfare.

What were some of the main takeaways from this year’s conference?

SMITH: Like every other year, they talked about animal liberation. They don’t bring in speakers who are scientists or animal welfare experts or veterinarians who would talk about improving animal care. They always focus on what tactics and campaigns and strategies can be used to end animal agriculture. Speaker after speaker at this year’s conference referenced all animal farming is bad. It’s not just factory farms or large farms anymore that are bad. All animal farming is bad. What has been a newer message over maybe the last two or three years is their goal to create a vegan society. The conference had a number of presentations on plant-based alternatives as a new way to really approach their goal of creating a vegan society.

The other thing that we saw many speakers address was the use of climate change as a way to get a message across to the mainstream public. Climate change really has nothing to do with animal care, or animal rights per se, but they see that as just another strategy to tap into that conversation to try to promote their goal of a vegan society. They continue, and I think this is really important, to understand their customers are retailers, restaurants, food service companies. They spent a lot of time focusing on how to harass decision makers for these companies and make it seem as if there’s a bigger push for vegan options, or to go to a completely vegan menu.

What did you hear or observe that was most frightening/surprising to you?

SMITH: I have been with the Animal Ag Alliance for 25 years, so you would think that nothing would surprise me anymore, but each year the groups and the speakers all seem to get more and more aggressive in their tactics. I think one of the things we started to hear last year, and was more prevalent this year, was how the animal rights movement and the MeToo movement are tied together. They said that veganism is a cow’s MeToo movement. There was a quote by one of the speakers who said the dairy industry is nothing more than the sexual exploitation of cows.

That to me is just really shocking, and I think it’s very hurtful to the farmers and ranchers who dedicate their lives to the best care of their animals.

I’d like to review a few top-level statements from your organization’s report about the conference.

“Plant- and cell-based meat will bring animal liberation.”

SMITH: There is a big push by animal rights activists to promote plant- and cell-based meats as another way to drive people away from eating animal protein. They talked about these products being better for the environment. Yet, we really have no understanding at this point of the commercial production impact of cell-based products on the environment, or the impact if everybody went to a plant-based diet. But the groups that are pushing this as the way of the future want to get society away from raising animals for food.

“We cannot deny the power of big ag and of big cattle.”

SMITH: They look at the total economy of animal agricultural, and they call it “big ag.” They recognize that the public has an aversion towards big anything – big corporations and big industries. They try to portray agriculture with this term of ‘big’ to create a negative connotation in the public’s mind. However, they know that it is already a big challenge for them to try to get the public to go vegan, so this is simply another campaign tactic.

“Vegans feel they are the best chance for the world to survive the extreme climate chaos that the earth is currently experiencing. Without a vegan society, the world will be extinct by 2026.”

SMITH: Again, this is a scare tactic for the public. They know by tapping into the discussion about climate issues – such as the Green New Deal or anything that is catchy with regard to climate change – they can attempt to tie animal agriculture into the discussion. That is just another tactic for them to connect with the public and encourage them to eat less meat.

In our mind, however, agriculture is really advancing efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. We talk about the advances we’ve made in reducing the industry’s overall impact on the environment and decreasing the amount of resources used in order to produce food that the public wants. The activists know that agriculture is doing its part, and that to them is a threat. It’s unfortunate they use scare tactics and create confusion about the positive story we’re trying to share.

I want to end on a positive note. So despite all the doom and gloom, is there something positive that our industry can take away from the direction of the animal rights movement?

SMITH: I feel that there is a positive note for our industry here. Even by their own admission, many of the speakers at the animal rights conference said that they don’t see the world going vegan, probably ever. While they may have this goal of going vegan by 2026, many of the speakers said it is never going to happen.

In summary, we have to stay engaged in our communities. We have to continuously share positive stories about farming and ranching, and the commitment we have to animal care, to the environment, to the land and to continuous improvement. Those are the issues that matter to the public. We have to take their tactics as a challenge to be even more active than they are in our communities. In particular, social media is really key to engaging audiences. We must remember that millennials and Gen Z are our future consumers. We have to make sure we are utilizing the communication tools and social media that they use, get their news from and follow to form their beliefs. If we aren’t there, then the activists could eventually win the day.  end mark