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3 Open Minutes with Kay Johnson Smith

PD Staff Published on 30 August 2013


In late July, the National Geographic channel aired a documentary about hidden-camera animal abuse titled “Inside Secret America: Animal Undercover.”



Kay Johnson Smith, CEO for the Animal Ag Alliance, was interviewed for and appeared in the documentary. Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley talked with Smith about the experience and about her opinion of the 45-minute show.


Why did you agree to the interview?

SMITH: The Animal Ag Alliance is here to be a voice on behalf of animal agriculture, so we will accept interviews even when we know at times that they will likely be biased against us, against our members and against the farmers and ranchers that we represent.

We are willing to do any interview to ensure agriculture’s side is represented. I will say we anticipated a more balanced show in the end than I believe resulted from the interview. When we were approached to do this, the spin seemed to be more about the dark side of the animal rights movement.


The producers talked about the fact that when the animal rights movement started in the U.S. there were a lot of violent tactics used, such as fire bombings, spray-painting buildings and much more physical threats of harm and so forth.

The movement has evolved to using these undercover videos. So the storyline as it was initially presented to us seemed to be more about the evolution of the tactics used by the animal rights movement to support its agenda and promote its agenda.

Since it was National Geographic, we fully anticipated a very balanced story, a very thorough story, covering both sides. In the end, as you saw, I had maybe five minutes or so of the show. I would say most of the show was presented in a very different perspective than what we anticipated.


How and when were you approached for an interview to be included in the show?

I believe it was mid-February to late February that they contacted us, and they actually did the interview here in my office the early part of March. This was a new series by National Geographic taking a look at a lot of different storylines.


It was part of this series of shows covering a multitude of topics: everything from sex slaves to the drug trade in America to this storyline of the animal rights movement. They were very up-front that it would probably run at the earliest this spring.


What most disappoints you about the content portrayed in the show?

SMITH: Their story was more about farm protection legislation, or ag-gag bills, as a lot of the activists like to call them. Certainly, I would say they personalized the individual who had been working undercover, and it appeared to us that they maybe even helped him.

You know, they covered the subject as “He’s miking up and putting the hidden camera on to prepare to go out to the dairy.” So that was a little disheartening to see.

Of course, the farm thinks he’s there to do his job on the farm and yet he’s really working on behalf of Mercy for Animals and is there to specifically try to find something that would disparage the agricultural industry.


How did you prepare for the interview?

SMITH: A couple of days before they came we asked: “Do you have a list of questions you’d like to cover?” We wanted to make sure we were prepared to answer the questions that they were looking for.

The questions they presented covered the gamut – from the evolution of the animal rights movement, to farm protection bills, to whether or not we think the animal rights movement has fairly portrayed the agricultural community. We felt the questions were very fair.


How did you feel the interview went?

SMITH: I actually felt the interview went very well. They pretty much stuck to those questions. We taped for about an hour and a half, so you know that obviously if we taped that long, it’s going to be edited. And I do think that the messaging they edited was fairly presented.

It wasn’t edited in a way that was misrepresentative of the interview. Again, we thought it was going to be a much more balanced program in the sense of giving time to both sides.

The end product was not at all balanced, in at least the amount of time that was dedicated to each side. It certainly was more favorable and more personal toward the person who worked as an undercover activist and the animal rights movement.


Do you believe your interview was presented accurately in the context of the show?

SMITH: In the finished show, there are a couple of spots where I am talking and they portray video of some of the mishandling of animals. I think that was unfairly represented in the show because, of course, I’m sitting here in my office and I have no idea that they’re not going to be showing my face with my words the whole time.

That was a little disconcerting because here I’m trying to explain that these videos do not represent the majority of farmers and ranchers in America, and then to have a picture of abuse, cruelty or mistreatment, in my personal opinion, makes me look like I’m a liar to the viewer. That, to me, was disingenuous in how it was presented.

Again, the show just had a very different feel for how it represented the animal rights movement versus the farm community and myself.

Of course everything was filmed here in my office in the Washington, D.C. area. You know, people do tend to dress up more in their offices in D.C. than they may across other parts of the country.

In contrast, they interview the undercover activist and they go to his home and show him cooking dinner with his girlfriend; they see him in his hotel.

The viewer sees a very personal side to this individual who, when you actually think about it, has committed fraud by gaining employment on a farm to do a job, but the job he’s doing is not what he was paid to do.

He’s there actually working on behalf of an activist group, with a motive of capturing something to hopefully make that farm look bad.


What was said in your interview but not presented on the finished video?

The whole storyline about how these videos are being used to mischaracterize the farms and ranches, the farmers and their families all across America. That part was definitely either omitted or glossed over.

We know the agenda of these animal rights activists is to create distrust among the public about how animals are raised on farms or processing plants. They want to create distrust and really to gross people out so that they hopefully won’t buy meat, milk or eggs.

This story sort of glamorized the undercover activist. It certainly presented him as a compassionate and passionate person, and it presented him as if he’s on the right side of this issue.

When you see what he’s portraying on the hidden-camera film, yes, it looks awful, but did they present the corrective actions the farm took once they learned about the mishandling of the animals?

So they’ve glamorized him and made the farm industry look as if we’re hiding things or trying to hide things by supporting farm protection legislation.


Why has legislation that protects farms from undercover videos earned the name ‘ag-gag’ bills?

SMITH: The activists have really spun this story to make it seem as if we’re covering up something or wanting to hide something. Rather, none of the bills that were introduced this year, I believe, made it illegal to record video.

What they did is make it so if you record cruelty taking place, you have to turn it over to the authorities rather than use it as a fund-raising campaign.

The sad part is that the activists have spun this in a way that the media has latched onto, thus the term ag-gag has become the standard and yet none of the bills introduced this year gagged anybody.


Do these laws do more to protect the livestock industry from undercover investigations or more to earn it skepticism with consumers? Why?

SMITH: The reason that legislators across the country are introducing these bills is because they recognize the importance of agriculture to their states and to their state economies.

They know their farmers and they recognize these animal rights activists are really creating a false story about the total animal agriculture industry.

Many of the recent bills give confidence to the average consumer that animals are protected.

The bills introduced this year generally had a reporting requirement, such as if a farm employee sees abuse or any sort of mistreatment, they are required legally to report that abuse within 24 or 48 hours to the owners of the farm or to the authorities so that corrective actions to stop it would be taken immediately.

You would think a bill that would eliminate animal cruelty and force reporting immediately would be supported by the groups that consider themselves animal protection organizations, but the difference is they’re animal rights organizations, and they don’t want to do anything that will make agriculture look like we’re doing the right thing because ultimately their goal is to drive farmers and ranchers out of business.


Besides pursuing ag-gag laws, what must be done to protect livestock farm families from undercover investigators with a hidden agenda?

SMITH: First, it is important to know whom you’re hiring. Call references. Don’t just hire people on the spot. Encourage your long-time employees to be your eyes and ears on newer employees.

Tell them that if it just doesn’t seem like they are there for the right reasons, don’t ignore it. Go talk to a manager about it.

Second, teach employees that if they see abuse, stop it. And if it doesn’t stop, report it. We all have to live today as if we’re on camera 24-7.


What would you recommend a farmer concerned about being targeted by activists do?

SMITH: If a farmer has questions, I would encourage them to call us. We have a lot of resources dedicated to farm security and to understanding the motives of these activist organizations. We’d love to share our tips with individual farms.

Obviously, we don’t publish everything we know because some tips we have identified, we don’t want the other side to know.

But we do have a lot of resources we think can help prevent the hiring of an undercover activist, identify an undercover activist you might have already hired and help manage a potential crisis in advance. PD

To contact the Animal Ag Alliance, visit their website or call (703) 562-5160.