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Animal rights activists target fairs and livestock shows

Progressive Dairyman Writer Carrie Veselka Published on 26 July 2016
binocular view of livestock show

Summertime means fair season in ag country, and with fair season comes the familiar waves of noise, the tantalizing smell of fair food, along with the not-so-tantalizing smell of the livestock barns, and blurred crowds of people.

This fair season might include a new element that may not be so pleasant. According to Hannah Thompson, communications director of the Animal Agriculture Alliance organization, demonstrations by animal rights activists are escalating and fair exhibitors should be prepared to deal with disruptions.

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Over Independence Day weekend, animal rights activists disrupted both a Dodgers baseball game in California and a Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest in New York. At the hot dog eating contest, protesters reportedly threw fake blood on the contestants, according to an article from the New York Daily News.

“This is definitely a new tactic that we’re seeing, but it is one that has been happening a lot in the last year or six months, being driven especially by one group called Direct Action Everywhere,” Thompson says. “They do a lot of these disruptions at public events, and it’s been everything from Bernie Sanders rallies to other political speeches and presidential candidates.” Thompson says radical animal rights groups like Direct Action Everywhere use the attention they receive from public disruptions like these to get more eyes on their message, which, for Direct Action Everywhere, includes animal liberation and giving animals the same rights as humans.

Youth organizations, rural communities being targeted

“This isn’t necessarily something new, but we are seeing an increase, especially from that group, and the reason we think that fairs and festivals in more rural areas and more ag-oriented events should be concerned is that they have been targeted by these groups,” Thompson explains.

In January, animal rights activists disrupted the opening ceremony of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, where the governor was speaking. “4-H and FFA have been targeted by these animal rights organizations, using a lot of negativity and talking about those organizations,” she adds. “The fact that those students and youth show animals and then some of those animals go on to slaughter is something that these organizations have criticized, so we think over the summer getting into fair season, that it is something for the whole industry to be aware of and prepared for. Hopefully, it’s not something that comes up, but a little bit of preparation can help in case it does.”

Could your local fair or show be the next target?

Thompson says she expects more and more ag-related events to be targeted, especially during the fair and expo season. “You might not think that you’re the first target, but all across the country they are looking for opportunities like this at fairs and expos where there are livestock and there is an audience,” Thompson warns. “They see it as an opportunity to get their message out there. We hope that it’s not an issue and we hope it’s not something you have to deal with, but it is something to be aware of, that you could be targeted at your livestock shows and your expos.”

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Thompson recommends taking a proactive approach by doing these three things:

1. Establish an action plan

According to Thompson, there are ways to prepare for things like this. “The most important thing for anyone who’s involved in planning a show is to come up with a plan,” she states. “If you were to have protesters show up, how would you handle that? Can you ask them to leave? Figure out an action plan.” She also advises connecting with local law enforcement and figuring out if there are permits required, where protesters would or would not be allowed to stand and establishing when and how to get in touch with officers should the need arise.

2. Prepare to be asked questions

For parents and exhibitors, the important thing is preparing for the questions you might get. “Every industry has animal care guidelines or talking points about those, so make sure that you’re familiar with those and you can answer questions,” says Thompson. “Be prepared to use the fair as a positive experience to share information with consumers in addition to being prepared if something were to happen.”

3. Know how to handle a confrontation

Thompson says it’s important to be prepared for a confrontation but always remember that, first and foremost, you are a representative of your industry. “It can be very frustrating, and you might even be tempted to lose your temper, but you always have to treat people with respect, even if they are not respecting you and your industry,” she advises. “Just ignore them the best you can, report the incident to people that are in charge and they can handle it, but don’t give in, don’t create a bigger incident by giving them the attention they’re looking for.”  PD

PHOTO: Staff photo.

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