The Animal Agriculture Alliance has released a report detailing observations from the Animal Rights National Conference, held August 3-6 in Alexandria, Virginia.
The event was hosted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement and sponsored by Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and The Humane League, along with other animal rights activist groups. According to conference organizers, nearly 2,000 individuals were present at the event, described as “dedicated to the vision that animals have the right to be free from all forms of human exploitation.”
“The speakers at this year’s Animal Rights National Conference made their goals clear – ending all forms of animal agriculture, regardless of how well animals are cared for,” said Kay Johnson Smith, Alliance president and CEO. “Their persistent focus on pressure campaigns targeting restaurant, retail and foodservice brands is of great concern to the Alliance and our members. We encourage anyone with a vested interest in producing, processing or selling meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, to read this year’s report and hear how determined these groups are to eliminate food choices and make our society vegan.”
Breaking the law not discouraged by Animal Liberation Collective
Activists in attendance were encouraged to be as extreme as necessary to advance their goals. “Breaking the law can often be a good thing to do,” said Zach Groff, Animal Liberation Collective. Groff spoke about the ‘nature of confrontational activism’ such as “protests, open rescues from farms without permission, vigils…” According to Groff, “this is a type of activism that can often upset people, it can rile people up.”
Pressuring companies to adopt policies
A major focus of this year’s conference was on pressuring restaurant, retail and foodservice brands to adopt certain policies, with the end goal of forcing them to stop selling animal products. In one session on “Engaging Institutions,” a speaker from The Humane League said the group had “basically harassed” one national sandwich chain with a campaign. When an audience member commented about ‘humane’ policies not being as good as complete liberation, Krista Hiddema, Mercy for Animals (Canada), hinted at no animal products being sold as the end goal, stating “we’re never going away.” Hiddema also stated that “we [the animal rights movement] are winning against the largest organizations in the world,” and “they are terrified of us.”
Other speakers shared Hiddema’s confidence in the movement’s success, with Jon Camp, The Humane League, stating “they [food companies] don’t make policies due to altruism, they do it because of the pressure.” David Coman-Hidy, also with The Humane League, told attendees to research companies before launching a campaign, asking “what can we use to make them look like hypocrites?” Coman-Hidy emphasized “we are not here to negotiate,” and activists “are essentially a pain in the neck for companies.” He suggested that attendees should attempt to damage companies’ brand reputations, stating “I recommend putting blood drips on their logo.”
Focus on eliminating all farms
Consistent with previous years, another key message from conference speakers was for attendees to focus efforts on eliminating farms of all types and sizes, not only the large-scale, modern operations (declared to be “factory farms”) that have historically been targeted. “Please, stop saying “factory farming” – it’s done its job,” said Hope Bohanec, projects manager, United Poultry Concerns as she emphasized that farms of all sizes are equally cruel. Bohanec continued to accuse the food industry of “humane washing” and trying to “dupe the public.” Bonahec touched on recent movements to go ‘cage-free,’ stating that all animal agriculture is bad, regardless of what labels say.
One speaker was ridiculed by the audience for his ‘Reducetarian’ approach, which encourages people to reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, meat consumption. An audience member stated that veganism is a lifestyle, not a diet, and that “’reducetarianism’ is the animal rights version of greenwashing” (trying to make an organization seem more environmentally responsible than it actually is).
Several speakers and panels also discussed animal agriculture’s impact on the environment, a talking point the Alliance has seen animal rights activist groups relying on more heavily in recent years. Jeffrey Cohan, Jewish Veg, stated that “we know animal agriculture is the leading cause of pollution on our planet.” Lisa Kemmerer, author, Sister Species and Eating Earth, said “eating hamburgers is like driving a bulldozer over the rainforest” and “being an environmentalist who is not vegan is nonsense on stilts.”
Also speaking at the conference were: Nick Cooney (founder of The Humane League) and Vandhana Bala, Mercy for Animals; Ingrid Newkirk, PETA; Erica Meier, Compassion Over Killing; Steven Wise, Nonhuman Rights Project; Anita Krajnc, Toronto Pig Save; Bruce Friedrich, Good Food Institute; and Paul Shapiro, Josh Balk and Kristie Middleton, all with the Humane Society of the United States.
The 2017 Animal Rights National Conference Report, which includes personal accounts of speaker presentations and general observations, is available to Alliance members in the Resource Library on the Alliance website. The Alliance also has reports from previous animal rights conferences accessible to members on the Alliance website.