For decades, the threat of animal rights extremists has been high on the list of concerns and issues for modern agriculture production. Recent violence and activities have shown that those concerns are justified. Yet, to what extent? Is the threat growing or diminishing, and is agriculture winning the battle?

I recently interviewed the leading organization charged with setting the record straight and dispelling myths about today’s agriculture and its practices. Kay Johnson Smith is president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and Sarah Hubbard serves as communications director. They answered questions from their Arlington-based office to give readers a better perspective of this continuing menace and what the Alliance is doing to champion modern agriculture’s agenda. The following is the first of a special two-part blog:

Rex Runyon: Is the threat of animal rights extremists greater today than 5 to 10 years ago?  

Animal Agriculture Alliance: The threat has evolved to become less about shock tactics and more about political action. Activist organizations are much more organized than they were 25 years ago. They are bringing their vegan message to our children (via outreach to elementary classrooms) and our churches (the Humane Society of the United States has an entire faith outreach department). This, coupled with the fact that most Americans are at least three generations removed from the farm, means that conditions are perfect for activists to increase their pressure on agriculture through legislative campaigns and public relations battles. It’s something that everyone involved in food production should be aware of – regardless if you raise animals, or not.

RR: Is the American Animal Liberation group still a major threat? 

AAA: It’s true that agriculture must remain wary of American Animal Liberation’s tactics. However, extreme vegan groups that masquerade as animal welfare organizations are the real threat. These groups seek to influence public opinion with misleading smear campaigns and push for slow, incremental change that could dictate the future of food production in this country. And while these organizations may choose strategic action that does not include direct violence, it is important to note that they do share American Animal Liberation's ultimate goal: to eliminate American animal agriculture in entirety.

These groups work collaboratively, and are strategically connected in many ways; please see the Alliance's activist web for details.

For example, John "J.P." Goodwin, who now serves as the Director of Animal Cruelty Policy for the Humane Society of the United States, formerly served as a spokesman for American Animal Liberation. After a 1997 fire that caused $1 million in damage to a Utah feed co-op, he told the Deseret News that he was "ecstatic" about the results. Celebrating an act of terrorism obviously doesn’t line up with the values of most Americans!

RR: What can modern agriculture do to prevent attacks like the one against Harris Farms in California in January?  

AAA: While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, we believe it is unacceptable for any group to praise this direct assault on American agriculture, as anonymous vegan activists have. Thankfully, no humans or animals were injured in this despicable terrorist action. This incident shines light on the need for the agricultural community to be able to protect itself from senseless bullying tactics by those who seek to destroy the industry by any means.

The Alliance works continuously to protect farmers and ranchers from activists by providing security resources and training, including an updated guide entitled "Farm Security for the 21st Century." To request additional security resources, visit the Animal Agriculture Alliance website or contact