By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May, 2019
Getting into a social media conversation with anti-animal activists is a truly educational experience. I’ve occasionally been in these back-and-forth discussions before, and didn’t have much tolerance for them.
Over the weekend, however, a simple ‘tweet’ on Twitter thanking farmers, ranchers and veterinarians for everything they do to deal with the tough decisions and situations on the real biological side of agriculture turned into a flurry of vegan responses that took me down a road I did not enjoy traveling.
They were mean, nasty, ridiculing and extreme. Instead of returning their insults, I came back with logic, reality, explanations that would satisfy most people. Instead, it fueled their attacks, and soon they were crawling out of the woodwork to do a pile-on tackle upon every tenet of animal care and agriculture many of us hold dear.
They posted links to flawed studies, talked about doctors telling patients to ditch dairy for causing a host of diseases. They harped on climate change, land and water resources, detailing how they believe cattle are ruining “the ecosystem.”
Quite often I found myself telling them that I respect their freedom to choose their dietary path, but cannot respect their attempts to push this on others or demean and degrade my choices.
Each time I provided a scientific piece of information or a link, they either ignored it and went on to some other seemingly crazy rationale or they called me an animal agriculture ‘shill.’
That word ‘shill’ was used over and over again. It’s their favorite insult. A shill is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an accomplice of a hawker, gambler or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.”
They accused me of profiting off the misery of animals, of being selfish in destroying THEIR planet (as if it only belongs to them). They wrongly described so much about dairy and livestock farming that it was difficult to hold my figurative tongue and respond in 134 characters or less per tweet another side to the story they were portraying.
In fact, they were against pastured cattle, saying the grasslands should be re-forested and re-wilded. Their agenda became crystal clear in every detail.
What I am explaining here is just the tip of the iceberg, so I sat back and read their tweets, their links, their self-congratulatory tweets to each other as they presumed they had gotten the best of me.
What they didn’t know is that I was studying their game. I chose to respond only to tweets that I felt other ‘watchers’ could benefit in hearing a logical response. I avoided the insult name-game and did not go back repeatedly on one thought for more abuse, but kept my tweets to a minimum, refusing to be goaded.
So, by now you’re reading this wondering, what’s my point? We already know the 3% of the population that are truly vegan anti-animal activists are crazy, why ‘entertain’ them?
Here’s the point. The entire dialog began with a tweet of gratefulness for the less than 2% of our population taking care of food animals, and the veterinarians that are part of that deal. Simple. Gratefulness. There must have been a buzz word in that tweet that sent me to them through social media algorithms, who knows?
But here’s the larger point. They are armed with pseudo-science being published in even some of the more respected and mainstream news, financial and scientific journals.
They have a world view that is increasingly making its way a few steps at a time into U.S. and global dietary policy, environmental policy, regulations and the like.
But here’s an eye-opener. They will never be satisfied. Nothing, I mean nothing, we can do will appease this fringe in its march to infiltrate our institutions. Their less aggressive counterparts – HSUS, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and others – are already internally working within government and industry.
It goes like this: “Work with us, take the steps we want you to take, and we’ll support you and hold you up as an acceptable animal ag industry.”
Baloney. The old adage of give them an inch and they’ll take a mile pertains here.
This is why I am concerned about the direction of our industry organizations, including the dairy checkoff with its multitude of new initiatives on diet and sustainability and animal care aimed at working with the enemy to somehow get a pass – a social license to exist.
But it’s not the non-governmental organizations, the NGOs, that give us the pass to exist, it is the consumer. Our consumers are being swayed bit by bit by the radical fringe only because we allow them to be. When we validate these NGOs with our internal strategies to “work together with external organizations” we endanger our ability to stand up for truth.
Should we be doing all we can to improve animal care and environmental practices? Sure!
Should we be talking about these improvements? Definitely.
But should we be aligning with the polished and refined versions of this fringe believing they offer us passage with their stamp of approval? No.
Why? Because they will never be satisfied. Not until we stop breeding dairy and beef cows. Not until we stop eating meat and drinking milk. Not until every farm produces plant-based diet alternatives and every pasture is re-wilded to its un-managed natural state.
They will not be satisfied.
Instead, we should be educating the other 97% of the population about the realities of animal biology. A Pennsylvania veterinarian on facebook is doing that. She gets real with her facebook posts and school presentations, and it’s refreshing.
The more we sugar-coat what we do to appease people who will never be satisfied, the more of our mile they will take because we have given them that inch.
This brings me to my next point. Dig below the surface of these fringe folks on Twitter and the organizations our industry is partnering with to build so-called consumer trust, what they advocate for, ultimately, is the world view of billionaires like Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the other Silicon Valley investors in fake meat and fake dairy.
Their view of the world is one that relies on their food technology to replace what farmers, ranchers and veterinarians do every day. It’s not that they don’t trust farmers and ranchers, it’s that they believe the world should have fewer cattle, rely more on plant and lab-created proteins, and yes, surprise, they will profit on their patient capital investment to provide that alternative.
There is an organization few know about that I have been researching, called Breakthrough Energy. On their website, they list the ventures and you can see their world view mapped out in great detail. At first blush, it appears to be related to energy, but look deeper, they want to change the food system. The investors and founding members are a who’s who of the rich and famous, including the big tech owners and CEOs of everything from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon, to big political investors like George Soros and Tom Steyer.
Meanwhile, our consumers live in the real world. And it is the millennials who are changing the consumer quotient as they are funneled into the new planetary lifestyle with the subtle steady drumbeat of fear from our educational institutions.
Animal ag needs strange bedfellows to get their story to be heard; but at the same time, those strange bedfellows are changing our story, leading to programs that will determine who and how to farm.
It’s time for local and regional alliances to be built more strongly than ever. It’s time to partner with rank-and-file consumers, not the big NGOs with billionaire wishes fueling them. It’s time to activate our communities to realize they, too, are being fooled and threatened.
In other words, we need to find other bedfellows – groups and organizations we can rely upon – not the self-proclaimed ‘cool kids’ who say we can be ‘in the club’ if we bend until we break. Because what they want, really, is for us to break.