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VIEW FROM THE HILL: UK can learn from US on tackling ag extremists

’Protect your roots’ was the theme for the Animal Agricultural Alliance May 2018 Summit held in Arlington, Virginia.

 

John Wilkes reports...

The alliance is an influential nonprofit with the maxim Connect, Engage and Protect. It advises the US livestock industry about animal rights extremists and monitors negative media propaganda.

 

Subjects discussed included consumer perspectives on food labelling, the future of consumer choice, rise of plant-based diets, and livestock raised without antibiotics.

 

Leading academic Dr Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis Department of Animal Science, challenged the belief commercial livestock production negatively impacted the environment.

 

The alliance was founded in 1987 by chief executive Kay Johnson as a coalition of farmer and rancher organisations. Its mission was to monitor animal rights activists and campaigns which targeted agriculture.

 

Ms Johnson said her organisation provided ’a unified voice on behalf of the livestock industry to correct misinformation from activists’.


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Ted McKinney, Under Secretary of Agriculture Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, gave the keynote address. He praised the alliance’s efforts, saying: "I so, so believe in your mission."

 

Mr McKinney spoke about the deliberate proliferation and sustained distortion of US agriculture. He urged key industry stakeholders in the audience to help counter this situation.

 

He said: “This is the era when you don’t know what to believe.”

 

“We have to be honest about what we do in agriculture, but we have to provide the truth and a very balanced story as there are folk out to get us."

 

A panel discussion, ’Responding to Activist’s Tactics’, looked at practical ways to handle extremists.

Scott Sobel, senior vice-president, crisis and litigation with communications company kglobal, shared some advice. He highlighted increased risk met by individuals engaged in animal agriculture.

 

“Everyone can be a target," he said.

He asked for a show of hands from those affected by activists’ attacks and those who feared for their safety. Many in the 300 strong audience raised a hand.

 

Suggesting strategies to deal with the problem, Mr Sobel said it was no good taking a ’knife to a gunfight’.

 

The scale of an operation was unimportant. By attacking small businesses, extremists gather material to create broad media attention.

 

 

Mr Sobel stressed any response needed to be prompt. He outlined ways to develop media relationships and use social media and press conferences to counter misinformation.

 

He added: “You do not say ‘no comment’ and you do not react to provocation. You want to push back lies and untruths and convey the importance of your industry.”

 

He recognised the need for consistent messaging between a company and its supporters.

 

He said extremists looked for inconsistency and weakness to promote conflict, adding: "Conflict sells newspapers."

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