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We’re In It Together

     As I have talked about in this column once before and we have all heard in the news, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus continues battling animal rights groups. There was a story in Beef Magazine a while back where Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Field Entertainment, which produces the circus, had some advice for beef producers. Payne said, “I don’t believe in turning the other cheek in a debate like this. You just get slapped twice.”

Last December, following a long legal battle, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) agreed to pay a settlement to Field Entertainment in the amount of $9.3 million to settle all claims related to ASPCA’s part in a decade of litigation that attempted to outlaw elephants in the circus. And ASPCA wasn’t alone. 

Other groups got involved, including the Humane Society of the U.S., Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Protection Institute united with Born Free U.S.A. and a former Ringling Bros. employee. The lawsuit by all of these groups challenged Field Entertainment for its handling of endangered Asian elephants under the Endangered Species Act. The suit was thrown out of court twice, but over the years, it cost Field Entertainment over $20 million in lawsuit-related costs. Field Entertainment decided to sue all of these groups to recover it’s legal costs, as they had proved the animal rights groups had paid the circus employee some $200,000 for his involvement in the case. The employee was the inside person who blew the whistle with the false charges. This sounds familiar, with what is happening all over America, including Wyoming, doesn’t it?

Payne said, “Things changed with the evolution of these animal rights groups from the traditional support of helping homeless pets to becoming political machines. A lot of that started to rise up in the mid- to late-1980s to early 1990s. There are certain groups that are particularly focused on the policy, legislative and legal aspects of animal rights against us. This has nothing to do with the actual care we provide our animals. It’s the political viewpoint that they hold, and sadly, a lot of them also feel we’re right and you’re wrong, so they feel that nothing they do is out of bounds.” 

Payne goes on to say, “The ultimate goal of these groups is to put you out of business. Once you capitulate on one thing, they will define the debate and make more and more demands. That’s true for us with the circus and that’s true for ranchers. Most Americans, 99.9 percent of Americans, wouldn’t want to live in the world that these people envision.” 

His advice to beef producers is to remain vigilant. 

“You know what is best in caring for your animals,” he said. “Be proud of what you do in production agriculture. You feed the world. But also recognize that this is not a stand-alone fight – we are all in this together. All of us have a common interest in doing what’s right for animal welfare and protecting our businesses. We can’t let them define the debate. We’re not doing anything wrong.” 

I’m glad he is on our side.