Samuelson discusses implications, factors to consider when dealing with activistsWritten by Saige Albert
Park City, Utah – With activists continuing to fight against animal agriculture, American Wool Council (AWC) Wool Marketing Director Rita Kourlis Samuelson noted, “Activists aren’t fun to deal with, but we have to be aware of the issues out there.”
Samuelson discussed the incident from summer 2014 where videos alleging abuse by sheep shearers surfaced and dramatically affected wool growers. She presented at the 2014 West Central States Wool Growers Convention and looked at the factors that must be considered when handling activists.
“We all know that there is a reason we shear our sheep,” said Samuelson. “Shearing is a tough time of year, and we are always busy.”
The American Wool Council was made aware of the issue when Samuelson received a call on July 3.
“I was thinking about barbeques, celebrations and apple pie,” she said, “when we got a call from an NBC reporter. She told us about a video showing abuse of sheep on 14 ranches. She wanted to let us know.”
Samuelson noted the timing was strategic – there was no one around and little time to respond with the approaching holiday.
“Before NBC called us, they called our customers,” she continued. “That gets our attention.”
Addressing the situation
At the point that AWC was made aware of the allegations of abuse, Samuelson noted, “First, we gathered information. The most important thing is to gather information.”
An intensive effort was immediately launched to network with the state wool growers associations.
“What they didn’t tell us is that the activists used people in the industry and set growers up,” she continued. “It was the same person being videoed. That is part of their strategy.”
“I immediately wanted to fight back and tell them how it really is. I wanted to get into the debate,” Samuelson said. “That isn’t the thing to do.”
Getting involved in the debate only serves to create more controversy, Samuelson added. Controversy only creates more publicity.
“These activists have this down to a science,” Samuelson noted. “They gain sympathy and use this as a fundraiser.”
The most important component in addressing activists is to have an accurate and informed response, Samuelson noted.
“No response is the best response,” she added. “I’m not going to change an animal activist’s idea about anything.”
She also noted that AWC issued an animal welfare statement, including forms that producers can use when hiring shearers that now have welfare statements attached.
Ag gag laws
Samuelson also noted that ag gag laws have been effective in handling concerns regarding animal abuse.
“Ag gag laws have worked great in Iowa and Utah,” she commented. “These laws say that no one can take a video unbeknownst to the owners of an operation.”
In Wyoming, she also noted that abuses are supposed to be reported by law. In Idaho, fines and jail time is associated with videotaping.
Joining forces with a variety of partners is also important, Samuelson commented.
“We have worked with Animal Ag Alliance (AAA) against activists,” she said. “They help the ag industry deal with these issues day in and day out.”
AAA recommends that producers initiate animal care programs and incorporate training into many activities. They also recommend swift action and use of caution.
“If someone shows up on a ranch that doesn’t seem like they should be there, producers should trust their instincts,” Samuelson mentioned. “Many people have told us that the guy taking the videos just didn’t fit in. We have to remember this in the future.”
Samuelson also recommended against meeting with activists who are alleging abuses.
“Ignore their fishing techniques, keep all correspondence they send and get involved with state and national organizations,” she continued.
AAA has also developed a profile for the typical animal activist, noted Samuelson.
“The typical activist is between 18 and 30 and Caucasian. They may use a college identification instead of a driver’s license,” she said. “They often look for work and only work a few weeks, and they come in early and leave late, straying into areas that they shouldn’t be.”
Frequently, activists are inappropriately educated for their job.
Further, Samuelson encouraged producers to be aware of the threat of activists.
“The sheep industry, like the animals we raise, is adaptable,” Samuelson noted. “We will rise to the challenge on this, as we have on everything else, but we have to think about this and be aware.”