Protests in steak restaurants, sheep vigils, monuments to fallen chicken & attacking fictional cartoon characters. These are areas which animal rights activists have campaigned in the past month.
In the modern world of social media, and instant communication, it can be easy to spread a message. How should the industry respond to these stunts?
The intention of these groups is to completely abolish animal agriculture, however to do this they need to shift public perception of meat. As we can see in the map, they still have a long way to go to change people’s eating habits drastically. The map below shows that vegetarianism is still a minority dietary choice, even in India.
I want to first highlight a few recent instances of animal rights activism:
‘Enjoy your meal’
I like many millions of other people around the world recently watched with disgust the actions of animal activist group ‘Save the cow’, as they stormed a steakhouse in Melbourne to protest the consumption of meat. The video can be viewed below.
The organiser of this group has said the goal is to force their message onto the public, and are planning further activities in the coming weeks.
‘We just want to say goodbye’
In Cressy, Tasmania activists are requesting access to incoming trucks to the Tasmanian Quality Meats abattoir. Their intention is hold vigils for the sheep en-route to slaughter, and to say goodbye to them before they are slaughtered.
In order to do this, they have to physically stand in front of the trucks, raising health and safety issues, and likely causing distress to the animals in transit.
‘A memorial to Chickens’
A relatively new marketing strategy from PETA, is memorializing dead animals. Whenever an accident occurs with a truck carrying live animals, and there is a loss of life, PETA will request a memorial erected. As this is a highly unusual request, which is designed to be controversial, it is typically picked up by both local and national media.
This has occurred recently in Geelong, Vic & Lismore, NSW which have experienced truck crashes, resulting in the fatalities of chickens being transported. These campaigns are not intended to actually install a memorial, it is to get press coverage.
‘Changing our childhoods’
Anyone my age, will probably have been fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You might think, what does a fictional family of turtles trained to be ninjas by a new york sewer rat have to do with farming?
The fictional Turtles, have a natural love for gooey cheese and pepperoni pizzas.
PETA have now launched a campaign to have the reboot of this classic changed to include vegan turtles. Obviously, a lot of nonsense, but the press picks these stunts up and will cover them due to the sheer oddness of them. The question is, does oddness bring any new support to their cause?
Why perform these stunts?
It is important to understand the role of organisations like PETA, which they have summarised below:
"PETA Australia works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, lobbying, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns to focus international attention on the exploitation and abuse of animals for their flesh, for their skins, as living test tubes in laboratories, and for “entertainment”.
We have to remember that first and foremost, organisations like PETA are primarily marketing organisations (remember the Pamela Anderson ad?).
They do not contribute to animal welfare, which is why we always have to keep a distinction between rights and welfare.
These stunts make for great social media and news content and will always find their way around the world. It might sound strange, but this is actually good for meat producers. The average consumer just wants to go about their daily activity and enjoy their lives.
Their approach of outlandish gimmicks and protests will not enamour the average person to their cause. Those sitting at home watching the restaurant protest in Melbourne on the 6pm news will likely sympathise with the owners and diners.
How do I think we should react to these stunts?
- The agricultural community needs to stop debating (arguing) with animal rights activists online. They will not change your view, and you will not change theirs. It is hard to walk away, but it's wasted energy.
- The industry needs to continue educating consumers. We need to all contribute to ensuring that we hold a strong 'social license', this will ensure that consumers continue to trust our products.
- If we identify actions in the industry likely to cause concern from the general public, we need to move to eradicate them before they become issues.
- Ignore the stunts. I don't believe these activist stunts will boost support with the average consumers. At times the stunts can be embraced, as they will turn off people.