HS: Animal Rights Activism is a Big Business – Follow the Money

By Harry Siemens  Listen to audio interview below

Hannah Thompson-Weeman Vice President of Communications Animal Agriculture Alliance in Arlington, VA said animal rights activism is big business, with prominent groups in the United States bringing in more than $500 million annually.

Thompson-Weeman said these groups aren’t raising this money and spending it on promoting animal agriculture but to put farmers and ranchers out of business. 

One of the most common questions she hears is from where does the money come. 

“We are a non-profit organization, and our mission is to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork,” Thompson-Weeman. “So an essential part of that is paying attention to the groups out there who are spreading a lot of myths and misinformation about animal agriculture.”

The AAA dedicates a lot of their time and resources to monitoring animal rights activist organizations and has done so since 1987. 

“We know they are very strategic, very savvy, and often very well funded. Animal rights groups in the US are bringing in to the tune of $500 million annually, and as we know, they’re using those funds most of the time for lobbying efforts, and campaigns, and negative work against animal agriculture rather than any efforts on the ground to help animals,” she said.

In many cases, it would shock the public which organizations are working against animal agriculture. There are groups out there that people might think focus on pets and doing the right thing for dogs and cats.

“But they dedicate a lot of their resources to attacking animal agriculture and encouraging people not to eat meat because these are animal rights organizations, not animal welfare,” Thompson-Weeman said. “That’s a fundamental distinction. These organizations believe that animals should be afforded the same rights as people, and that means we can’t use them for food, for transportation, or for really any purpose. They believe that’s unacceptable. Such groups like the Humane Society here in the US, groups like Mercy For Animals, very active in the US and Canada. Even a group like ASPCA, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that again, people tend to think that they are doing the right thing and they are very active in dogs and cats, but they also have a farm animal division that promotes, again, veganism and is very negative towards modern animal agriculture.”

She said the AAA has profiles on over 100 of these organizations. So there are groups of all different sizes, groups of all different tactics, but make no mistake, they are working together, and their goal is the same, and that’s to put farmers and ranchers out of business.

“And they’re intentionally very misleading realizing that just telling people, “We want you to go vegan,” doesn’t work for them, because people like eating our products,” said Thompson-Weeman.  “The products of animal agriculture are nutritious; they’re delicious. People want to support farmers and ranchers and want to eat milk, meat, poultry and eggs. So these groups are intentionally being misleading about what they want. They intentionally are targeting certain production practices because they want people to think that their goal is animal welfare, but it’s not.”

She said when you look at some of these organizations through their websites and the staff that they have, it’s clear what their goal is – to end animal agriculture, and everything that they do they view as a step towards that mission.

“A lot of these groups are attacking farmers on different platforms. So it’s not just animal welfare or animal rights that they’re promoting, we’re seeing these same groups look at the environmental impact of animal agriculture and trying to target either individual farms or eating meat as a whole, saying that it’s detrimental to the environment and the best thing people can do to reduce their footprint is to stop eating meat,” said Thompson-Weeman. “And that’s despite the fact livestock in the US is less than 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. There are a lot of other things that would be much more impactful, but the level of conversation about animal agriculture is so outsized because of activist groups intentionally trying to drive that conversation.”

Antibiotic use is another example. Some groups are attacking farmers’ ability to use antibiotics to manage animal health and animal welfare, and it’s because that’s a valuable tool that farmers need. 

She said these groups attack the efficiency, any production practice that allows farmers to be more efficient is going to come under fire by these groups because that’s what they want. They want to find any way to make production less efficient, drive up costs, and try to put farmers out of business that way as well.

Thompson-Weeman said it’s not just consumers giving money to these groups. While they might attempt to position themselves, again, as speaking for the end consumer, they’re getting a lot of funding from private foundations. 

“One, in particular, the Open Philanthropy Project, has a lot of funding from one of the founders of Facebook. So obviously there’s a lot of money there shown by hiring several former HSUS employees to run their Farm Animal Welfare division giving millions and millions of dollars to activist groups, including HSUS, the Humane League, Mercy For Animals, to fund their campaigns, specifically pressure campaigns on restaurant and retail brands, to adopt certain policies.”