Know how to handle farm activists

Hannah Thompson-Weeman is Vice President of Communications for Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry-united, nonprofit organization that helps bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. 

By Harry Siemens 

“We connect key food industry stakeholders to arm them with responses to emerging issues. We engage food chain influencers and promote consumer choice by helping them better understand modern animal agriculture. We protect by exposing those who threaten our nation’s food security with damaging misinformation,” said Hannah’s description in her LinkedIn profile.

I asked her for a response in a recent interview about the situation in Alberta, where animal activists barged into a Colony farm. Then entered a turkey barn, sat down with them, took five live turkeys as a symbolic gesture to let them spend the remainder of their time in a ‘Safe Haven’ sanctuary.  

HS: We had some things happen here back on our Labor Day long weekend in September, where 35 protestors, animal activists, stormed the Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony, a turkey farm, and were able to get in, sit down amongst the turkeys. And when they left, they declared that they needed to take five turkeys with them to take them to a haven, symbolically of course. And at that point, nothing was done. The premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, stepped up, and they’ve come up with proposed legislation, and it’s already introduced, and it’s a $25,000 fine for somebody that trespasses a farm in that nature. And the second fine is much more, to the point where a third offence could be six months in jail. Tell me how you respond to that.

Hannah: 

“Well, it’s unfortunate that our neighbours to the north are starting to see some of these trespassing thefts, large-scale protests on farms we’re seeing that we’ve been seeing here in the US for the past few years. And this is an escalation from activist groups recently. Groups in the past, maybe a decade or so, had focused more on getting hired on farms and doing these undercover video campaigns, which of course, come with their host of issues and challenges. But it’s even more alarming when we see people go into farms, go into barns, sit down with animals, as we all in animal agriculture probably cringed as you said that because it’s a biosecurity nightmare. These people will go from farm to farm to try to find one they can get into. We know they don’t follow the meticulous and strict biosecurity protocols that are in place on farms to make sure animals are kept safe and kept healthy.”

Hannah said it’s very reassuring how seriously the government in Alberta, Canada, is taking this because it is severe. And there need to be hefty consequences of trying to deter activists like this. There is the extreme out there that nothing is going to stop them from doing this. But some folks are a little less than far on the spectrum, that facing these hefty fines and hefty consequences and serious consequences would, hopefully, make them think twice from targeting our farm families in this way.

The V-P for Communications of the Animal Agriculture Alliance said the leaders at the colony so attacked handled it well, having the confidence their production practices are clean and wholesome. 

“Well, unfortunately, for these groups, it’s not about finding anything. It doesn’t matter how well you manage your farm, how healthy your animals are, what standards of animal welfare are in place. If your farm exists to raise animals for food, it’s not acceptable. So for them, it’s not about finding anything or exposing anything, it’s just the fact that you are a farm, and they’re going to target that. So, unfortunately, our efforts of transparency, and giving tours, and letting them into barns is only going to hurt us,” she said. “Now, we need to continue those efforts for our true consumers who have questions and want more information, but these extremists are certainly not our consumers. They’re not people we need to try to influence. They are so far in the other direction, there’s nothing to be gained from trying to engage with them because, again, it’s not about exposing the farm practices to them. For them, any type of farm practice, no matter how the farmer does it, is not acceptable.”

Hannah cautioned farmers and the entire industry there’s nothing we can do to educate them, or show what we do, or explain what we do. And for that reason, we think it’s essential for farms to be aware of these groups and to be very cautious about letting anyone access your farm for any reason. If you can’t validate who they are, what their business is being there, don’t take any claims at face value. Always verify, always make sure you know who someone is and that they have a legitimate reason to be there before letting them set foot onto your property because they could be there with that intention.

She summed up the colony’s handling of this situation this way. 

“I do think it’s important that we make sure, if confronted with protests or any this activism, we have to keep our cool. So you are probably being recorded, if not live-streamed. And while I know it’s very upsetting to have these people trespass and potentially be threatening, and maybe threatening the safety of your animals, trying to steal them, we have to keep our cool, avoid confrontation. The last thing we want to do is lose our temper, get frustrated, and be caught on a video not representing the agriculture industry the way we would like to do,” she said. “Be prepared; you have a plan in place that you can activate. Have good relationships with law enforcement, so you know to call them. They can come out and help you, and they can deal with any direct discussion with these folks. So don’t try to bargain with them. Don’t try to negotiate with them. There’s no room for common ground, again. And always keep your cool and remember that they want you to have a negative reaction. So don’t give them that satisfaction or give them a clip that they can then go and use and spread around everywhere on the internet.”