Guest Blogger Russ Patterson
In a first for me, I have invited Russ Patterson to be my guest blogger. There is not a word in his post I disagree with. Too often people try to reinvent the wheel, forgetting that for the most part, that similar things have been tried before. In my view, that is certainly the case here and I think Russ articulates issues with the blog post he discusses very well.
Please take the time to read this blog post. I endorse it.
What follows is my critique of Tammi Jonas’ post “No Need For Any Ag-gag Laws When There is Radical Transparency” . To be clear, I have enjoyed a friendly and constructive relationship with Tammi Jonas on social media and I sincerely hope it remains so. She taught me how to cure bacon in three tweets. If you knew anything about me, you would know that there is no greater olive branch than bacon. With that being said, let’s get started……
I’ll just go point by point. If anyone here finds that my words on animal liberation/rights activists a bit too direct, it’s because I’m attempting to let my reasoning breathe without the burden of sensationalism. If anyone believes I have overstepped the mark, show me where and how I have left reasoned debate for “slander” and I’ll apologize and/or correct myself if warranted. Otherwise, I’m justifiably not interested.
- What is a terrorist?
Widely accepted, is that terrorism constitutes unlawful destruction of property, threats, violence or other forms of coercion to achieve political ends. This definition does not alter depending on who has been “more” affected by terrorism, such as the case with the Afghan refugee you implore the reader to consider in lieu of the Australian producers in question. One producer in the ACT has had machinery damaged and had battery acid poured over their egg packaging material, resulting in the collapse of the business. A producer had shards of glass left in his gumboot on another occasion, after a break in by animal liberationists. Death threats to producers and their families are not uncommon across any controversial issue regarding livestock. The more you ask, the more accounts like this you hear. For some “healthy perspective”, I suggest readers put themselves in these peoples’ shoes. To make these situations more intimidating for the victims, is the deafening silence from Animals Australia, the various state Animal Liberation groups and Voiceless regarding destruction of property and threats of physical harm, while using footage obtained from anonymous sources to boost their anti intensive farming campaigns. Add to that the frightening array of violent language used to express extreme hate by animal liberationists online (that seems to go completely unchecked by the more mainstream friendly elements of the movement) and I can see why a producer, in the industries being targeted, would feel there is an organized, hateful collective of serious concern to them. That’s a pretty harrowing situation to face down if you are living in a remote area with your family on one of these farms. Global terrorism such as that suffered by victims of Al Qaeda et al does not preclude victims of domestic terrorism from claiming that they are also exposed to some form of terrorism. If there are families living under the threat of property destruction or physical harm at the hands of politically motivated individuals, I believe dismissing their concerns as “hyperbole” is simply jaw dropping.
Do I believe they are terrorists?
I suspend my judgment citing a lack of depth in understanding the issue of domestic terrorism.
Do I judge these producers and their rep bodies for labelling these activists terrorists?
This article went to lengths to define what is and isn’t an animal rights or welfare activist, yet did not seek to define the differences between US law and what is being called for in Australia (Agricultural Protection Laws). Why this was the case, I’m not sure. This article deals with whether there exists a need for Agricultural Protection Laws yet doesn’t attempt to discuss how they would operate and how they would differ from “Ag-gag” laws in the US. We cannot begin to debate whether there is a need for something or not, if we haven’t discussed what it is we are referring to. To my knowledge, the proposed Australian laws would centre on ensuring that evidence of abuse can be verified correctly, given to authorities in a timely manner so that action can be promptly taken and generally ensuring more responsibility from activists. How this gives the impression that these laws will make agriculturalists appear as if they have something to hide, is bemusing. Persistently labelling these laws as “ag-gag” laws will foster that false perception however.
The arguments given for the difference between animal rights and welfare activists are not accurate. While the public generally fail to grasp the ideological differences between the two, I don’t see any reason that a “liberationist”, “rights” or “abolitionist” activist could be consistent in a dedication to animal welfare in any accurate definition of the term. A welfarist may sometimes believe that they are a “rights” advocate when it fashionably suits them, without realizing what it requires, but generally those boasting of trespasses are the various Animal Liberation groups of their respective buy diclofenac boots states. Their ideology is clearly apparent. Mark Pearson, executive director of Animal Liberation, openly boasts about his lengthy trespass record in the media. To say that welfare activists are the driving force behind trespass onto farms and other illegal activity is a little disingenuous. I find that the preferred tools of the welfare activist outside the agriculture industry (an RSPCA policy officer or volunteer for example) are veterinary supplies, the collection tin and the law, not a set of bolt cutters, night vision cameras and a reliable getaway vehicle.
Note: after finishing this blog post/reply I read a new post by Jo Bloomfield (@cattleproducer) titled “Agriculture Protection Laws”. It outlines her opinions as a producer on what she would find acceptable under any new legislation. A fantastically well researched blog in general, I would strongly recommend that post in particular on this topic.
- The need for “Radical Transparency”
Sorry Tammi, this is whole concept is completely lost on me. As far back as I can remember Australian agricultural enterprises have been generally very transparent with the public. It wasn’t until this genuinely hospitable practice of showing some “city folk” around your place was ruthlessly preyed upon by those with an agenda, that suddenly we needed some kind greater transparency. No clearer example exists than the Giles abattoir. I’m unsure how a “radical” brand of transparency differs greatly from the Giles’ family business. What the Giles family did was the norm, not radical. I take issue with what is implicit by declaring “radical transparency” as a point of difference between your business and what is currently the norm in this regard across the board in Australian agriculture. Following issues such as this on social media one can regularly read offers by agriculturalists for critics to come to their property and see firsthand how they operate but I have yet to ever see the critic take these offers up. Trespasses against producers, of the kind that Agricultural Protection Laws would deal with, are not indicators that current transparency standards are poor. These laws would deal with a group of narrow minded ideologues who wish to operate on their own terms. Whether there is a sign at the farm gate listing visiting hours or not seems to be clearly irrelevant to them.
I absolutely agree with you that the work by the peak body for Australian pork was effective. Decreasing reaction time in exposing crimes by animal rights activists has served many well in the field of animal research in the US. US animal research scientists that responded promptly with effective press releases after incidents saw a large decrease in frequency of trespass and threats.
I also agree that more promotion such as that by Superbutcher is needed. Where I disagree, is that one business marketing its level of transparency does not indicate that those who are not marketing as effectively, are less transparent. I guess we could define this as “active” or “passive” transparency but I cannot see how it would be “radical”, given that perceived transparency and actual transparency are understandably two completely different things. No one knew just how transparent the Giles processing facility was until there was an issue. It was simply the norm to allow a stranger with a video camera onto the kill floor.
Normally I would simply not respond to agriculture blogs, whether I agreed with an author or not. It is with some trepidation that I have posted this piece. However, given what many (some I call friends) have endured thanks to the more extreme elements of the Australian animal rights movement, I felt compelled to at least contribute something that could elevate discourse somewhat. The last time I participated in a blog comments thread on an Ag issue I saw someone woefully attacked by the author, in an entirely new blog post, and unjustly labelled an “extremist” with little consideration of the arguments being presented. I found this quite disheartening, as I saw an insightful perspective from an experienced individual being shut down, simply for not acquiescing to the author’s views. As an open request to anyone replying to this post, let’s not go down that road in the comments thread here shall we?
People are being affected to terrible ends by the way animal welfare issues are being discussed publicly. Policy is created, markets are affected abruptly and lives are quite literally ended and families scarred as a result of the way we all contribute to public discourse in this field. We have a deep responsibility to address this as a social issue as well as an animal welfare issue. The impacts can and have been vast and have the potential to become that way again. The standard of discourse has to be lifted if we would like to navigate this area responsibly.
As a parting note, thank you to Ann Britton for having me as her guest blogger. Reading through her blog is an incredible window into the lives of those in her remote part of the world. A privilege, Ann. Thank you for giving me the time. I strongly suggest readers give this blog some of their spare time. You will not feel let down.
A thoughtful response. Good work Russ.
An Excellent perspective and very well written. Well done Russ.
Firstly, thank you for this thoughtful response to what I wrote, Russ. I appreciate the spirit and manner in which you’ve offered it (and glad we can always be united in bacon – so long as it’s free range) ;-).
I’ll respond first to the terrorism and animal activist discussion. On terrorism, I’ll agree that one might classify violent, intimidating, willful destruction of farm property as terrorism, even though it is typically not leveled intentionally at human beings.
I still don’t consider this terrorism, even if it is violent towards property, just as I wouldn’t consider burglary terrorism, though it is undoubtedly terrifying to have a stranger with a weapon in your house with you in it. The word terrorism is used politically and ideologically just as much as the acts of genuine terrorists have a political, religious or ideological aim.
However, I quite specifically referred to those activists who trespass for the sole purpose of taking footage, not destroying property, as my focus was on transparency and what is visible or made visible. And the laws in question are about stopping filming and/or forcing a handover of footage to authorities immediately.
I also didn’t suggest we should dismiss anyone’s concerns as hyperbole. I said that calling activists terrorists is hyperbole, and I still hold that view, though I appreciate your highlighting the real, albeit (happily) rare, issues farmers might face in the case of examples of violence against their property or person.
As for what we call activists – I’d rather not be drawn in to what I think is a total distraction, hence my use of ‘animal welfare activists’ to place us all under the same broad tent rather than further polarized. I have seen the allegations made against ‘animal liberationists’ and their disregard for the ‘real’ welfare of animals. I have also seen the allegations made against intensive farmers and their disregard for the ‘real’ welfare of animals. I’d rather we all agreed that we care about animal welfare but seem to have some pretty wildly disparate notions of what constitutes it and then work towards more common ground.
As for the proposed ag-gag laws here in Australia, I appreciate that those proposed at the moment appear to be aimed at ensuring footage is shared quickly with authorities rather than shown on social media or the evening news without verification. I also appreciate why anyone who has had trespassers film their place unknowingly and with an intent adverse to the farm’s interests would feel it best that video be taken into care and undergo due diligence before being released to the public.
However, I would still say that more laws are not the right answer, and I hope to write further about this on my own blog. In short though, if you already tell your own story, it’s very hard for others to tell it for you, unless you’re not being truthful.
I’m probably most moved by your comments about radical transparency. I agree wholly that most farmers have generally been open and transparent about their practices, and welcoming of the public for a view of ‘how we do it’ in the country air. I also believe that that openness has been eroded by industrial farming, which has sought to obscure the realities of production because caged animals are not that charming to visit.
Having said all of that, we accepted the mantle of ‘radical transparency’ when it was coined by some friends and colleagues in response to what was seen to be an extra layer of openness compared with the norm. But I take your critique, and am not at all interested in differentiating ourselves from other small producers seeking to be transparent with their practices, so am happy to drop ‘radical’ from the lexicon to highlight that this is how farming has been and is in all good examples.
I’ll finish by sharing your concern about the loss of livelihoods and consequent serious social and individual consequences wrought by drastic changes in any industry, in this case agriculture. I have said before and will continue to say that I am no fan of live export nor intensive animal farming, but I do not want families to suffer as new options are found (and I hope they will be found). But we can’t ignore that the actions of activists are both somewhat reflective of changing public sentiment and driving it, and those of us in agriculture must listen and respond, not rant and rave.
Hopefully we’ll eventually get to a point where nobody feels compelled to film or sabotage farms, because farmers are able to make a living without caging animals.