Moral high ground: A position or point of view that is ethically superior or more reputable in comparison to others.
Some people claim the animal rights (AR) industry has captured the moral high ground when it comes to animal agriculture and how we care for food animals. Whether or not the statement is true, the very suggestion of validity should cause concern for those of us in agriculture, though I find it hard to believe that the AR industry has a claim to any moral position at all.
Truth has the greatest moralistic value, and dishonesty is the surest way to destroy one’s reputation. At the recent American Association of Bovine Practitioners’ annual meeting, Jerry Stokka, a DVM, friend and North Dakota State University associate professor of livestock stewardship, discussed animal welfare and some of the misinformation/propaganda being spread. He stressed that the stewardship of truth is our responsibility, and we must be good stewards.
I believe that if the AR industry has the moral high ground, its lack of honesty will be its downfall. And there are plenty of instances of dishonesty within the AR industry. One of the most recent involves the Meatless Monday campaign, which the AR industry aggressively supports. As this campaign approached its 10th anniversary this fall, the Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) contacted participants of the Meatless Monday campaign to see if they were still participating. AAA learned that half of the institutions listed as participants were no longer participating in the campaign.
- Of 56 kindergarten through 12th-grade schools listed as participating, 64% no longer or never participated.
- Of the 155 colleges/universities listed as participating, more than 43% no longer or never participated.
- Of the school districts listed as participating, more than 57% no longer do.
Furthermore, AAA also discovered that several of those listed as participants were never participants and had asked to have their names removed, but the Meatless Monday campaign had refused!
In another example, several AR industry organizations were charged with racketeering when it was discovered that a material witness against Ringling Brothers earned a substantial salary from those groups while the case was being developed. One group has already agreed to a $9.3 million settlement, and the case is still pending for the other groups.
With the extensive battery of attorneys on the payroll of many of these AR organizations, it will likely be several years before this case is fully settled. But the fact that these groups were charged with a crime most commonly associated with organized crime indicates the corruptive stumble of a movement once considered by many to be a noble cause.
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A third illustration of less-than-honest behavior is AR industry advertising. Television ads featuring sad images of dogs and cats in cages insinuate involvement in animal shelters, and are one of the most powerful fundraising techniques for these groups. Yet, many of the groups featured in those ads (The Humane Society of the United States in particular) spend very little money to help these shelters: often less than 1% of their budget.
There are many other instances of dishonesty within the AR industry, which is one of several reasons why it’s become referred to as an industry as opposed to a movement. It’s become a fundraising and lobbying industry, rather than a movement truly focused on animals. If dishonesty is necessary to garner support for a cause, is the cause truly worthwhile?
People don’t like to be lied to, duped or manipulated. In the past few years, many people have learned that the organization they were supporting wasn’t what it represented itself to be.
This is where the moral high ground is ours: We must be good stewards of the truth. We must continue to look for ways to improve animal welfare and be straightforward with our consumers. Once again, honesty is the best policy.
Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire LLC of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.'
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