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Not just PETA, new animal rights groups eye Midwest
By SARAH B. AUBREY
Indiana Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. — The word GRACE conjures up pleasant images and serenity, but for livestock producers in Indiana, the term could become a dirty word.

According to the Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) of Arlington, Va., GRACE or Global Resource Action Center for the Environment has been busy trying to ‘educate’ citizens in several Indiana counties about how to sue livestock farmers.

“Apparently, this group hires what they call consultants - which are professional, often full-time animal activists - to hold education sessions in local areas. These sessions are propaganda and often very inflammatory,” said Phillip Lobo, AAA communications director.

The AAA is a coalition of farmers, ranchers, their suppliers and customers that has a mission of promoting the importance of animal agriculture since 2001.

According to an AAA press release, the New York-based GRACE offered to allow people in Indiana and Ohio the use of a portable gadget that uses ultraviolet light to seek out hydrogen sulfide and ammonia in the air. The goal of this tool is to arm the consumer with data that could help them sue livestock producers in the area.

GRACE claims to be against the spread of factory farms. “GRACE tries to prevent progress that large scale animal agriculture brings to rural areas,” said Lobo. “The group has two aims. They appeal to new residents of rural areas and those that just don’t understand animal ag anyway. They also appeal to anyone who’s the anti-change type.”

Lobo explained that GRACE originally launched national-level campaigns such as the unsuccessful ‘meatless Monday’ effort, but in recent years has started to work at the county and state level to stop individuals.

Mike Beard, immediate past president of the Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition and a pork producer from Frankfort, said state agriculture advocacy groups are aware of GRACE, but he has no knowledge - so far - of any problems they’ve caused.

“More often than not, the opposition (to livestock expansion plans) comes from the local level,” Beard explained. “We’re not seeing most neighbors seeking activist groups like GRACE. But, the information that (those opposed) are presenting and accessing may be traceable back to groups like GRACE and the misinformation contained on their websites.

“I’m not sure of the impact that GRACE is having, but we are seeing more concerns from communities (about livestock expansion) than before - it’s hard to quantify if that’s just a few people with loud voices or more.”

Lobo said there are a number of reasons for the increase in concerns from local people about growing agricultural enterprise.

“People just don’t understand where their food comes from,” he said. “In 1900, 25 percent of the American workforce was involved in agriculture, a century later it’s just above 1 percent. The average American is now three generations or more removed from the farm.”

Lobo explained that since widespread food shortages haven’t been an issue in the past 25 years or more, an entire generation has never had the slightest prospect of hardship.

“It’s true that these types of factors leave consumers very susceptible to the misguided messages delivered by activist groups,” he said.

Even though groups such as GRACE have not had an impact in Indiana, Lobo cautions that they have the power to do it if local agriculture groups don’t step in.

“Don’t laugh these groups off, they are serious, the more extremist, the worse,” he said. “Take a look at Arizona, there is valid legislation there to stop sow gestation stalls - now there are one, maybe two hog farms there and no veal operations.”

Groups such as GRACE are often well funded; Lobo cites that GRACE received $4.2 million between 2000 and 2002. These organizations are numerous, as well with GRACE being one of many including PETA, Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Liberation Front among others.

GRACE’s website offers a CAFO helpline tab to connect citizens with a live person to help them stop livestock expansion. It also notes organized projects such as its GRACE Factory Farm Project.

Both Beard and Lobo agree that the solution - or prevention - of the impact of animal rights’ activists starts in each local community. “We can do a lot when we sit down and meet with people at the table,” Beard noted. “Just be a part of your community and know your neighbor’s concerns and be sure to address them.

“If you’ve already been targeted by an activist group, you’re in a bit of trouble, you’re reacting now. But if not, be proactive and form an alliance with other groups in agriculture. Start talking with your neighbors about expansion before you do it and then when the time comes, you’ll hopefully have their understanding.”

This farm news was published in the July 5, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

7/5/2006