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Experts offer tips for dealing with activists of animal rights
By SARAH B. AUBREY
Indiana Correspondent

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For those who show livestock, the beckoning county fair season just is a favorite time of year.

Early morning chores and days brushing and working with livestock will soon give way to the hubbub of bustling barns and hustling to the showring.

It’s a time to see people, sell livestock and promote one’s farm. But as this year’s fair season approaches, experts caution farm families to realize that not everyone views the livestock business as animal agriculture enthusiasts do.

“Most animal activist groups have their impact at the legislative level, not in interacting with farmers,” said Chris Sigurdson, Head of Purdue University’s Agricultural Communications Department. “Still, we need to remember that some of these groups are looking for ‘points’ with their membership base by showing that they’re doing things to shock and get attention.”

He said, while there have been relatively few negative incidents with young people at livestock shows, it pays to have a clear plan about how to deal with negative animal activists.

“Once they’ve done something to get in the paper, then they get to talk about any issue they want to command,” he added.

Sigurdson often speaks to groups and addresses the topic of how to interact with the public and animal rights activists. Here are some of his tips:

•First and foremost: be polite and professional.
•Answer questions of activists only if you want to. If you don’t want to deal with them, politely decline and ask them to move on. You’re not obligated to be put on the spot.
•If you do speak with an animal rights activist, be polite and don’t let yourself get trapped in an emotionally charged conversation. Often you can’t change the minds of people who have already decided what they think about animal agriculture.
•Make sure it’s obvious that you care for your animals and their well being.
•If you’ve engaged in conversation with an activist and it turns negative, stay calm and don’t become visibly angry. Agree to disagree and ask them to move on.
•If the activist continues to bother you or your group, seek the assistance of those in charge of the venue such as fair managers. If a problem arises, seek out law enforcement.
•Parents: don’t try to handle an out of control situation yourself, seek the venue managers or authorities so a confrontation doesn’t erupt.
•Remember, you don’t have to agree and you don’t have to talk with activists, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. The last press you want for your farm or fair is to look negatively because someone pushed you into an unfortunate confrontation.
•If you’re hosting the event, have a plan for dealing with controversy. •Talk with your county or event attorneys; you don’t necessarily have to allow animal rights activists to protest at your event.
•If you decide to allow a group to promote a certain point of view at your event, then set up a designated area so as not to disrupt the main focus of the event and allow protestors to “steal the show.”

Though incidents with animal rights activists have been rare in Indiana, the Indiana State Fair had an experience with the group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) several years ago when that group had a demonstration across the street from the fairgrounds.

“We don’ allow these groups to demonstrate on our fairgrounds, but they can be across the street,” said Andy Klotz, state fair spokesperson.

“We will deal with activist groups through the (Indiana) State Police to make sure everything stays in control.”

Experts agree that a policy of not allowing an unpleasant situation to occur is best, even if it’s difficult not to get upset about some activist’s misleading views.

“The most frustrating thing you can do to (animal rights activists) is not engage them,” Sigurdson said.

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