A week or so ago, Katie Burns, a junior in ag education, was making her way to class at the University of Illinois when she came upon a FARM truck. Not related to the ag campus though – not even close. In this case, FARM stands for Farm Animal Rights Movement, a non-profit radical animal rights organization based in a Washington, D.C., suburb.
On this beautiful fall day on campus, they parked their truck far from the ag campus. They hoisted signs that read “Get paid $1.00” and “Watch a 4-minute video” and “Decide the fate of 10 billion lives.” They invited students into the truck (does that not sound like the beginning of a bad TV movie?) to watch a video about horrific animal ag abuse, encourage the college kids to become vegans, give them a dollar and move on.
But then Katie walked by and in. She watched the video and noted it was mostly if not entirely false, with the videos that generally make farmers out to be the bad guy. It mentioned that only 5% of the farms involved in large-scale animal production are family farms. So Katie started googling.
She heard the woman on the truck tell other students that “all animals that are raised in the U.S. are mistreated.”
“I had to collect myself for a minute. I knew if I got angry with her she would not listen to anything that I said, Katie says. And then she talked to her. She showed her the USDA statistics that say 97.6% of farms are family-owned and operated.
“She didn't have much to defend her weakly-supported claim. She just shoved the flyer and dollar at me so I would stop talking to her,” Katie says.
Then the good stuff happened: students around Katie started asking her questions.
“They wanted to know about real agriculture and I told them my story,” said Katie, who’s a third-generation Polled Hereford breeder from Coulterville, Ill. She related a lot of the video explanation to human violence.
“I used the example of gangs and thugs, where only a small percentage of a race is involved in a terrible thing, but it makes so many people hate an entire race for no reason,” Katie said, noting it’s the one-bad-apple-spoils-the-lot phenomenon.
“That really connected with them and they started to understand.”
As they walked away, she heard them talking about how that video was wrong and somebody should put a stop to it. Yes. Yes, they should.
It shouldn’t surprise any of us, really, that an animal rights bandwagon would show up on campus. It’s not unlike the predatory credit card stands I remember from my days on campus; students are young and susceptible. They’re forming opinions and are looking for information. Many – unlike Katie – have no agricultural background and no idea this information was a pack of lies.
So. Props to Katie for give it a shot. She had a good plan for that dollar, too.
“I think I’m going to use my dollar to go buy a cheeseburger.”