If you're a livestock producer and think people are out to get you, you may not be paranoid.

You may be right.

Speaking at last week's Missouri Cattle Industry Convention, Beth Walker, an assistant professor at Missouri State University and livestock producer herself, characterized the animal rights movement as being much more about money than helping animals—and, she asserted, furthering an agenda which aims for the elimination of animal agriculture.

"Those guys," she said, "have their guns aimed directly at you."

Walker said animal rights activists tend to be white, well educated, middle class and removed from agriculture. Their reaction to the issue of animals is more frequently based on emotion rather than on fact and they tend to lack scientific knowledge.

What they don't lack, however, is money.

PeTA, for example, has an annual budget in excess of $28 million, although it spends less than 1 percent of that amount actually helping animals, Walker said. The organization, which she characterized as "media sluts," is especially good at grabbing headlines with over-the-top campaigns such as comparing animal agriculture to the Jewish holocaust of World War II and utilizes celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Betty White, Pamela Anderson and Paul Harvey to further its cause.

Walker is particularly bothered by PeTA's efforts to target young people, especially when they disseminate misinformation about livestock production in the schools.

It is the Humane Society of the United States that scares Walker most, however. With a 2007 budget of $150 million, it is the wealthiest of all of the animal rights groups and, despite the name, does not support local humane society efforts.

"These people are not crazy," Walker stated. "They have some brilliant people—I'm most scared of this group. ... They're not about helping animals. They're about pushing a total animal liberation agenda and getting more funding."

Other animal rights organizations cattlemen should keep on their radar screens include the radical Animal Liberation Front, an FBI certified terrorist group, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine which had 2004 income of more than $10.5 million and, despite its name, a membership made up of only about 5 percent physicians.

Walker suggested that the livestock industry faces a formidable task in battling the misinformation of animal rightists.

"You're up against a younger group of people who are high tech and high energy," she said. "With that, there are fewer and fewer people who have ties to the farm. By 2010 it's predicted that less than 1 percent of the nation will be directly involved in agriculture so how can we educate 99 percent of the population?"

The first step, Walker said, is "don't invite it." She encouraged the cattlemen to take a look at their operations to make sure they aren't providing ammunition for the other side.

"Can you explain what you do to the public?" she asked, suggesting that producers avoid practices and appearances which could give the impression of animal abuse whether it exists or not.

The animal scientist, who teaches a class on animal rights at Missouri State University in Springfield, also suggested that livestock producers become part of agricultural groups which fight the agenda of animal rightists. Groups such as livestock organizations and Farm Bureau, she said, need the membership support of producers to combat the tactics of a well-funded enemy bent on their destruction.

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