Campaigns that humanize animals, focus on economics likely to fail, he says


Capital Press

Animal agriculture is losing the battle of public perception to animal rights groups because producers are focusing on science, economics and themselves instead of on the animals, according to one expert.

"This is winnable," said Wes Jamison, an associate professor of communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University. "Only if you continue to talk economics, science are you going to lose."

Jamison has studied the animal rights movement for decades. He said the urban and suburban population cannot understand what producers do or why, but animal agriculture opponents understand the consumer. They moralize the issue of consuming animal products to further their cause. They've even brought religious values and the protection of all God's creatures into the issue.

They capitalize on "the uncomfortable feeling that comes from holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time," he said.

"Your consumers are hypocrites," he said. "They treat one animal (their pet) as a child and one on their plate."

Animal rights activists point out that hypocrisy, knowing consumers will take action to assuage that guilt.

"They want to blur the line between companion animals and commodity animals," he said.

Their core message is that animals are individuals with individual worth, he said. They frame the argument that consumers treat their pets very well but don't care about farm animals. They bank on consumers' guilt over their own gluttony, giving consumers permission to eat animal products but pointing out that their unwillingness to spend more on those products causes animals to suffer.

Their hook is "can't you just help us help food animals a little bit," he said.

That little bit of help can be a vote in support of regulation or a donation.

"Consumers need a counter argument," he said

First, farmers must differentiate between companion animals and farm animals when communicating with consumers. Jamison said the "Happy Cows" advertising campaign, which humanizes cows, is a short-sighted effort.

Along with giving consumers permission to consume the animal products they enjoy, there are two other things that must be part of everything producers think and do, he said.

"Consumers trust us ... take it seriously. Don't talk about products or farmers, talk about the animal and your relationship to the animal," he said.

Jamison said the public accepts how Native Americans treat animals, even bison slaughter, because they give thanks to that animal. Farmers, too, can promote their respect and thankfulness for food animals.

Complete transparency, including the kill room floor, is another factor. It's just a matter of framing it: Farmers don't like slaughter, but that's what happens.

"They'll take the 30 percent you don't show and frame you," he said.

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