Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Elephants and Ag

This week Barnum/Baily Ringling Brothers Circus announced that they would be calling it quits. Why is that newsworthy? It is a sad end of a long-time piece of our American history. I don’t know too many of us who did not see the circus as kids. I went to see the circus in Topeka when I was a second grader and it was one of the best experiences. I suspect many of us as adults would still jump at going to the circus if we had the opportunity.

However, more than a bit of nostalgia this news should scare those of us who raise livestock for a living. PETA has long targeted the circus as a place where animals were used and abused. It has long been one of the groups biggest campaigns. This past year they finally intimidated the Barnum/ Bailey Ringling Brothers Circus into retiring their elephants to a preserve. The officials with the circus sighted declining ticket sales as the reason for closing, especially in the months following the retirement of the elephants.

Some of you are probably wondering why those of us in animal agriculture should be so worried about PETA convincing the circus to stop using elephants. PETA for many years has been known for flamboyant campaigns against circuses, rodeos, fur and of course animal agriculture. However, many times the organization was deemed not effective because of their tactics that often were hard to take serious. Often their actions came off as cartoonish or childish.

HSUS was the organization to fear. They were better funded, more polished and better connected. Yes, they still are the most dangerous of the animal rights activists but the recent success PETA has had with the circus elephants should have us reconsidering them too. This success will only embolden them and make it easier for them to raise money and possibly have more success.

I must admit that I do not know much about how the circus elephants were treated or the circumstances surrounding their retirement. What I do know is that PETA and HSUS use misinformation and dirty tricks to harm animal agriculture and I would imagine they employed the same tactics against the circus. We should all be scared and worried that they had any success at all.

When it comes to anti agriculture activism success is often not measured with sudden stunning victories but with a gradual erosion and a shift in public opinion. I remember seeing the story about Ringling Brothers retiring their elephants and thinking it was a shame and that the circus should not have given in so easily but it hardly registered on my radar. Fast forward to this week and the circus closing was a major news story and the absence of the elephants was listed as the biggest reason and PETA’s campaign against them was given credit for causing the change. While the retirement of the elephants was a somewhat sudden change in public opinion was gradual.

I am sure that a change in our lifestyles and a change in the entertainment tastes of kids had a lot to do with the downfall of the circus but the elephant issue was the straw that broke the camel’s (maybe the elephant’s) back and brought the big top down. Still many of you involved with animal agriculture may not see what this has to do with your livelihood. Each one of us who are targeted by PETA and HSUS must stand united to dispel the untruths and downright lies put forth by these organizations.

Each time they have a victory they gain more of a foothold and push us just a little closer to extinction. Have no misunderstanding, the elimination of all animal use is their end game and they don’t care what they have to do to get it done. Ethics, fairness and even the law mean nothing to these anti agriculture extrememists all they care about is furthering their “cause”. The scary part is the erosion of public sentiment toward livestock, it is gradual and the absence of elephants in the circus is just the tip of the iceberg.

What do we do now? There is not much we can do for the circus especially Ringling Brothers except recognize the warning it brings to those of us involved in farming and ranching. PETA is a dangerous enemy to our way of life and a force that we must reckon with. We must remain vigilant and work to win the hearts and minds of our consumer. We must continue to be vigilant and tell our story and make sure the truth about animal agriculture is told. It is a cautionary tale that we can include when we tell our grandkids about going to the circus.

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