In the Age of Animal Activism, Is Your Farm a Target Next?

01:19PM Nov 22, 2019
Whitesides Dairy 030
Dairy farms across the country got a major wake-up call this summer when a popular dairy was targeted by an animal activist group. So, what signs could indicate your farm could be next?
( Lindsey Benne )

Dwayne Faber is a dairy farmer in the Pacific Northwest. His fame, however, comes from Twitter; popularity that seems to be growing.

“It was about three or four years ago, I started and had a few tweets that took off and go viral,” explains Faber, who goes by DFaber84 on Twitter.

Today, he has more than 35,000 followers, as his tweets are striking a chord with those both inside and outside of agriculture.

“For me, it's humor,” says Faber, talking about what helps makes his tweets so successful. “I try and use humor, and that does seem to be Twitter.”

Faber says his popularity on Twitter also come with risk. Farming outside of Seattle, Washington, he knows the popularity could also make him a target of animal activists.

“We're all one YouTube video away from being out of business, or  not having a place to sell our milk to. And so that that's always a threat. That's always a concern, and I think it's a reason why some people don't engage in social media as much as they should.”

That fear isn’t stopping him from continuing to strike up humor and conversations on Twitter; conversations and stories the Animal Ag Alliance says are needed now more than ever.

“We have to keep talking about what we're doing and being transparent, because if we don't -  if we let fear of being targeted by activist groups or quell our willingness to talk about animal agriculture -  that is just going to let them win and let them continue to exploit the gap that exists between farmers and consumers,” says Hannah Thompson-Weeman, Vice President of communications with the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

This year, a major dairy underwent an ultimate test, as a YouTube video of animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms went viral.

“I think it was proof that that anyone can be targeted,” says Thompson-Weeman.

The video was a wake-up call for animal agriculture. Thompson-Weeman says while animal activists have been trying to expose animal agriculture operations for years, their efforts are becoming more aggressive.

“These campaigns are not a new tactic by any stretch of the imagination, but what we've seen them do with targeting large, well-respected household name brands has really upped the ante and seeing fair life and Fair Oaks be targeted this summer really illustrates why this is so critical for us all to be aware of,” she says.

After the Fair Oaks Farms video hit, several dairy groups, including the dairy chekoff and National Milk Producers Federation, sprug into acton and the farm’s crisis management plan went into play.

“We had to ask ‘what could we say,” says Heather Oldani of Dairy Management Inc (DMI). ‘”What are the facts of the situation? What's the message that we want to be able to convey to customers to consumers to the media, about the videos and the and the steps that folks were taking to take accountability. That's how we immediately jumped in.”

Thompson-Weeman says there are warning signs that could mean an animal activist is thrying to target your farm next.

“If somebody's background doesn't seem to line up for the position they're seeking, they're really overeducated or inappropriately educated, if they sound very rehearsed - like they learned about animal agriculture from a textbook or a Google search, if they give you an ID ad the ID doesn't match the state they say they're from or the plates on their car: these are all little things in their background that make you kind of wonder what's going on here,” she says.

For Faber, he uses social media with caution, knowing his dairy may be targeted next.  

“We do have cameras,” he says. “We constantly have monthly meetings with our employees, trying to get them to realize the severity of not taking care of animals, as well as they should take care of animals. And it's good for us to all be invested in doing our utmost to make sure that an animal is healthy and comfortable.”

Faber says the fear of being a target isn’t stopping him from sharing his story. And as animal activists arm up their efforts to target more farms than just dairy, the age of activist videos could be a new normal in the world of dairy, one that’s making dairy farmers wary they could be next.

USFR 11/16/19 - Dairy Operation Susceptibility