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Viewpoint: Targeting ag youth brings out the worst in animal-rights activism


Animal-rights activists get worse every year, calling our children who participate in FFA or 4H livestock exhibitions “murders,” “slave owners,” and some things too extreme to print. The first time I encountered this type of extremist activism was when I read a Protect the Harvest blog post responding to PETA2’s hit piece called “FFA is Lame AF.” Lovely. PETA2 is PETA’s Youth Education Program (basically, propaganda for youth).

In PETA’s “FFA is Lame AF” post, the activists accuse the National FFA Organization of not upholding its Code of Ethics because of the youth group’s support of animal agriculture. So, because the FFA promotes a keystone element of agriculture (livestock), PETA wants to see them go by the wayside or eliminate the animal agriculture elements in the FFA.

PETA’s attacks on 4-H and the FFA go back years. In case you are thinking, “Let them attack the FFA and 4-H, they can’t hurt us, they can’t turn the public against us,” it’s important to note that, in 2019, PETA brought in $45,581,725 to help wage this war against ag and take aim at our youth. That is twice as much as the FFA and approximately the same as the National 4-H Council.

PETA is just one organization fighting to end animal agriculture, and the activists have set their sights on our children. The Humane Society of the United States is another major activist organization, one that has attempted to infiltrate 4-H. Several 4-H clubs were able to see them for what they were, and HSUS was unsuccessful.

The newest group to lead the charge against our children in FFA and 4-H is Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE as they call themselves. Their idea of activism involves “open rescues,” which essentially means storming a farm and stealing livestock. Arrests are sometimes made in these cases, and DxE has been known to negotiate with authorities to have a predetermined group of volunteers get arrested to play up the group’s “martyrdom.” Fortunately, they don’t win many hearts and minds that way.

However, one DxE tactic that seems to be building steam is using young people. An activist who stands out and is currently vilifying FFA and 4-H is Zoe Rosenberg, a college student at the University of California-Berkeley who also manages a public social media persona. Besides attacking our next generation farmers and ag industry workers, Rosenberg has called on her school to stop serving “factory-farmed” meat at the school cafeteria.

Using buzzwords like “factory farmed” seems to be her message, especially when talking to the press.

» Related: Anti-FFA/4-H activist sparks debate among members

She targets such companies as Tyson Foods and Hormel. She shows a picture of a random chicken covered in blood and claims it was beaten and bloodied by Tyson. But like so many animal activists, there’s a lot of questions about trust and whatever smokescreen she’s trying to display (remember PETA’s infamous “fake lamb” campaign?). My opinion of the photo Rosenberg is circulating on social media is that it is not even a Cobb 500 (what Tyson uses). And what about all the blood on that chicken? If the chicken had that much blood loss it would be dead. The animal looks like it was dipped into a bucket of corn syrup that was dyed red.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if that was fake blood. As noted, animal activists have a long history of fabrication, especially in visual media.

Image courtesy of Attila Kovacs, Facebook

Rosenberg recently stated, “My high school teacher would always ask me to set weekly goals. For our last meeting she asked me what my goal is for next year or so heading to UC Berkley. I said my goal is to BAN meat in Cal’s dining hall.”

So while she sometimes claims she merely wants to get rid of “factory farming,” in reality, she wants to get rid of meat, period. Never mind the fact that Tyson Foods has donated over 100 million pounds of protein to fight food insecurity or $50 million to help organizations that are fighting to end hunger. Animals come before people in the minds of animal-rights activists.

Rosenberg is effective, young, and has a platform. She is currently using that platform to vilify 4-H and The FFA. I also do not want people to be angry with her, or to vilify her. She is only a pawn in this game to end animal agriculture.

Her mother is Sherstin Rosenberg, DVM, who, according to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, has founded an animal rescue and made it a mission to aid “the animal victims of intensive farming practices,” according to one description. (Updated 8:06 p.m. ET 6/30/21: In an Instagram post that AGDAILY was tagged in, Zoe Rosenberg said that she is the founder of this animal rescue and that her mother is the director.) It doesn’t take too much of a leap to suspect that her daughter has been indoctrinated with animal-rights activism since she was a young child.

Sherstin Rosenberg’s animal rescue, Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, runs off of charitable donations. A quick glance at her website shows that the sanctuary has little regard for biosecurity and doesn’t seem to be aware of proper pasture management. Zoe Rosenberg is often pictured with a hog named Edna — they claim that “Edna” can sort of of walk after a $10,000 surgery. The hog is 600 pounds! No large animal veterinarian would call what “Edna” is experiencing at Happy Hen Rescue Farm quality of life. As a matter of fact, several vets recommended the hog be euthanized.

Yet showing pictures and videos of that poor hog barely able to get off its side had been used to drive donations. The charitable dollars spent on that surgery could have easily fed 20,000 people who suffer from food insecurity, but again, people are not a priority to activists like the Rosenbergs or the DxE faithful.

Activist organizations use people such as Zoe Rosenberg and other young people to drive their mission in eliminating animal agriculture. Some will argue that even acknowledging these individuals and organizations help spread their message. But agriculture has largely ignored them to this point and still these organization’s numbers swell. PETA, Direct Action Everywhere, the Humane Society of the United States, and others are able to outspend ag orgs like the FFA, 4-H, and The American Farm Bureau Federation 5-to-1 in the media. How many documentaries are on Netflix pushing veganism, plant-based, and animal-rights activism? Several. But there aren’t many that speak to the positive aspects of animal agriculture, to the nutrition and food security is provides.

Our heads have been in the sand too long. Targeting our children and amazing institutions like 4-H and the FFA is a step too far. And labels like “cognitive dissonance” and mental illness are being used to describe our farm kids.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Lawler

The Code of Ethics put forth by the FFA (long known as Future Farmers of America) is not something to be diminished or tarnished with animal-rights activist’s misleading and dishonest messaging. My father-in-law credits organizations like FFA with making him a better farmer. He was active in FFA as a young man and is now a very respected and accomplished farmer in North Central Ohio.

His daughter and my wife, Amanda, participated in 4-H animal shows (swine) that helped her pay for her first year of college with the proceeds from her animals. She now helps run a nonprofit that addresses food insecurity with agriculture and heads up programing for youth and homeless/at risk women.

While she is often too humble to speak on these things (I brag on her all the time), she will be the first to say that 4-H is one of the many things that contributed to her sense of community and team work. While both my wife and my father-in-law’s stories are not unique, if we continue to ignore this type of behavior exhibited by animal-rights activists, I fear we will lose those very cherished institutions.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Lawler

Activists are pushing laws that marginalize farmers and they are not going away. California’s Prop 12 has sweeping consequences on not just California farmers, but any farmer who has protein going to California. Colorado’s Supreme Court recently shot down the PAUSE Ballot Initiative, but the activists are already planning their next step, and Oregon has IP13 coming up that will effectively outlaw animal agriculture.

Zoe Rosenberg — or, more likely, her handlers — likes to portray articles like this as a badge of honor showing that they are “winning” or getting to us. Her social media pages do not allow commentary from those who disagree with her. She lives in an echo chamber where no dissent is allowed.

I want her to answer very simple questions. She promotes Black Lives Matter, but then also promotes the vegan lifestyle, which includes talking points that often compare animals in agriculture to real human tragedy and atrocities like the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and The Holocaust. She openly talks about her struggle with (Updated 8:08 p.m. ET 6/30/21) Type 1 diabetes, and while I really do feel for her having that chronic condition, the whole reason she is alive today is because of both animal ag and animal research.

Before she attacks one more child in 4-H, she needs to answer this: Who will take over feeding this country if she and the millions of other vegan activists get the way? Who will adopt millions of livestock animals and care for them for the next 20 or so years while they run out their natural lives that will eventually lead to extinction? Will Zoe Rosenburg and her compatriots take up shovels, hoes, wrenches, operate the tractors, plant the fields, and start farming? Who will feed the world, Zoe?

She and her allies have no realistic answers. However, we do have the wonderful kids involved in 4-H and FFA who do have answers — as well as dedication to an honorable profession and their communities.


Jonathan Lawler operates Brandywine Creek Farms in Indiana and is an advocate for hunger relief and agriculture. He is working on a TV show called Punk Rock Farmer coming soon. His motto is FARM OR DIE.

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