Animal rights activists and ethical vegans were once a tiny population on the fringes of Western society, but they have grown into a disturbingly large population — Swedish drink company Oatly made that abundantly clear when they mocked dairy farmers worldwide during the most-watched program on American television, the Super Bowl. I think back to 2013, when Ram Truck’s popular commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s famous “So God Made a Farmer” poem aired, and there was not a dry eye in the room.
In 2021, just eight years later, we are listening to the CEO of Oatly, Toni Petersson, sing, “It’s like milk, but made for humans!” followed by “Wow, wow, no cow.” This isn’t Oatly’s first anti-farmer ad; the brand’s previous ads included, “No milk, no soy, no badness.”
Now, some people might think that Oatly is merely stating that their product is a dairy alternative. If that is what you thought, that means the ad worked how they wanted it to work. They claim to be unapologetic ethical vegans. So, what is an “ethical vegan”? An ethical vegan eats no animal products and avoids their use in all facets of their lives (which is almost impossible considering that animal products are used in things such as bandage strips, piano keys, textiles, antifreeze, tires and dog food). Ethical vegans’ militant behavior has even driven some people who maintain a diet free from animal products to distance themselves and drop the term “vegan” for “plant-based.” The “plant-based” crowds isn’t as apt to tell others how to eat and don’t often participate in activist-type behavior on behalf of animals. An ethical vegan is an animal-rights activist.
Oatly, in my opinion, is a company that formed to make a killing off of ethical vegans by using vegan buzzwords and vilifying livestock farmers (further evidenced by its decision to become a publicly traded company). That is just an opinion — an opinion I formulated because Oatly was selling its oat residue to hog farmers until their customers caught wind of it. After boycott threats, Oatly quickly announced that it would no longer be selling the oat residue in that way. But this story is not really about Oatly. It is about the eye-opening response I received from the ethical vegan/animal rights community. On my social media, I made a post that was disparaging about both Oatly and their CEO.
I was not even a little polite. I am, after all, the Punk Rock Farmer. This guy had just demonized an entire industry made up of some of the hardest-working family farmers you will ever meet. I even in jest said that it would have been funny if a herd of Holsteins would have run him over at the end. I was expecting some backlash and even welcomed it. What I was not expecting were death threats. I was not expecting dairy farms to be compared to Nazi Death Camps or Antebellum Chattel Slavery.
I was preparing for civil discourse. I was not ready to be called a rapist, murderer, Nazi, fascist, and so on. Even my “Punk Rock” credentials were challenged, which in and of itself is not punk rock at all. The ethical vegan response included hundreds of comments, a YouTube video on a vegan channel dissecting my post, a couple of memes and a bunch of vegan Reddit threads. You could say I pushed their buttons. As a large-scale vegetable producer who only dabbles in a few cattle or a hog for the freezer, I was not aware of the threats facing animal agriculture.
I wanted to know more — to learn more about this. I had a chance to speak with Karen Glueck and Theresa McMahon from the organization Protect The Harvest. Their words of warning to the American livestock farmer need heeding. We, as farmers, are doing our jobs day in and day out and do not have the luxuries or animal-rights activists’ resources. Theresa and Karen painted a solemn picture of what the future of animal agriculture will look like if we don’t address ethical vegans and animal-rights organizations.
From graphic social media posts to publicized demonstrations, most rational people can scoff at the ethical vegan agenda. But leadership at Protect The Harvest tells us not to be fooled. There are ethical vegans in positions that can affect both national and global policy with animal agriculture.
Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey was just appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee. Booker is an ethical vegan. That means he believes in morality that animal agriculture is wrong and has even introduced legislation to eliminate CAFOs. I have always liked Booker and respected him as a leader who shows a real humanitarian side. However, I think his appointment to the Ag Committee is unacceptable. His moral interest is in the elimination of animal agriculture. It is equivalent to a pacifist who believes in abolishing the military serving on the Armed Forces Committee. Booker’s bias will always lead him away from helping those involved in animal agriculture.
Unfortunately, Booker is not the only person in high places able to influence agriculture so heavily. Cass Sunstein, who was formerly the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is the co-author of the book Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. Sunstein is an outspoken animal-rights advocate and ethical vegan.
As a person of influence, Sunstein mentored a young Wayne Hsiung, who founded Direct Action Everywhere, often abbreviated to DxE. DxE’s involvement in several attacks on farms includes charges of theft, destruction of property, and even inciting riots. DxE has over 600,000 followers on Facebook alone. They have 21 chapters in the United States and 39 international chapters. DxE is one example of animal-rights extremism that is starting to build momentum.
The Humane Society of the United States is another organization that has a plan to end animal agriculture. However, they are much more subtle. While they often claim they want to make sure animals get treated humanely, they use legislation like a weapon against animal agriculture. They are not the same as your local Humane Society!
PETA is probably an organization that everyone knows. They use shock value to try to persuade people that even animal ownership is wrong. Bloody images of lamb after being sheared (it was a fake lamb), dog meat markets from other countries showed side by side with beef, pork, and chicken products. One of their despicable campaigns was called Holocaust on Your Plate. It was a campaign where PETA juxtaposed actual images of the WW2 Halaocost victims to cattle, hogs, and chickens, often with the words To animals all humans are Nazis. PETA did half heartily apologize, but the apology was followed up with disbelief that people found it offensive.
Animal-rights activists often use word imagery like slavery, holocaust, and rape without understanding their words’ weight.
For the most part, everyday people do not share their views that animals are equal to human beings. Ethical vegans feel they have the moral right to co-opt real human tragedy and equate it to animal agriculture. There is no rational, constructive discourse with them. You will be labeled a speciesist. That means you think you or your children are more important than, say, a hog, a rat, or a horse. When you make the argument that human beings are omnivores and biology made us that way, an ethical vegan will scream, “That is an appeal to nature fallacy!” You will hear this a lot if you are talking to ethical vegans.
The appeal to nature fallacy that they are latching onto is that “just because it is natural, doesn’t make it right or good.” This is true, but being natural is also not wrong or bad. We are saying that humans are omnivores physiologically. We are not appealing to any logical fallacy; we are appealing to empirical evidence. Does that mean that we could live on plants alone? Yes, with supplements. So, just because something is natural or not natural is irrelevant.
Often, vegans will shout down people they are talking to with this fallacy claim. I have witnessed ethical vegans claim the “nature fallacy” about eating meat and, in the same sentence, talk about how no other species drinks another species’ milk. They say it is so unnatural. Their dairy argument is an example of the appeal to nature fallacy that they often use in their rhetoric. Those who are not dairy farmers need to know how irrational ethical vegans sound. I asked a dairy farmer, Leanne Cassner, to explain why using the terms “rape” and “kidnapping” really mischaracterizes actual dairy operations.
“Activists use the term rape to describe A.I. breeding. They imply that we are using force against the cow or causing the cows harm. Untrue,” she says. “When a cow is in heat or cycling, she wants to breed. She will stand still, just like she would for a bull. Their cycle is every 21 days, and cows are only bred once through A.I. with each cycle. Ideally, we like to get them pregnant quickly. After they are pregnant, they are left alone. In my opinion, when they scream rape at us, it sounds like we go out and stick our hands up cows constantly, which is not the case. We get them bred, then leave them be. We try to be as hands-off the cows as much as possible so they can live naturally.”
“Activists love to use the term ‘kidnapping’ or ‘stolen’ when they talk about the process of removing calves from their mothers in the dairy industry,” Leanne explains. “Dairy cows are not maternal. They can attack their calves, disown their calves, or not care that they just gave birth. Implying that we are robbing the cow and calf of an important bond puts human characteristics on dairy cows. They do not ‘bawl’ for the calf, nor does the calf mourn for the mother. In addition to that, dairy cows give approximately 10 gallons of milk per day. A calf drinks about 6 quarts; if the mother cow doesn’t get milked, she will get mastitis. Mastitis will make her very sick and could lead to death. Baby calves’ immune systems are very fragile. By feeding them ourselves, we can ensure good quality colostrum, full of antibodies, to strengthen their immune systems and raise happy healthy calves.”
Leanne runs her family’s dairy farm in Illinois, and those are her words in describing the treatment of their animals. Leanne is not a “rapist’ or a “kidnapper,” and hurtling, screaming, and placing those labels on American family farmers needs to stop now. We have all had enough.
The livelihood of the American farmer is already a hard way to make a living. People who ignore real human tragedy, hunger, and suffering and have too many first-world problems do not get a say in how we farm or eat. They do not get to tell a single mother living in a food desert who buys her children chicken tenders or serves a Sunday meatloaf that she is immoral for providing nutritious food for her children. The arrogance and ignorance of ethical vegans are too much.
If you are a farmer or consumer, sign up for Protect the Harvest’s newsletter, so you know what is happening in animal agriculture. The ethical vegan gets the laws and corporate policy changes by being squeaky wheels and standing unified. Call your representatives, go to your county commissioner meetings on ag policies, let the corporations that hold your contracts know to stand up to these attacks. As a consumer, tell these companies where you spend your food dollars to stand up to these animal-rights bullies. If you are a CAFO or free-range or pasture-raised or confinement barn or rotational graze operation, it doesn’t matter. They are coming for your livelihood. Ethical vegans are being heard, and individual farmers are being silenced. We need to present a unified front with animal agriculture — doing so means policymakers will have to listen to a roar that cannot be ignored.
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 in the spring. His motto is FARM OR DIE.