Some farmers, local officials call for scrutiny of activist video

PLAIN CITY, Ohio — The large wheat fields leading up to Gary Conklin’s Union County dairy farm are tall and bearded, the green plants quickly turning gold — a sign of maturity.

In a few more weeks, it will be harvest time — a time for big equipment to roam the fields — separating the chaff and the dust from the grain.

In this rural, central Ohio community, farmers and farm businesses, friends and neighbors are hoping for another form of maturity — a kind that will give the man they know and the industry they value a fair representation.

In the news

Conklin and his farm have been in the national spotlight in recent weeks, after a pro-vegan animal rights organization released four weeks of undercover film to local law enforcement, showing a now-fired employee committing severe, intentional abuse to dairy cattle.

All of the state’s major farm and dairy organizations have condemned the actions on the video, and so have its producers — Mercy For Animals.

Where they differ is how the video is being used, and how and why it was made.

Different angles

MFA is using it to portray the state’s livestock farmers as animal abusers and what it believes are “factory farmers” incapable of self-regulation.

Based on the video, MFA encourages consumers to “ditch cruelty, ditch dairy,” adopt a vegan diet, and also sign the Humane Society of the United States’ petition to require “certain minimum standards” to the newly created Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.

On the other side, Ohio farmers say the video is a false representation of what they do.

Support due-process

Speaking during a dedication ceremony June 11 at the cooperative down the road from the Conklin farm, David Thorbahn, chief executive officer of Select Sires — a world leader in bovine genetics — reminded those attending to support due-process, and respect the rights of local officials and farmers.

“The man who committed these heinous acts is in jail and it looks like he’s going to be there for a very long time,” Thorbahn said. “It’s up to the investigators and local law enforcement officers to determine the facts through due process.”

Different roles

Thorbahn said it’s important to remember the intent of those who produced the video, and the job of the law, which relies on due-process and factual investigations to make its conclusions.

He condemned the actions of those who are “providing terroristic threats to our individuals and citizens of Union County,” and said such actions “take public officials away from doing their jobs.”

Daniel Hauff, director of investigations for Mercy For Animals, the organization that produced the undercover film, was aware that some threats had been made against locals, and cautioned concerned citizens against such actions.

“We understand that people are angry and we have asked everyone to let law enforcement do their jobs,” he said.

Misrepresented?

A common sentiment at the Select Sires dedication, and among farmers in the community, is that the video has been used for the animal rights agenda, and does not reflect the true nature of dairy farms locally, or across the state.

Several Union County farmers, speaking off-record, said the Conklins are not the kind of people the video producers are portraying them to be.

“Livestock farmers in the state of Ohio (as a whole) are very good individuals in caring for their animals and to perceive that everybody isn’t is a false statement,” said Union County Commissioner Charles Hall.

He has known the Conklins for years and said they have practiced good animal husbandry for generations. Although the actions on the video are wrong, Hall said “it’s really a very misleading representation” of the Conklins, of Union County and Ohio’s agriculture.

Planned event?

He has a small grain farm of his own and can’t help but question the context of this video’s release. While coincidences do occur, he said it was interesting the president of Humane Society of the United States was in Ohio at the time the video was released, and that it was released near the end of a signature-gathering campaign in the same state.

“This kind of action seems to me to have been brought about at a time that seemed to favor certain organizations that are attacking farm animals across the country,” he said.

Mercy For Animals said it did so to protect animals and the public.

“Our main concern was making sure that Billy Joe Gregg was off the streets, that the public was protected and that these animals were protected,” said Hauff.

Union County Commissioner Gary Lee, who operates Lee Farms, a 2,500-acre grain farm, said he’s bothered over the amount of time it took for these apparent acts of cruelty to be reported.

“At what point does the person doing the video taping have the moral responsibility to stop what he saw that was happening?” Lee asked. “I couldn’t do it.”

The legal investigation continues, and many of the basic questions in this case still remain unanswered. Until they are, locals say they will stand behind the law and the work of their officials.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

6 Comments

  1. Starkfarm says:

    Chris- I must give you props for writing this article.
    I am born and raised on a dairy and abuse of our animals never happened on our farms. That being said I too found it very hard to watch and never made it through the entire video, it made me sick. What makes me more sick is the idea that some people believe that all or most dairy farmers/livestock farmers all treat our animals this way.

    Hang in there Farmers and Ohio Agriculture, the facts will come to light soon enough as will the punishment for Billy.

    Keep up the good work that all of us farmers do every day!

  2. Ohiofarmer says:

    That video just makes me sick i could not watch the whole thing. The people that was involved should rot in hell.

  3. I fincally got the nerve up to watch this video. But I didn’t watch the whole thing.

    I would like to say. That the person in the video should have the same things done to him as he done to the animals. I feel this way on any crime for a long time done to a human or animal.

    What happened to the old days when you didn’t need to do things like this to change people mind about be a vegan or meat eater. Meaning going undercover. But at the same time I feel it was a good thing. It is really sad how things have gotten since the Good Lord isn’t in a lot of things anymore in are way of life and country.

    Just one small farmers thoughts. And I love everyone of my cows.

  4. 4Truth,Justice,Etc. says:

    Mr. Kick has again demonstrated that he knows how to write an editorial. He has equally demonstrated is inability to write an unbiased article, i.e., be the news-reporter he thinks he is.

    There is irony here that seems to be floating around, unnoticed. Has anyone considered how bizarre it is that the same farmers who claim they can scrutinize their own, given the opportunity to do so, would still have Conklin and his workers beating and maiming livestock? If you all are so good at finding the abuse, why does it always have to be discovered by animal welfare protectors? Why don’t farmers expose the farmers who are doing wrong?

    The system is broken, because big money business suits, disguising themselves as farmers, supported by amateurish local media, pay to keep it that way. It is the lobbyists for those same “farmers” Kick wants to protect who steal our freedom of speech. (Oprah was sued, because she openly criticized the beef industry. She won, so I guess that means the judge decided she spoke the truth . . . )

    It is disgusting that small farmers are so under-the-thumb of agri-biz that they fear criticizing the industry, and it is downright sinful that the rulers of agri-biz pretend that Conklin is an isolated incident, sensationalized by MFA to push a vegan agenda.

    MFA is NOT GOING TO SUCCEED in convincing more than a handful of people to get smart and stop eating what you want to call “meat”. You don’t have to worry about a vegan world, because the inbred human population is too stupid to get what that action alone could do to save the planet we rely on to breathe. (Do you have any idea about the connection between veganism and the health of planet Earth, Mr. Kick? Try watching the Science channel some time.)

    The fact is, the burgers you eat are from cows who stand in their own feces, up to their knees, and, when one of them has ecoli, guess what? The ecoli doesn’t just land in one burger!

    The fact is that “farmers” (i.e., the actual owners of the farm equipment and land, usually one of the big corporate guns), fill un-windowed sheds with chickens, packed in so tight they cannot turn around and with breasts so heavy they cannot support their own weight to stand. They feed the chickens anti-biotics that impact the workers and get passed onto the consumer.

    The fact is that “farmers” do things like hang hogs from log chains, letting them choke to death. The fact is that “farmers” use bulldozers to force “downer cows” to their feet.

    Need more nasty facts about American “farmers”? Try to arrange to get into a CAFO, and see how they don’t welcome you with such open, inviting arms. Why aren’t CAFOs open to public inspection, if they are so transparent and innocent, Mr. Kick?

    Stop trying to feed American delusion with more lies and your own cover-ups. (Cover-ups make under-cover ops necessary, FYI.) Tell the truth. Corporate “farms” are nothing like the “farms” consumers imagine when they break an egg or pour a glass of milk. Facing the reality of what happens to the animals who sacrifice to bring us that food would make most people gag, but Americans, like you, Mr. Kick, love the land of Denial. So, “farmers”, relax. America is not going vegan, just because MFA gets why they should. Americans will go down with the Titanic fighting over the one life boat left, rather than putting their heads together and doing anything that might actually make sense.

    Kick, keep on lying. You do it so well. Too bad you can’t write: “Where they differ is how the video is being used, and how and why it was made.” (How is that a complete sentence?)

  5. Garry F says:

    I’ve seen “industrial” agriculture and it is not pretty. It is not surprising livestock start getting treated like “pieces of equipment”. Often times, the people in those industries get treated the same. I also know of good dairy farms who are getting squeezed by the companies (aka Monsanto and large food processors etc.), and selling their farms is more profitable than producing. I think we all have to take a hard look at how we are living our lives. Telling others to avoid beef/dairy/poultry products just avoids dealing with the problem. I think all professions/industries have their set of problems and effects those on the outside (so telling those on the outside to keep quiet again just avoids the problems (denial) and allows to continue.
    I eat cheese, beef and dairy (and thank you to those who produce it!), and will continue to do so….I am more careful from whom I purchase these products from now (especially since the processing plant hamburger problems of the mid-1990).
    Hopefully we can all work of this together instead of resorting to extremes.

  6. TexasLady2 says:

    And so we should eat soy? http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/salmonella-in-soy-brings-recalls/

    Conklin was found innocent of all charges.

    Billy Joe Clegg is still in jail.

    Why wasn’t the camera person push, the camera person who allowed this to go on in front of him, said nothing (did you see the camera person try to stop him or even suggest stopping or even trying to distract him?), didn’t report it to management so it would stop, and kept quiet for weeks or longer so he could edit and paste his tape all the while complacently allow Clegg to continue if it was his idea in the first place?

    Did you notice that Clegg had on the same shirt during the entire filming? I guess he only has one shirt. I wonder how, working on a dairy farm, he managed to keep that shirt so clean?

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