This week, animal rights extremist group, PETA, took a bold (although not surprising) stab at the values of an organization I hold near and dear to my heart; the National FFA Organization.
First of all, using a teenage acronym inspired title “lame AF” (*insert eye roll*) honestly made me scroll right past this article the first time I saw it. There are so many red flags that pop up in my mind — credibility for one — but as far as catching the attention of that younger demographic; nailed it!
So when I came across this blog from a college student titled “FFA is BAE” (after I read her blog to know what that even means) I had to give her props on her clever counter approach. (P.S. thank you for bringing me up to speed on another popular teenage slang term.)
In fact many fellow FFA alum and current members came together to defend an organization they take pride in, but what I have found even more satisfying in the few blog posts I have read in response to PETA’s attack are the open conversations and invitations into the lives of those that have been touched by FFA (see Celeste Harned blog here) — not an equally slandering/bashing session of the opposing organization.
I pondered this article for a while, not wanting to write a hasty response out of fury but to combat PETA’s over-the-top claims of animal agriculture with thought and reason. And the best way I can think to do that is by drawing on personal experience.
My “what FFA means to me” spiel
Like everyone else, I feel it is appropriate to jump on the bandwagon and share my experiences in FFA and why I believe PETA got it all wrong. I could write a book on all my reasons, but I will highlight only a few that stand out most to me.
I joined FFA in high school because, to me, it just made sense. Both my parents were raised on the farm and participated in 4-H and FFA growing up and, while I didn’t live on a farm, I still grew up working on my grandparents’ dairy farm and showed animals in 4-H as soon as I was old enough.
But I also had many friends who sat alongside me during my Intro to Ag class that couldn’t tell the difference between a bull and a steer. This alone was an eye opener for me: Growing up in a mostly rural county (and one of the top dairy counties in Ohio at that), I just thought everybody should know chocolate milk does not come from brown cows.
But FFA turned out to be so much more than livestock and fieldwork.
Communicating in an appropriate, purposeful and positive manner
This is a huge one for me. FFA developed a confidence in me that I didn’t even know that I had. Being forced to stand in front of my peers and recite the FFA creed got me over my fear of public speaking pretty quickly. It also made me a better communicator in the long run.
I remember participating in my first prepared speech contest and preparing a speech on wool and its uses. That speech forced me to present information not only in a captivating way — something PETA excels at — but to really research my topic and present the facts — something PETA forgets to do.
Which leads me to their take on dressing neatly and appropriately. I never felt more professional or appropriately dressed than when I was in my official FFA dress; but that’s not the point they are really making here.
PETA wants you to believe that hundreds of sheep die in the making of wool-based products and that you should be ashamed for wearing it. This just makes me turn into that lady from the esurance commercial and scream, “that’s not how it works, that’s not how any of this works!”
Shearing the wool off of a lamb is no different than having your head shaved at the local barber shop. The same goes for ear tagging; ever get an ear piercing?
While I am not an expert on the sheep industry in Australia and couldn’t tell you why those sheep are dying, I am sure we are missing a lot of key information: sickness, natural causes, predators. PETA often chooses to selectively craft its argument by piecing together keywords like “lambs dying” and “wool shearing” in a way that might not be entirely inaccurate, but does not give you the whole picture.
Supervised Agricultural Experiences
All FFA members are encouraged to participate in a Supervised Agricultural Experience or SAE. I think this is probably one of the most beneficial experiences an FFA student could receive.
For me, it was a combination of raising sheep to show at the fair and working on my grandparents’ dairy. Keeping track of animal weights, feed costs, health, and money made on the farm taught me the value of record keeping and responsibilities.
Management is critical on the farm and that includes finances and livestock care. I can assure you a farmer doesn’t spend thousands of dollars on feed, barns for shelter and healthcare just to beat and starve their animals and leave them to die. Those attitudes of responsibility and giving an animal the best life so it can live its best life is developed in programs like 4-H and FFA.
Care and respect
Walk through an animal barn at your local county fair and see how many kids are hugging the necks of their sheep, taking a nap in the straw curled up next to their favorite cow or giving a hog the best back scratching he has ever had. I know I have done all of these things.
I have also experienced the sadness of letting a market animal go once the fair came to an end and it still gets to me when I see youngsters experience their first livestock sale — that’s because we care!
But I also know the importance of these animals to our food supply and that does not make me heartless and cruel — which is what PETA wants its followers to believe by picking apart the FFA code of ethics and trying to link each one back to animal cruelty.
Being an agricultural journalist, I have a truly unique opportunity (and responsibility at times) to be a “voice for agriculture.” And with that voice comes great responsibility (cue the dramatic music) to share why animal agriculture is so important.
Sure it’s messy at times (as wonderfully stated in this blog), but to have a farmer you just met sit down with you for an interview at the family dining room table and look you right in the eyes to tell you “we will go without supper before they do,” truly makes it hard for me to believe that farmers are heartless and cruel. That same farmer also told me “an animal should only have one bad day in its life and that’s when it is harvested,” and that’s what it is all about.
PETA does what they do best
Yes, PETA does what PETA knows how to do best — scare tactics and fear mongering — and unfortunately that gets them a large following of those who just don’t know any better.
But what I have come to learn is most of these articles, videos, photos, etc. are created to do just that; evoke emotion and strike a nerve. And yes, I will admit that I have had my share of bashing sessions when it comes to organizations like HSUS and PETA posting this graphic content.
So how do we as advocates and proud supporters share those equally emotional and thought-provoking posts that cast a positive light on agriculture and programs like FFA and 4-H? I think the responses of some of these bloggers is a pretty great start and I am happy to stand by them #FFAproud.
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