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Clearing The Air - A Response From FARM on AR2012

Here's a response to - among other things. 

In the ARZone spirit of rational discourse, it's only fair to give FARM equal time. Each of us can decide for ourselves what to take away.


Clearing the Air

Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and our Animal Rights 2012 National Conference have recently borne the brunt of gross misrepresentations by folks who should know better. We hope that the following statement of our positions will help to clear the air.

FARM takes an abolitionist stance on the use of animals for food.

FARM’s mission, as publicly stated on our website, is to end the use of animals for food through grassroots and institutional activism and public education. We believe in the inherent self-worth of animals, as well as environmental protection and improved public health. Every one of our ten national advocacy programs is designed to reduce consumption of animal products, leading to a vegan lifestyle.

We generally disapprove of animal rights organizations advocating welfare reforms, because of the likelihood that their supporters will seize on it as a license to consume “humane meat.” Some may forget that we were one of only a couple of national organizations to oppose the highly popular California Prop 2 welfare initiative in 2009.

We have elected not to oppose the UEP/HSUS egg bill, because we believe that it is likely to reduce substantially the use of eggs in food processing and thereby the number of hens raised for food. Our detailed position on the bill is spelled out at

We recently replaced the popular 4-minute videos documenting factory farming and slaughterhouse atrocities with our new “10 Billion Lives” video. Unlike the prior versions, the new video also touts the uniqueness and self-worth of individual animals and warns viewers about “happy meat.” We will be screening it for tens of thousands of viewers on-line and as part of our highly successful “10 Billion Lives Tour” ( 

The AR Conference welcomes all advocates of animal liberation

Since 1997, FARM has organized an annual conference bringing together animal liberation advocates to share knowledge, learn new skills, network, discuss tactics, and “recharge our batteries.” All presentations in concert with this purpose are welcome, even if they are delivered by individuals employed by social justice, life-affirming, or other non-AR organizations.

Some who purport to advocate animal liberation have not been comfortable with this construct. In 2004, the Humane Society of the U.S. led seven major organizations out of the AR Conference, because we included militant speakers. Some of those organizations no longer exist, while others have gradually returned with exhibits and speakers. This year, for the first time, the HSUS allowed three of its top employees to present at AR2012, on animal sentience, vegan nutrition, and vegetarian advocacy.

This year, for the first time, we have been accused of not being abolitionist enough and threatened with boycotts and disruptions by fellow abolitionists. Unlike FARM, the Conference does not take a position on tactics, but insists that they be well represented and discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Banning speakers or boycotting the Conference from the right or the left can only lead to a further erosion of our fledgling movement, and our Conference won’t allow that.


AR 2012 had more distractions than usual.

For many years now, local Whole Foods stores have contributed vegan food and refrigerator/freezer space for our evening snacks. This year, they also contributed a few dozen gift bags, which, carelessly, contained a description of their “happy meat” program. In the press of Conference obligations, we neglected to review these materials, and we apologized to those who were offended.

Tribe of Heart rejected our repeated speaking invitations, then tried to pull an “invasion of conference snatchers” by attempting to rent one of our meeting rooms for their own event. We suggested instead that they spend six months and thousands of dollars to promote their own conference and invite us to speak. The repeated invitations were prompted by our belief that the group had an important point of view to present, and we were pleased to find a qualified replacement.

The only “censorship” we applied was in asking speakers to observe their time limits, to stay on topic, and to refrain from attacking other animal organizations or activists by name. We have found that people are likely to accept constructive criticism of their tactics, but react defensively to personal attacks, and don’t come back. We want all animal advocates to consider the AR conference a safe and welcoming environment.

One of the debate-like speaking arrangements didn’t work out as well as we had expected. On the other hand, we were pleased with the debate between speakers favoring and opposing direct action and the balance between grassroots and institutional outreach training. We will continue our efforts to improve programming balance and quality of presentations.

The direction of our movement will be decided by its activists.

Our role, as conference organizers, is to make sure that diverse points of view are well represented and discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The direction of our movement will be decided by those who learn, share, discuss, and, most importantly, go out and do something constructive to save animals. It will not be decided by us as conference organizers and certainly not by sideline pundits.

It's time to plan your World Farm Animals Day activity.
Please visit or call 888-FARM-USA.

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Here's the reply from Jenny and James posted on their Humane Myth page:
"Michael, We appreciate the time you took to respond to our essay. However, you have not addressed the key concerns that were raised -- concerns that are shared by many

long-term, respected members of the animal rights community, some of whom joined with us to organize and hold the “Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates” event.

Among the many side-issues you brought up was an important question. You asked: Where do those of us who have been critical of FARM’s choice of speakers think the line should be drawn when it comes to “censorship” at the conference?

Most animal rights advocates would agree that Joe Maxwell, with his talk of the pig roasts he’s enjoyed and the profits he is making from selling these individuals to slaughter, has nothing to do with animal rights -- that his message is in fact antithetical to the values we share in the AR community:

Yet, HSUS employs Mr. Maxwell as a director in their organization, HSUS makes backroom deals with large-scale animal exploiters, HSUS participates in “humane” labeling schemes for animal products, HSUS publicizes fundraising events that celebrate “victories” for farm animals while serving those same animals for dinner. HSUS, in the words of its own director of rural outreach, Joe Maxwell, has helped create a new market for animal products. And one of the main buyers for those products is Whole Foods, the 2nd largest meat retailer in the US -- responsible for the exploitation and killing of millions of animals every year -- whose CEO sits on the HSUS Board of Directors. It is hard to imagine a more extreme level of conflict of interest for a self-described "animal protection" organization.

The reality is, a large number of committed activists in both the AR/vegan community and the no-kill community experience HSUS’s misleading public message and its co-option of our movement as one of the biggest impediments to our collective efforts to educate the public and effect positive change. Yet, FARM apparently feels this organization and its leaders are appropriately included in a national conference on animal rights and liberation. FARM has even gone so far as to put on the podium an HSUS executive who is one of the key players in the current wave of industry-advocacy collaboration, and even worse, in a context where new activists are hearing from him about the future of the animal rights movement.

So a lot of us would like to know: Where would FARM draw the line? Is there anything HSUS and the organizations under its control/influence could do that would cause FARM to block them from participating in the AR conference? Or, when it comes to these groups, is it “anything goes”? Are we to expect Joe Maxwell or John Mackey to present at next year’s Animal Rights conference, perhaps giving us their opinion of the future of our movement? If that sounds absurd and disturbing to you, perhaps you are coming closer to understanding how many long-time activists feel about the choices FARM made this year.

The integrity of the concepts of animal rights and animal liberation are basic to the health of our movement. Publicly violating them unavoidably causes controversy and upheaval. The questions we are raising are obvious ones, and your failure to address them head on is only multiplying the concerns that so many animal rights advocates have.

Jenny & James"

Further comments from FARM:

Here is a statement that addresses many of the concerns we've heard:

And some additional points, more specific to Tribe of Heart’s essay:

- We didn’t “abruptly reverse” our position on the Egg Bill “just weeks before” the conference, because we didn’t have an articulated position at first to reverse. After much deliberation, we came to and released our position several months before AR2012, around 4/19/12.

- It’s laughable that FARM has been accused of crafting our position on the Egg Bill in order to gain supporters or money, when we know well that many supporters of ours oppose the Egg Bill. FARM has a long reputation of standing for what is right, even when it’s not popular. This is just another one of the many times that FARM has chosen to put what we believe is right for animals above what other want or expect us to say.

- AR2012 had no interest in protecting “corporate” advocacy over grassroots advocacy. We dedicated far more sessions to effective individual activism, communication, running small groups, etc than we did to corporate/institutional/legislative reforms. Even after Tribe of Heart (TOH)’s counter-conference was announced, FARM offered a last minute high-profile speaking platform to them, which they rejected. Yet they have since continually accused us of prioritizing a “corporate” message over the “grassroots” message.

- We are FARM are having trouble understanding TOH’s request that we feature no organizations guilty of “collaborating with industry”. This seems like an arbitrary criteria to prevent certain groups from presenting at AR2012. While some collaborations certainly go too far and benefit industry more than animals, every successful campaign depends on some degree of acceptance from opposition to give into demands, usually ending with negotiations. This is a form of “collaborating” with industry to reach mutual goals (industry’s goal to end our campaign; our goal to save animals). An example of “industry collaboration” that fellow abolitionists typically embrace is working with non-vegan food manufacturers to use fewer eggs.

- Inviting HSUS to send speakers is not a sign of any changes from FARM or the Conference; they’ve been invited every year since 1997, and they accepted every year until 2004. Tribe of Heart are lamenting the old days of the AR Conference. However, in those days, groups like HSUS who were featured weren’t even doing all the work they’re doing today to promote veganism. We can’t understand why it’s more controversial today to feature their speakers than it was then.

- We made no attempt to censor topics such as the Egg Bill. This year, we had two separate sessions devoted to tactical debates, largely focused on that bill: 1) a rap session for everyone’s voice to be heard entitled “Which Path to Liberation”, which was moderated by a staunch abolitionist, and 2) a plenary session in front of the entire conference entitled “Paths to Liberation”, where the anti-Egg Bill position was presented by Karen Davis and was seen by a room of 300; hardly a “censored topic”.

- Our guidelines to speaker Jamie Cohen have been called “intimidation” and attempts to “restrict her content”. We offered a platform for her to speak on the corporate “divide and conquer” tactic on a panel entitled The War on Activism, and we asked her to be sure that did not turn it into a discussion centered on the Egg Bill because that was not the purpose of that session. We of course did nothing to attempt to intimidate Jamie, but yes, in the strict sense we restrict the content of every session to its stated topic. We don’t permit debate about the Egg Bill in a talk about activist repression any more than we permit discussing how to run a sanctuary in a talk about effective communication.

- Tribe of Heart called Jamie Cohen’s standing ovation proof that her message was so urgently needed, yet they called Paul Shapiro’s standing ovation proof that our movement is moving backward. If our attendees can be trusted to applaud Jamie’s message to be wary of the corporate threat, why can’t those same attendees be trusted to applaud Paul Shapiro’s vision of a vegan world? We encourage our attendees to listen to all the messages presented and decide for themselves how to use their skills to best bring about a vegan world. We won’t apologize for the speakers we featured, because the collective message from AR2012 was that the future of the animal rights movement is a future of successes (albeit mostly unglamorous, low-profile successes).

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