Commentary: Animal activists: Keep fairs fair

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It’s fair season!

Kansas State Fair Birthing CenterShandi Dix/KS State FairKids watching the miracle of birth at the Kansas State Fair. All across the nation youth can be found exhibiting 4-H and FFA projects at county and state fairs.

Many of these young men and women will learn life lessons from showing their prized bovine, equine, swine, or maybe even a porcupine. Some will continue those lessons as they pursue careers in agriculture. All will be potential advocates for the industry.

The majority of youth in America are not fortunate enough to participate in fulfilling activities like the bucket calf project or selling their blue-ribbon market lamb. However, those non-participants do get the opportunity to learn from their 4-H and FFA member counterparts when they attend a fair. Urban and suburban youth alike have the chance to see other kids in action as they fit and show livestock. It is a great learning experience for all.   

Animal activist groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been trying for the past few years to step into state fair venues in nearly every area of the country to “educate” children.

Just this past month PETA was allowed to voice its opinion for the first time at the California State Fair with a booth illustrating the motive “to make kids wary of dairy.” The booth featured games to lure in kids and then detailed reasons why they should ditch dairy or meat products for a vegan lifestyle.

I personally see nothing wrong with the booth, even though I do not support PETA’s philosophy. Fairs are completely pro-animal agriculture. All you have to do is take a walk down the midway to realize this. You’ll see people dining on turkey legs, corn dogs and bacon-covered everything, all while 4-H and FFA members show off the fruits of their labor.

Minnesota Veterinary Medical FoundationVisitors of the Minnesota State Fair can see newborn piglets. I do have a problem with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) suing the same California State Fair that was kind enough to open its doors to PETA. ALDF has sued the State Fair and the University of California Board of Regents for confining pregnant sows and nursing piglets in farrowing crates at an educational exhibit.

Farrowing crates help protect baby pigs from being crushed by the sow, and give the pigs a warm, dry place to lie. Can you imagine the trauma children would experience if they saw and heard a baby pig being laid on by its mother?

The Livestock Nursery Exhibit lets people – who would not otherwise get the chance – see pigs, cows and sheep give birth. This service is run by students and faculty from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who will spend their time caring for the animals and educating children about livestock.

It is funny how ALDF, an organization that has been heavily involved with PETA in pursuing litigation against animal agriculture, would oppose this educational event. I guess the lesson to be learned is if you give an animal activist group a booth, they think they can run the fair.

In Kansas, things have been similar to California. Last year, PETA was allowed onto the fairgrounds in Kansas, even though restrictions were placed on the group for showing images of animals being slaughtered and were held up after a lawsuit.

The same problems with farrowing crates happened at K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine Kansas State Fair Birthing Center in 2008. The decision was made to not show sows giving birth because of the outcry from animal rights activists. Now, five years later the Birthing Center is bringing back the popular display to educate Kansans.

Erika BechtelHere I am at 8 years old with my 4-H bucket calf, Whitey. I was one of those Kansas kids who benefited from seeing the birth of baby piglets at this exhibit. Even being the son of a veterinarian and raised in agriculture, it was my first experience seeing piglets farrowed. I’m happy it is back and I know it will be just as educational today as it was when I was a youngster.  

Growing up in a beef-centric state like Kansas, most of my interactions with other livestock species happened at fairs. I saw dairy cows being milked at the parlor of the State Fair. I was able to help my friends bathe their hogs and sheep at the wash rack of the Greenwood County Fair. More than anything, I was able to share with my “town” friends what it means to care for livestock.

ALDF and PETA want to continue to change the rules of the fair, when the primary purpose of the fair is to showcase agriculture and educate fair visitors. Hopefully, animal rights activists will keep fairs fair, but I doubt it.

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RB Baker    
Iowa  |  July, 26, 2013 at 08:41 AM

It is a clear indication that animal welfare is not the agenda of groups like ALDF or of course PETA. Their goal is to end animal agriculture, pet ownership, zoos, hunting, fishing, ...... force a vegan lifestyle on everyone. Farrowing stalls are a standard of the industry - large and small farms. The animals are there for less than 4 weeks. They protect the piglets and the new mothers. It allows us to make certain the nursing mother gets enough food to make milk and prevent her from excessive weight loss which can lead to certain other welfare issues. In free stalls, it is common for the new mother to accidentally crush half her babies before weaning. This never happens in a farrowing/lactation stall. Placing the sow in a birthing/milking stall also allows the farmer to carefully observe the new mother and her babies. There is no question that this is good for the mom and her newborns. It is certainly protects the caregiver and gives them much greater opportunity to properly care for the mother and the baby piglets.

Dr. William Rannells    
Ohio  |  July, 26, 2013 at 09:36 AM


Arnold L. Goldman DVM, MPH    
Canton, CT  |  July, 26, 2013 at 09:56 AM

I think Fair organizers are making a mistake allowing groups like PETA to place booths in their fairs. Such organizations have plenty of other venues where they may voice their views, there is no need to allow the fox in the hen house in the interest of "fairness." PETA is against animal agriculture. Fairs exist to showcase what's good and new in agriculture. There is no place for politics in Fairs and PETA and its ilk are all and only about politics. They can have their say elsewhere: let's not turn fairs into political rallies. As such groups do not promote agriculture, there is no reason to include them. Rewrite your bylaws if you must, but do not give them an opening to disrupt your world, now or in the future.

Eric Mills    
California  |  July, 29, 2013 at 12:58 AM

Re Mr. Baker, above: Surely it's not true that piglet mortality is ZERO in the farrowing crates, is it? I've seen several studies indicating that the rates are nearly identical, whether in the crates or in open-pen situations. Curiously, here in California, farrowing crates are a violation of State Penal Code 597t, which mandates that any confined animal must have room to exercise. Clarification, please.

Steve Meyer    
Iowa  |  July, 29, 2013 at 07:11 AM

Don't know what studies you have seen but practical experience says death losses are VASTLY lower with farrowing stalls than with pens. If someone is comparing stalls to outdoor systems, the number may look similar because outdoor systems will have some pigs die before they are ever seen alive. It is easy to not find dead pigs in deep bedding or lose them to predation. Check this to make sure but I think the California law only prohibits PREGNANT sows from being confined in stalls except for, I think, 7 days before farrowing. Nursing sows are obviously no longer pregnant thus allowing them to be kept in stalls to protect both themselves and, especially, their pigs for that first 3-4 weeks. Last issue: The "welfare" of a baby pig is not very high at all when it is smashed by a 500-pound sow.

Colo  |  July, 31, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Actually, they are all and only about money. I agree that they shouldn't be allowed a booth inside an event specifically geared towards the promotion of youth and livestock. At best, their money-grubbing efforts should be confined to the parking lot.

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