04/14/2015 10:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Agribusiness Lobby Group Fears Burnout: My Top Five Unsolicited Tips for "Agvocates"


The latest lamentation from one of the meat industry's main trade groups reads like something out of the Onion. In the article, factory farm enthusiasts plead that it's "downright exhausting" to constantly defend against an onslaught of gruesome exposés by animal protection organizations, retailers increasingly demanding reforms, and ad campaigns pulling the curtains back on abusive-yet-standard practices at animal factories.

All of this, the lobby group reports, is leading to risk of burnout for its agvocates. Um, yes, "agvocates."

I'll give them this: it's easy to imagine how repeatedly losing a cultural debate can be tiring.

This group, which never met a standard abuse of farm animals it wouldn't defend, then seeks tips from readers about how to avoid such pro-ag burnout. I have some suggestions:

1. Stop defending the indefensible. Despite dozens of countries, ten US states, and more than 60 major food companies demanding the removal of animals from tiny cages--like gestation crates for mother pigs--agvocates continue defending systems that don't even allow animals to turn around. Even the CEO of the nation's largest veal company has referred to crate confinement as "archaic," and the egg industry's chief representative has said their cages are "ridiculous." Agvocates would likely find their work less grueling if they stopped defending what the vast majority of the American public, including some industry leaders, already know is indefensible.

2. Learn about farming. Agvocates might have more energy if they'd take the time to learn about farming before defending any and all forms of it. For example, the same group that coined the term "agvocate" recently published a piece demonstrating an astonishing lack of familiarity with pig farming, writing that "gestation crates [are] where pigs give birth to piglets..." Of course, gestation crates are where pigs are locked and nearly immobilized while pregnant, not after their piglets are born. (This might be a reasonable mistake for, say, someone from Manhattan, but for a group of self-proclaimed agvocates?)

3. Condemn, don't condone, animal abuse. Humans share a natural connection with animals, and most want to see them protected from harm. So when we defend abuse, we dehumanize and debase ourselves--which can no doubt be taxing. There'd be less risk of burnout if agvocates would condemn rather than condone inhumane mutilations of animals, such as cutting off cows' tails without pain relief. Cows need their tails to keep biting insects away and they suffer when this body part is cut or crushed off; yet some agvocates oppose legislation to end such abuse.

4. Accept that Americans eating less meat is a good thing. Global Meat News reports that meat consumption in the US fell again in 2014, caused by "health, ethical, sustainability and religious issues giving meat a bad name." And health experts on the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are recommending that Americans switch to a more plant-based diet. It'd be less exhausting to accept that people want less meat on their plates in 2015 than to continue defending the meat-heavy Standard American Diet (SAD), which is implicated in human illness, animal cruelty, and environmental degradation.

5. Walk a mile in their hooves. Finally: You think it's tough to defend practices like locking animals in cages where they can't turn around their whole lives? Try a little empathy: Step outside your comfort zone for one moment and instead of defending cages, imagine being locked inside one.

Perhaps my burnout prevention tips will fall on deaf agvocate ears, but I'm certainly hoping not, for both their sake and animals'.

Erica Meier is the executive director of Compassion Over Killing. Follow her at