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Remember, activists don’t play fair (Editorial)

(July 11, 2017) As we enter the heart of fair and show season in the Mid-Atlantic region, attention of the parents, volunteers and participating youth zeroes in on getting the fairgrounds in tip-top shape for show and packing up all the essentials from home for the extended stay at the fair to watch over and exhibit their prized animal projects.
Meanwhile, say animal agriculture and fair associations, activist groups are planning for a much different fair experience — protesting how animals are used, presented and cared for. Fairs, especially the larger ones, have the combination of crowds of people and livestock that attract activist protests.
Even more than on-site protests and demonstrations, activist groups have attacked fair venues with robo-calls and social media campaigns. And with their perceived victory in getting the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus shows to end in May, ag and fair groups argue the activists have more enthusiasm and resources to put toward fairs and other livestock shows.
The crowd, mostly unfamiliar with the realities of taking care of livestock, provides activists the opportunity for shock-value attention and spreading misinformation and the livestock on the grounds are the instant examples of their purported claims, the “see for yourself” in their sales pitch.
Don’t buy it. At the very least, fairs need to establish and review a plan to properly handle such protests and be prepared to answer questions from legitimate fairgoers in the wake of an activist bombardment.
Just as they want to ruin the event altogether, an unprepared or incorrect response to the activists’ presence can cause even more damage to the fair, essentially doing the activists’ work for them.
A frustrated fair director mouthing off to a news reporter or a livestock exhibitor’s parent forcibly removing an activist from the show ring bleachers may get sympathy or even cheers in farm country but would play right into activists’ hands.
Smaller fairs, while not as big a target for these groups, rely on on a dedicated but often over-extended volunteer force and may not be well-prepared for people focused on causing problems.
To help fairs across the United States and the world, the International Association of Fairs and Expositions developed and last month released its Activist Response Kit to help members be proactive and reactive in dealing with activist groups.
Available to IAFE members, the kit is divided into 10 sections covering livestock shows, booth rentals, social media, crisis communication, personnel issues, legislative advocacy and their issues.
Fairs are often referred to as the “front-lines” of agriculture education as a place where farming products and practices come face to face with the public.
It’s clearly a front worth protecting.