Editor’s Note: PorkNetwork Assistant Editor Wyatt Bechtel shares his thoughts on the state of state fairs.
It’s fair season!
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 July, 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 philosphy. 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.
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.
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.
I was one of those Kansas kids who benefited from this exhibit. Even being the son of a veterinarian and raised in agriculture, it was my first experience seeing piglets farrowed.
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.