Activist tactics

Activist tactics to discredit scientists

The animal rights media world, lavishly funded by the vegan industry and the “effective altruists” of Silicon Valley, accuses the scientists who signed the Dublin Declaration of having links to the meat industry. Let’s see how things are.

After numerous attempts by activists to discredit the credibility of established experts in the field of animal production, eminent scientists have come together to write an opinion piece in protest against this smear campaign. The document, signed by internationally renowned scientists such as Frédéric Leroy, Frank Mitloehner, Alice Stanton, Giuseppe Pulina, Antonella Dalle Zotte, Andrea Rosati, Pablo Manzano, Peer Ederer and many others, proposes to explain in detail what is immediately being said by animal rights activist organizations. They are trying by all means (including the important budgets they have at their disposal) to undermine the great work of research and scientific communication on animal source foods and livestock farming. At least those that do not coincide with their interests, even ideologically, by trying to portray them as unreliable and influenced by industry. They aim to silence the science they find “inconvenient”, as demonstrated by their recent stance against the Dublin Declaration, already signed by nearly 1200 scientists worldwide.

The authors of this opinion piece are also signatories to the Dublin Declaration. Therefore, they felt the need to clarify and defend their position as scientists and researchers in this field, often the target of unfounded accusations. In the article, scientists reiterate the absolute need for substantial reforms in the food system by adopting more environmentally friendly production systems, moving from a diet dominated by ultra-processed convenience foods to healthier dietary models. It is essential to recognize that the distinction between animal and plant foods creates a false dichotomy as if one excludes the other when any healthy diet must integrate both.

For economic and ideological reasons, several well-funded and organized campaigns accuse livestock farming of every possible fault or misdeed. But the science, the real science, is not doing this. The reaction of a fervent activist minority to this scientific stance has been obvious and banal: to try to discredit these scientists by accusing them, even aggressively, of corruption and of having interests in the livestock sector.

“If we feel compelled to engage in this debate and take the risk of being exposed to hostility and intimidation, it is because of our academic and civic responsibilities to scientifically counteract ideological radicalism that could result in irreparable harm when put into action”, we read in the opinion piece: “To be clear: the initiators of the Dublin Declaration are not benefiting financially from their efforts in any way. Potential conflicts of interest can be read here, as there is an active involvement with certain stakeholders in the field of animal production, which is also the case for many, if not most, scientists on the list of signatories. For some, this may also involve declared funding of research. It is reasonable and essential for academics to offer their expertise and insights to the societal actors within their specialization“.

The precedent: the smear campaign against Frank Mitloehner

The article describes four recent smear campaigns against them, which clearly show the bad intentions and prejudices of the activists. For example, there was an attempt to discredit Frank Mitloehner, professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis, where he specializes in areas such as air quality, livestock housing, and farming and is widely recognized for his influential role as a science communicator. In particular, Professor Mitloehner advocates a change in livestock farming to reduce methane emissions, arguing that animal production systems can be part of the solution to climate change. However, this perspective is not well received in activist circles, and the satisfactory results of his work have raised concerns among those who have invested in anti-livestock agendas.

A journalistic campaign to portray Mitloehner as a “biased” scientist started, claiming that his scientific activities were influenced by funding from the animal farming industry. All this is in an accusatory article featuring an interview with Matthew Hayek of New York University, who receives research funding from CEAP, the Center for Environmental and Animal Protection, a hub for animal activism. The Centre disapproves of livestock farming and suggests that harsh political interventions, such as taxing and banning the consumption of animal-source foods, should be considered.

The article was published in Sentient Media, a platform for animal rights journalists. It describes itself as a “non-profit news organization changing the conversation around animal agriculture globally”. Its contributors include people well-known in the vegan animal activist world, such as Karen Asp (a PETA ‘vegan mentor’), Marina Bolotnikova (previously covering ‘factory farming’ in The Guardian), Nicholas Carter (co-founder of PlantBasedData), Laura Driscoll (contributor to Greenpeace), Lillie Gardner (Compassionate Action for Animals – CIWF), Sophie Kevany (contributor to The Guardian and Irish Times), Lex Rigby (Viva!), Spencer Roberts and Jeff Sebo, executive committee member of CEAP.

Mitloehner’s response to the accusations was clear: “Animal scientists work with animal agriculture. That’s it. The exposé is the conspiracy many activists and journalists want to share with you. I am transparent about my collaboration with the livestock industry. My research lab receives grants to conduct research for the agricultural sector, as well as the public sector and ‘my job as a professor and cooperative extension air quality specialist is to work with industry members to improve the environmental performance of the food they grow. I don’t mean that figuratively; it’s written in my job description”.

FAO is also under attack from animal rights activist

FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, has also gone from being the favourite of animal rights activists to being judged as an apparatus acting on behalf of the livestock industry. This change is due to updating the calculation of total livestock emissions, which were estimated at 18% of the anthropogenic contribution and then reduced to 11% thanks to new and more rigorous data and tools. The 18% figure was incorrect and had been used to promote the misleading claim that “cows are worse than cars“.

Not only that, but the FAO is also guilty to animal rights activists of organizing the “Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation last September and published a report on the importance of sourcing food for human health. However, balanced messages are not welcome in activist circles. In collaboration with Matthew Hayek, Sentient Media accused FAO of being pressured by pro-livestock groups. In two articles published in The Guardian, they questioned the updating of emissions data, suggesting that the meat and dairy industries shaped the FAO’s work.

The suggestion that FAO’s work is distorted by industry pressure is a serious accusation

In response to the article, a former FAO’s livestock development officer, Anne Mottet, said that the FAO adheres to best practices and evolving methodologies, whereby better data and tools are the reason for the revision of the number, not industry pressure. “We argue that, in the light of accusations of impartiality, all actors need to be equally clear about their potential conflicts of interest“, we read in the opinion piece: “Even if publicly available to those who look for it, The Guardian’s funding mechanisms raise questions. The newspaper received almost 2 million dollars from Open Philanthropy (OP) as a contribution to its ‘Animals Farmed’ series. Founded by Dustin Moskowitz, OP is a channel for Silicon Valley’s “effective altruists”, often vegans, to give millions to animal activism. It has been described as the “largest funder in the world of farm animal welfare“, including investments in alternative proteins. In 2019, OP gave a $100,000 grant to Sentient Media and has close ties to the vegan food industry, investing in Impossible Foods in 2016 to support the development of imitation meats. For some time, The Guardian published an Animals Farmed article every four days, using emotional imagery and various anti-livestock articles paid for by the vegan food brand Oatly! in its ‘Parenting your Parents‘ series.

Vilification of the Dublin Declaration followed the same playbook as the campaign against Mitloehner

Sentient Media made the first move, publishing an article with an accusatory tone and headline: “The Dublin Declaration is riddled with animal industry bias”, extensively quoting Matthew Hayek and involving The Guardian. “Let’s be clear,” the DD signatories’ document continues: “Neither the Declaration nor the Dublin Summit received financial backing from the industry, nor was their content influenced. All Committee members voluntarily contributed to this initiative, driven by their scientific concerns, without any remuneration. The sole financial support, a modest sum of 40,000 Euros, was provided by Teagasc to facilitate the organization of the Summit. Moreover, the Committee diligently scrutinizes all signatures to ensure that only scientists affiliated with universities or research-oriented institutions are included.

While some individuals collaborate with the livestock industry in their research and receive and declare funding for it, a common practice in most applied scientific disciplines, others do not. Yet, accusing any signatories of conducting biased research under industry influence is unfounded and intended to harm their reputation. A group of scientists responded to our commentary in Nature Food regarding the Declaration, and we appreciate such responses as part of the scientific process. However, we fail to see how this response would undermine the Declaration’s validity. We are still waiting for the accusers to tell us exactly what they think is completely wrong or influenced by industry in the statement“.

In short, the animal rights world is trying to discredit hundreds of scientists and institutions, such as the FAO, who do not agree with its rhetoric. It is necessary to keep attention high because the interests of these actors are enormous. This is demonstrated by their efforts to gain public acceptance for artificial lab-grown meat. At stake, in addition to the billions (!) already invested by these companies – also by funding NGOs and complacent media – is the possibility of controlling the entire global food system. Given the budgets of companies and organizations dedicated to cell cultures and plant-based foods, this is absurdly much more feasible than not corrupting twelve hundred independent scientists simultaneously.

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.