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The New York Times this morning reports on the growing influence - and even mainstreaming - of animal rights activities, noting that “among animal rights groups, the 1980s were considered the decade of grass-roots activism. The 1990s saw the rise of court actions and ballot initiatives. This decade is about building budgets, influencing policy and cultivating elected officials, all with a deliberate focus on livestock.”

An example of this evolution is an organization called Farm Sanctuary, which started out as an animal rescue operation and has grown into an entity that has a $5.7 million annual budget, offers its own affinity MasterCard, and even sponsors celebrity dinners for fundraising. “As Farm Sanctuary has grown, so too has its influence,” the Times writes. “Soon, due in part to the organization’s work, veal calves and pregnant pigs in Arizona won’t be kept in cages so tight they can’t turn around. Eggs from cage-free hens have become so popular that there is a national shortage. A law in Chicago bans the sale of foie gras.

And earlier this month, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear a case concerning common farming practices that a coalition led by Farm Sanctuary says are inhumane.”

While organizations like Farm Sanctuary would like people not only to stop eating meat but also to stop using animal-based products such as honey, leather and wool, their approach has changed. The Times reports, “They have adopted more subtle tactics, like holding stock in major food corporations, organizing nimble political campaigns and lobbying lawmakers … all of these believers have learned that with less stridency comes more respect and influence in food politics. So they no longer concentrate their energy on burning effigies of Colonel Sanders and stealing chickens. They don’t demonize meat — with the exception of foie gras and veal — or the people who produce it. Instead, they use softer rhetoric, focusing on a campaign even committed carnivores can get behind: better conditions for farm animals.”
KC's View:
This is both good news and bad news for mainstream retailers and manufacturers. The good news is that they can worry less about the kind of demonization that organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sometimes engage in. But the bad news – and I’m not sure it really is bad news – is that the mainstreaming of these groups mean that they have to be taken seriously.

It is all part of the ongoing diversification of the American population – creating all these niche groups demanding to be taken seriously. Attention must be paid.