#5 Creating Change in the Face of Denial

As many leaders around the world recognize, the key to successfully pressuring a community for a change in the government successfully revolves around acknowledging the multiple viewpoints in the debate, and fully understanding the repercussions that might occur as a result of that campaign. This level of wisdom derives from being fully educated on the subject, and knowledge about the roles certain parts of our community play.

The controversy that surrounds the animal rights issues in Vermont, a state that relies so heavily on agriculture, is based on basically two opposing constituencies that would either be directly impacted by a change in law, or speak on behalf of those who would be the recipients of the law (not specifically in a negative or positive way). Representing the “pro” side of implementation of laws pushing towards the humane treatment of animals is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the ASPCA), Mercy for Animals, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), all advocates for better animal rights regulations. In Vermont, the Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council, which represents the special interests of Vermont farmers, has vocalized their opposition to specific actions taken for the better treatment of farm animals. Many of the people who oppose laws that encourage the more humane treatment of livestock,  unsurprisingly, are farm owners who resist changing the way they have been farming for many years.

The debate between animal rights activists and farmers and their advocates follows two main arguments, which are summarized in a several principal documents. Animal rights activists argue on behalf of the Five Freedoms, which encourage freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear and distress. Europe has been successful in improving the lives of farm animals when using the Five Freedoms as a model for change. Animal rights advocates including the ASPCA have attempted to advocate for laws that would improve the treatment of farm animals in Vermont.  The Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council issued a series of position statements in 2012 for tail docking, and in 2013 for swine gestation crates.  The Council opposed the proposed bills surrounding Pig Gestation crates and restrictions on tail docking. Proposition S. 107, which required that veterinarians must be the only ones to administer tail docking, prohibits importation of a farm animal with a docked tail, and fines violators, did not leave committee based on the Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council’s belief that this regulation would have an negative impact on local farms. In their feedback to concerns surrounding the treatment of sows placed in gestation cages, the Council advised that though the demand for humanely produced pork is increasing in Vermont, the farmers could not afford more humane practices. Once again, the bill was vetoed.

One of the challenges that appear in the animal rights debate, is that the controversial discussion makes a clear divide between two groups of people, who both have important roles in our community. Part of connecting communities that face heated disagreement, relies on compromise, which can be very difficult to create, especially if you feel very passionate about a cause.

So far, it seems like one of the biggest issues in the animal cruelty debate is publicity. Americans are dependent on meat, and one of the main difficulties that activists have, is finding how much information they want to give people on the animal cruelty crisis. When exposed to a level of utterly horrific material, it is hard for us to comprehend leading to denial, which leads to no change at all. In Vermont, a state that is loved for its terrific farms and is known around the world for the image of cows grazing idly in grass pastures, one of the hardest challenges is figuring out how to convey the abuse of farm animals in a way that motivates change, instead of creating disinterest.


Featured Image: Ben Isacat. Animal Rights Poster. 9.5.14

“Five Freedoms” ASPCA. Accessed, October 8, 2016/

“Vermont Care Standards Advisory Council” Agency of Agriculture and Food Market, October 8, 2016.

Lena Ashooh

6 Responses to “#5 Creating Change in the Face of Denial

  • Bob Uhl
    6 years ago

    Hi Lena,

    You’ve done an especially good job here framing this conflict as a struggle between these organizations. Your citation of Europe as a potential model for how we might address this issue here piques my curiosity, and now I’m interested in learning more about what they’ve done well and how we might follow suit.

    I’ll be honest with you, the issue you’re exploring is one I know I’ve pushed to the back of my mind repeatedly when I really ought to sit down and come to grips with it. I love that you’re facing this head-on, and I’m excited to see where you take this. I myself have some soul-searching to do on this topic, and I suspect many Vermonters (and people pretty much everywhere) could stand to do some, as well.

    • Hi Mr. Uhl,

      Sorry about the late response. I definitely agree that the European model is something that I could use to consider approaching the animal rights issues in Vermont. I also am planning on using the Five Freedoms moving forwards, which goes hand in hand with Europe’s successful Animal Rights movement.

      I also find the mistreatment of animals on farms to be hard to stomach, and am positive that many have trouble understanding animal abuse. The disgust that comes with exposing mistreatment of farm animals, is one of the biggest obstacles that it seems like animal advocates face.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Laurie Hickey
    6 years ago

    Hi Lena,

    I’ll also be reading your Blog for the next bit of time. A bit about me – I am a Language Arts teacher in Burlington, Vermont.

    As you mentioned, this is a topic that literally affects us all. In thinking about the story and the characters involved, I wonder to ground the story if the Five Freedoms could become the spine of your work. This is a large topic as you mentioned. If you centered your research on examples – good and bad of each of the freedoms, it might give boundaries and form to your work. It might too, with your end product, give your readers/viewers a more holistic view of the possibilities of both poor treatment and excellent treatment.

    I wonder if another excellent resource would be the college of Agriculture at UVM. They have an ecological agriculture minor. Here is a link

    See this class: ASCI 122. Animals in Soc/Animal Welfare. 3 Credits.
    Designed to heighten awareness and understanding of human-animal relationships in society, agriculture, and science. Prerequisites: Animal Science major; Sophomore standing.

    What are future farmers thinking about this topic?

    Keep up the good work,

    Laurie Hickey

    • Hi Ms. Hickey,

      Sorry about the late reply, and thank you for your response! I have definitely been considering using the Five Freedoms, a model that has led to many successful Animal Rights battles, as a foundation for my following research, and agree that it gives shape to a complex, and layered issue. During some of my research, the simplicity that the Five Freedoms offers, has been really helpful in considering treatment of animals, and has the prospects to continue to be useful, in comparing various living conditions.

      It is encouraging to see that there are college students who are interested in the well-being of Vermont animals, and understand the importance of the animal rights conflict. I will definitely plan on using the College of Agriculture at UVM as another resource!

      I think that future farmers either care about the treatment of their animals, are are more concerned about their financial well-being, a distinction that seems to become defined as more pressure is applied on farms to create humane systems.


  • Hi Lena,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. As I began to talk about in my previous response, one of the hardest parts of creating change is getting those people who are so set in their ways to view the issue differently and change their mind.

    This is definitely true in your case. There are so many farmers (even in VT) who have been doing things the same way for generations. If you channel your research to target change on Vermont farms, there is a better chance of you actually making a difference. If you start out too ambitious with the hopes of changing the agricultural system of America, you might more disappointed in the effect you have.

    Just a thought…

    I am so happy with the work you are doing and the passion you have for this issue. Keep it up and I can’t wait to keep reading!


    • Hi Ella!

      Thanks for the reply! I totally agree that it is necessary to start with smaller change, and for “What’s the Story” this year, I definitely plan on focusing on Vermont law.

      I think that with the Animal Rights issue, it is really important for specific states to start to take action, instead of the country.

      Once again, thanks for the response, and I can’t wait to continue working with you!

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