By Iowa City Press-Citizen
It doesn’t really matter what broader message members of the “Iowans for Animal Liberation” were trying to convey when they decided to hide in the Agriculture Building of the Iowa State Fairgrounds and, after closing time, come out and deface the iconic Butter Cow.
Their actions are likely to do much more harm than good for the actual organizations and activists that work directly (not just symbolically) to improve the quality of life for livestock in Iowa and across the U.S.
“Freedom for All” were the words the vandals — using the same red paint they poured on the butter sculpture — scrawled on the window of the refrigerated display case. But their attempted moral indictment of the dairy/beef industry was scraped away as easily as removing splattered paint from butter.
The activists tried to amplify their message in an email the group sent to news organizations soon after. They claimed the “paint represents the blood of 11 billion animals murdered each year in slaughterhouses, egg farms and dairies.” But that explanation just makes the vandalism seem more like a failed attempt at performance art rather than any persuasive act of political protest.
And the even the efforts of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office to express solidarity with the unknown vandals fail to show any worthwhile justification for what seems to be little more than a bone-headed prank.
Jerry Vlasak, the founder and spokesman for the office, told The Des Moines Register that such high-profile protests were necessary, in part, because of the state laws that “make it illegal to video tape the cruelties and horrors of animal rendering or take pictures of the things that are being done to animals — legal or illegal.”
It is true that, last year, the Iowa Legislature passed a measure making it illegal for people to misrepresent why they want to work in businesses such as a slaughterhouse or a factory farm. But as unnecessary and harmful as we continue to think that particular law is, the final version was not nearly as bad as the earlier versions of the bill — which would have made it illegal for anyone even to broadcast (let alone record) video from such a site if the video was recorded without the business owner’s permission
Unfortunately, the vandals’ actions are likely to make it all the more difficult to persuade state lawmakers that they should reverse such a free-speech-stifling trend. The statewide lobbyists arguing for strengthening “Gag Ag” bills like the one passed last year often say such laws are necessary because activists seem more interested in making a media splash than in actually protecting any animals. Iowans for Animal Liberation now provided the law’s supporters with Exhibit A in making such a case to lawmakers in the future.
Other animal welfare groups, both locally and nationally, have been fairly consistent in their denunciation of this failed attempt to deface a sacred cow.
“Quite frankly, … situations like this — attacking beloved Iowa traditions like the butter cow — are not going to get the general public on your side,” Tom Colvin, executive director of the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines, told The Register. “They have a reverse effect.”
And in a blog post Wednesday, Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, offered a list of suggestions for more productive ways in which Iowans can demonstrate their concern about animal welfare (http://bit.ly/1a5pRxx).
“When our movement is trying to conduct a serious discussion about issues, and seeking to drive major reform, we do not need tactical approaches that come out of the playbook of a fraternity,” Pacelle concludes. “We condemn the illegal conduct, and we hope that the good people of Iowa know that The HSUS and other serious-minded animal welfare groups think this person is as dumb as you do.”