Animal activists release farm database

June 11, 2020

The recent announcement that animal rights extremists had created a comprehensive online database of livestock and poultry farm locations, called Project Counterglow, renewed concerns about activism among many in the animal agriculture community.

While awareness of the site is important, it's important to know that this tactic itself is not "new," and there is no inherent need to panic. Activists in numerous states have been compiling lists for years. Much of the information featured on the site is public and is available online in the form of permitting documents, legal documents and other regulatory forms.

The group also used artificial intelligence and satellite images to add to the database. Similar tactics identifying feedlot locations have been done with satellite imagery in the past.

What is different about this is that now all the data is cataloged in one place – with more than 27,500 farm locations identified as part of a joint project by various activist groups. The map can be edited by users to add more locations, and pictures and videos from the farms.

With this new tool, the creators enable and encourage activists to target the identified locations, especially through on-site attacks. An eclectic assortment of information including how to engage a site and how to demonstrate is also included on an associated website.

Farm communications strategies

From a communications perspective, the availability of this database is a reminder that all farms should be prepared for the possibility of activists, or traditional media, using the information as a resource. Specifically, animal rights extremists might use the database to identify specific farm locations as targets for activity. Media may use the database to find more information about farm companies with multiple sites or as research for a larger story.

Determining as a precaution how your locations are featured on the site and the accuracy or inaccuracy of the information is prudent.

Farms must expect and prepare to respond to the PR and farmer image elements of such activities, which could include:

On-Farm Public "Investigations" – Activists may use the database to plan investigations and/or demonstrations on farms. Preparing for the possibility of an on-farm demonstration, as has been conducted on egg farms by organizations like Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), is critical to protect farms.

Media Onsite at the Farm – Farmers should focus their efforts on assuring their operations are well run, and that employees know what to do if they encounter a reporter on their property. Remaining calm, moving the reporter to a different location, and avoiding physical contact is essential. Farm employees should assure the reporter is quickly connected with someone in farm leadership to assist them.

Release of Undercover Video – The best defense against undercover video is to be stringent in hiring and employee monitoring. But in the event of an undercover employee video, it also is important to be prepared to demonstrate to media and others questioning your on-farm practices that you do the right thing. Expect you may get requests from media for access to your farm, asking to "verify" your practices.

Social Media – The availability of this information online may lead to more attention being placed on the farms that are listed. Make sure your social platforms cannot be tagged without prior approval. Plan to post a proportional response that is straightforward, values-based and demonstrates a commitment to doing what's right and to responsible farm operation. And with "live" social media events, such as those conducted by DxE, remain calm, do not get physical with the protestors, and alert law enforcement or security as needed.

Farms should be mindful of sharing accurate and appropriate information with their stakeholders if there is an activist-related crisis. Foodservice customers, consumers, employees and local community leaders all will want to be informed and will want to understand what has occurred. Succinct, values-based communications will have a positive impact.