How not to debate – a demonstration by the President of the National Farmers Federation about Aussie Farms Map

This week Australian animal charity organisation Aussie Farms released an online map detailing the location of over 5000 animal farms and other related animal facilities around Australia. Since its release, it has caused notable reaction among farmers, creating controversy. Following this response was a national televised debate on Australian news talk show The Project about the purpose of the map between animal activist and Executive Director of Aussie Farms Chris Delforce, and president of National Farmers Federation Fiona Simson.

aussie farms map
Aussie Farms map

This debate shows a stark example of the use of misleading emotional rhetoric, as demonstrated by the president of the National Farmers Federation. Watch the debate here, and notice the difference between the speakers’ arguments and the use of common reasoning fallacies among Simson, which have been outlined below:

Simson begins the interview by denying Delforce’s facts about animal farming, claiming they depict “the wrong picture”, despite these facts being publicly available information, both as shown in numerous accounts of undercover footage as well as having been cited in the farming industry’s very own code of practices. 

She then repeatedly describes that unlike international farming that “may” have the issues Delforce describes, in Australia they are “all about family farms”. This focus on families is an attempt to distract from the issue – the problematic nature of Australian animal farming  – by focusing on a different aspect of farming – the people. This is called the redherring fallacy. This is also a particular misrepresentation of Australian farming, which is predominantly intensive factory farming, not farming that contains vast green fields. It is one of the reasons why despite there being upwards of 500 million animals being killed yearly in Australia, these animals are almost nowhere to be seen. What is also implied here by Simson is that one thing (animal cruelty) can’t go hand in hand with the other (family farms) without any reason as to why.

Simson uses the words “mums, dads and kids” and related words repeatedly in an attempt to appeal to emotion (another fallacy), leading the argument to make farmers sound like vulnerable victims among activists, both starting and ending her talk with these descriptors as her focus, often not answering the specific questions asked.

She refers to Delforce and his beliefs as “extreme”, in another attempt to detract from the core issue by instead making a personal attack on the individual behind the argument. This focus on attacking the individual is called the ad hominem fallacy. In doing so, she uses heavily evocative buzzwords like ‘terrorist’ to describe Delforce and activism, language that tends to evoke implicit emotionally laden responses in listeners (e.g. doubt or fear) and attempts to dehumanise and villainise the individual, in this case, animal activists.

Lastly, you will notice Delforce is abruptly and vehemently spoken over when he makes an attempt to describe legal standard practices that the industry describes as ‘humane’ such as the use of gas chambers in pig farming, which Aussie Farms footage has shown time and again as being incredibly cruel, with pigs thrashing and squealing in pain for prolonged periods of time before becoming unconscious. 

pig gas chamber
Footage from an Australian Piggery gas chamber ‘gondola’

Why is it important to watch out for misleading rhetoric in this interview?

This interview is an important one to breakdown because it is one of the first televised moments shining a light on the Australian animal agriculture industry and its practices as a whole. This industry has thus far (successfully) relied on keeping their practices largely hidden from consumers, as well as on misleading advertising to consumers about the ethics of current animal farming. When this has been challenged by activists, the industry has consistently attempted to portray activists as criminals and extremists. When it had been insisted that their practices become transparent (as has been repeatedly attempted by Aussie Farms over years) the industry responded with deflection and even denial of the very practices they claim are ‘humane’.

advertising vs reality
Left: image from Australian Pork claiming the importance of welfare, Right: Photo from Aussie Farms showing the reality of pig farming welfare in Australia

What does it mean if the president of the National Farmers Federation is unwilling to admit to the standard legal practices of animal farming on national TV (to the point of even abruptly cutting off the person describing some of these practices)? And given the location details on the Aussie Farms map is publicly available information that anyone can find online (e.g. through Google Earth, the same program used to build the map), why is the industry suddenly adamant about keeping these details out of the public eye? As a business who profit from the sale of their ‘products’, why do they wish to keep their business details hidden?

Do animal activists want to attack farmers?

Simson and others such as Agriculture Minister David Littleproud have claimed that the map is a means for activists to ‘attack’ farmers. However, activists have consistently shown that their aim has always been to show the public what is happening inside these facilities, so that consumers have the knowledge to make informed decisions about what they eat; not to try to harm farmers, nor destroy farms when they enter them. If their aim was to focus on the “families” behind the farming, as Simson claims repeatedly in the interview, then in the thousands of photos in the Aussie Farms website, why do we only see photos of the animals? And if we do see images or videos of people (usually workers), their faces are concealed or deidentified.

[This claim that what activists are doing is ‘wrong’ because they have created an “attack map” (as Simson & Littleproud have gone so far to call it), is another fallacy by the way- the strawman fallacy, arguing against a distorted version of the opponent’s argument or one the opponent never actually made, rather than their actual argument. Simply put – it’s a way of misrepresenting the opponent’s position in a bid to easily discredit them or knock them down]

So no, activists don’t want to ‘attack’ farmers. In fact, ultimately activists wish to see farmers thrive in an area that doesn’t harm animals, like others around the world who have transitioned to plantbased farming due to a shifting culture around food, awareness of the inherent suffering involved in animal farming, and concern of the sustainability of animal agriculture due to its drastic impact on the environment, and leading impact on climate change. In the eight years this map has been in development, Aussie Farms have incrementally released inside footage and details of farms around the country, and their aim for transparency has continued to be the underlying result of their work

As stated by Aussie Farms, many businesses benefit from transparency and an open, accessible exchange between them and their consumer, yet the animal agriculture industry seems to consistently feel threatened by the idea of increased transparency. This in itself is quite telling, and a reminder as to why we must keep pushing for freedom of information and honesty from the corporation that not influences our daily lives, but that of millions of animals. 

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What did you think about this the segment on The Project? Comment on your thoughts below.

Visit dominionmovement.com to learn more about the work of Aussie Farms and the inner workings of Australian animal agriculture

Apoorva Madan

12 thoughts on “How not to debate – a demonstration by the President of the National Farmers Federation about Aussie Farms Map

  1. The tirade on The Project also turned out to be an example of how not to moderate a debate. The hosts did nothing when Simson started speaking over Delforce or to bring her back to reality when she went down the ad hominem attack.

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    1. Absolutely Michael, this interview could have been moderated much better. I did like that the interviewer asked Delforce his thoughts on being called ‘extreme’ or ‘a terrorist’ twice, he clearly wanted to give Delforce a chance to respond to this, but all panel members needed to better manage the constant interruptions by Simson.

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  2. This really is interview 101. You determine the talking points that will have the most impact and stick to them. Any concession you give the other side will be misquoted out of context. Both interviewees knew that and represented their positions appropriately by reiterating their talking points throughout the interview. The fault was with the program which simply had no idea how to mediate what was happening.

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    1. I agree Brad, the interviewers could have done a better job mediating. And yes, to be as influential as possible you stick to the talking points that will have most impact in an interview. So Simson attempted this by repeatedly referring to the image of the “family farm” and depicting the activists are “extreme” image, because she had little to no solid arguing points. That’s why I believe it’s important to highlight the holes in her approach because they are there to mislead viewers, which reflects the industry’s typical approach when it comes to being exposed

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  3. This whole subject is upsetting to me, I cant bear for any soul to be frightened, there must be a change to how we farm these little piggies.
    Please please keep up the pressure and put these concentration camp farms on notice and educate them.
    Btw, Since awareness has been highlighted I dont eat Pork because of the inhumane ways these Animals are killed. There is fear in the flesh . So sad.

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  4. It’s not just pigs. It is ALL “farmed” animals. Dairy cows are also horribly treated. They are forcibly impregnated and then their babies are torn from them in the first 24 hours. If they are males…they are off to slaughter, if they are females they are sequestered and destined for a life like their mothers. They are usually forced to give birth yearly so they can keep producing milk. They are forced to undergo the loss of their babies over and over again. Then ultimately, at the end of their useful milk producing life…they are sent to slaughter, used up and lame. And all the male calves are killed. Horrible, cruel industry. I have spent time on dairy farms and at sell barns. I am sickened by what I have seen.

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  5. This is a desperate industry, it is like watching the sinking of the titanic. Their continued denial claiming that there is simply NO cruelty in the animal agricultural industry in Australia, just screams guilt…how can there be no cruelty, they won’t even admit there is at least some cruelty. They are in complete denial about how veganism is on the increase and espouse that they will never lose any market share. They deny animal agriculture even has an effect on climate change, believing that plants contribute more to climate change than animal agriculture. Where do they get their information from?, it is laughable. They seem to think that they can reverse what the public have seen since we started witnessing the truth on social media. I have never seen an industry in complete and utter denial. And to top that of they say they are scared about violence from activists…activists do what they do covertly, the one thing activists are careful of is being discovered. There has never been an incidence of violence from an activist, not one. People in this industry have been all over the media telling the world about how they fear for the safety of their families. Yet from what I have seen online is numerous threats of violence towards activists and I have even seen threats of murder. I have screen shot the comments I have come across and I have also copied links to their profiles. I have not seen one activist or vegan threaten physical harm to anyone in the animal agriculture industry in Australia, let alone a threat of death. Simson’s behaviour on The Project is typical to what we see all the time on social media. They can’t justify industry standard so they respond with aggression.

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  6. Heard part of an interview on morning RM radio. She used many emotives such as “There Are Children” on those farms. Said how “Terrified” the animals get when activists come in at night and “Shine Torches” Like that is the worst that is to happen to those poor animals. Fran Kelly, the interviewer said what’s wrong with letting people know where these farms are, people want to know what goes on in those sheds. Agriculture is a terrible and barbaric industry void of compassion. Farmers only “love” their animals until they send them of to slaughter for the money.

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