MU course helps students be proactive about educating public on animal rights issues

Members of the MU Block and Bridle Club were the targets of an animal rights group protest during this spring semester. Led by club president, Lily Grant, members were attending the Best of Missouri Market in St. Louis and showcasing their milk-a-cow booth. Expecting friendly interchanges with visitors, the students instead were videotaped and used as examples of inhumane animal treatment.

Instead of feeling intimidated, however, the students were comfortable interacting with the protestors using the situation to help educate other visitors.

“We ended up confronting them, and asking them if they had any questions,” Grant explained. The activists did not listen to Grant’s side of the story and were eventually escorted out of the gardens, but she was able to educate several event participants who had witnessed the event.

The reason for their level of confidence ties back to a course offered in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources — Issues Facing Animal Agriculture. The course includes a four- week series of lectures over animal rights/animal welfare. It is taken by many students pursuing careers in animal science; however, it is open to any student enrolled at Mizzou.

Donald Spiers, MU professor of animal sciences, devotes much of his time to researching and teaching the importance of animal welfare to students. Spiers currently conducts research on animal stress and served on the Animal Care Committee at Mizzou for five years. His knowledge and experience provide the perfect combination for teaching the animal rights/animal welfare section of the course.

“I took the course in spring of 2018, and it helped open my mind to both sides of the argument,” Grant said.

This is a topic he prepares students for during his four week lecture. Spiers believes that animal welfare courses should be available to all students at Mizzou, so that those outside of the animal industry can learn farmers do care about their animals.

“Mizzou students need to understand what the (animal) issues are, because you read all kinds of things in the papers,” Spiers said. “Our students need to be approaching them.”

Each week Spiers lectures cover a new topic, from the difference between animal rights and animal welfare, to PETA’s stance on animal agriculture, each lecture gives students a glimpse into the other side of the story. His lectures are packed with information that provide students with new knowledge to take into the world.

“CAFNR students need to put information out there and advocate,” said Koby Gooden, a psychology major with an emphasis in social justice at Mizzou. His peers, outside of the agriculture realm, have many misconceptions about farms, hormones, and animal practices. These misconceptions, he believes could be combated by animal science students advocating more about the industry.

“Using the information gained in sophomore seminar (Issues Facing Animal Agriculture) I was able to pair that with my personal experience working with swine and better advocate for the industry,” said Matthew Stollings, a recent CAFNR graduate. Stollings worked in the Hy-Vee meat department through college and was commonly asked questions about the industry.

“People commonly ask if our meat is treated with antibiotics or hormones,” Stollings said. He often had to explain to customers how animals are regulated by the FDA. According to Stollings, the information learned in class helped him meet customer needs. 

For information on the course, students can visit the animal sciences list of courses on myZou.