State Fair butter cow doused in red paint; animal rights group takes credit

Animal rights group spokesman: ‘We certainly applaud their efforts’

Des Moines Register
August 12, 2013

iowafair1The Iowa State Fair’s beloved butter cow sculpture looks as good as new after vandals covered the icon in red paint early Sunday. The cow, a fair tradition since 1911, cleaned up well after the dousing. Vandals from the group Iowans for Animal Liberation attempted to churn controversy over factory farms by scrawling “Freedom For All” on a glass window in the display.

“It’s sad, because the butter cow is iconic of the Iowa State Fair,” said Lori Chappell, Iowa State Fair marketing director, who added: “No one was hurt; no one was injured. The butter cow is fine.” Security has increased at the building since the incident, and better locks have been installed, Chappell said.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said he had just seen the butter cow Monday morning, which he said is “emblematic of the greatness of the fair.” He said he wanted to deliver a message to the vandals. “I think to the people who did the distressing of the whole fun at the fair, two words: Get real,” Grassley said.

Animal Liberation Front supporter Jerry Vlasak, however, praised the vandalism of the butter cow as a “reminder that there are people opposed to the eating of meat and dairy and that the meat and dairy industry is inordinately cruel.” Vlasak is a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, which is not directly affiliated with the Animal Liberation Front, but makes available four spokesman who publicly discuss Animal Liberation Front’s views and actions with the news media.

No arrests have been made in the weekend incident. Police are reviewing camera footage of the building’s exterior as part of the investigation, Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Scott Bright said. Sculptor Sarah Pratt received a call around 4 a.m. Sunday, shortly after the vandalism was discovered. Pratt was putting the finishing touches on the cow by the time the Agriculture Building opened at 9 a.m., Chappell said. “We didn’t miss a beat,” she said.

Officials can’t recall the butter cow ever being defaced, though someone made a failed attempt to place a note on the cow a few years ago. The note slipped off the the slick surface. “That didn’t work so well,” Chappell said.

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A group that calls itself Iowans for Animal Liberation claimed responsibility for the vandalism in an email to the Des Moines Register. The email stated group members hid in the Agriculture Building until it closed.
“After dismantling the lock to the refrigerated case housing the Butter Cow with a screwdriver, we doused the entire butter sculpture in red paint,” the email said. “The paint represents the blood of 11 billion animals murdered each year in slaughterhouses, egg farms, and dairies.”

It is unclear if Iowans for Animal Liberation is the same group or related to The Animal Liberation Front, which has taken credit for previous acts of vandalism related to animal rights. The Animal Liberation Front has been active in Iowa before. The group, which has ties to larger organizations in Canada and the United Kingdom, claimed responsibility for vandalism at a University of Iowa psychology laboratory in November 2004.

The group removed more than 400 animals, mostly laboratory rats and mice, from Spence Laboratories. They poured acid on research documents and destroyed computers. The group later released an email which contained the names of researchers, their home addresses, telephone numbers and names of their spouses. No arrests were made. University of Iowa officials at the time estimated damage of about $400,000.

In September 2000, the Canadian wing of the Animal Liberation Front released 14,000 mink from a fur farm in Chickasaw County. Though the group claimed credit for the release, authorities were not able to find individuals responsible for the release. No arrests were made in that incident.

In October 2001, the group claimed responsibility for release of mink in Ellsworth, Sioux City and New Hampton. The Ellsworth farm of Metta Nelson was hit twice in that month and said at the loss of animals would like run the farm out of business.

Vlasak, the Animal Liberation spokesman, said he does not know who committed the vandalism at the Iowa State Fair or any other protest action, but is willing to explain the reasons behind the actions. “We certainly applaud their efforts,” Vlasak said. Extreme protests are necessary because the meat and dairy industries have more money than animal rights activists and often use that money to influence lawmakers to stifle efforts to expose animal conditions at livestock operations, Vlasak said.

“We now have laws in this country 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,” Vlasak said.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law that prohibited people from using false pretenses to gain access to agriculture facilities. Early versions of the bill would have banned creation, possession and distribution of recordings inside agriculture facilities. The final law, Iowa Code 717A.3A, only makes it illegal to lie to get into a farm operation.

Vlasak compared the actions of the butter cow vandals to former South African President Nelson Mandela and U.S. civil rights advocates of the 1950s and 1960s. “If you look at apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was a respected lawyer and worked in the system for years, but realized he wasn’t getting anywhere and went to an underground revolutionary group to make real change and spent decades in prison,” Vlasak said. “There is always a need for different strategies when fighting injustice. We have people who are willing to risk their freedom to damage those who are abusing animals.”

Tom Colvin, executive director of the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines, condemned vandalizing the butter cow. Such extreme actions hurt the overall effort to protect animals in society, he said.

“There are processes to go through to make your point known,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s situations like this — attacking beloved Iowa traditions like the butter cow — are not going to get the general public on your side. They have a reverse effect.” Colvin said such protest actions often hurt the Animal Rescue League as well as other animal rights organizations who work within the law. “Hopefully, people recognize extremism when they see it, but we all get lumped in together sometimes,” Colvin said. “When you see that mentality most often is when we are working with the Iowa Legislature and we tend to get seen as extremists. It’s unfortunate.”

Colvin added that officials from the Animal Rescue League and the Iowa Federation of Humane Societies walk the Iowa State Fair Grounds daily and report any incidents of concern to the barn supervisors. The patrol is a partnership between the animal rights groups and fair officials, Colvin said. “It doesn’t have to be an incident of cruelty — just something that’s objectionable,” Colvin said. “This is something we worked on with the Fair Board and it was something they wanted. It’s one of the ways we make the event safer and more comfortable for animals.”