Faced With Animal Rights Activist, Fiorina Defends Pork Farmers By Attacking Abortion

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina talks with voters during a campaign stop at Smokey Row Coffee Company, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

DES MOINES, IOWA — An animal rights activist hogged attention away from Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina on Tuesday when he disrupted her event with Iowa’s pork industry, drawing jeers and boos from the crowd of almost all pig farmers and pork producers.

Matt Johnson, an organizer with the group Direct Action Everywhere, was the last person Fiorina called on during her town hall at the Iowa Pork Congress, an annual event celebrating Iowa’s sprawling pork industry. Johnson read from a piece of paper to ask Fiorina how it could “ever be acceptable” to kill pigs “simply because they’re in a weak and vulnerable position.”

“These animals are individuals with unique personalities,” Johnson said. “They like to play, and oftentimes many of them are very affectionate. They have a vibrance about them and an emotional intelligence and a curiosity about them, very similar to cats and dogs, and similar to children. Knowing this, how could it ever be acceptable to unnecessarily exploit, harm, and kill someone simply because they’re in a weak and vulnerable position and they happen to be born differently than ourselves?”

Matt Johnson, an organizer with the group Direct Action Everywhere, is escorted out of Carly Fiorina's event with pork farmers.

Matt Johnson, an organizer with the group Direct Action Everywhere, is escorted out of Carly Fiorina’s event with pork farmers.

CREDIT: Emily Atkin

Fiorina was unamused.

“Wow. Sorry, but wow,” she said, to cheers from the audience. “You are sitting in the middle of the Pork Congress. And you ought to be very happy that these people produce food for this state, this country, and the world.”

Fiorina also took the opportunity to draw a comparison to one of her favorite topics — abortion.

“I really wish there was that much passion in that young man for unborn children as there are for pigs,” she said. “We have to take back the character of this nation.”

Though the general idea of opposing meat-eating does not frequently inject itself into national politics, Iowa’s pork farming industry has faced criticism in recent years for supporting a law that prevents activists from exposing animal abuse on farms. Passed in 2012, that law makes it illegal for people to lie on farm job applications to farms. It was passed after the animal rights group PETA sent an advocate to work undercover an Iowa pork farm, and that advocate exposed numerous abuses.

Johnson was eventually escorted out of the event, but not before he held up a large poster of two cute, tiny piglets. Outside, he told ThinkProgress that his motive was not partisan — he would disrupt any presidential candidate event, held by a Democrat or Republican, if they supported killing animals for food.

“Animals are individuals,” he said. “They value their lives and freedom the same as you or I do. They’re not possesions, they’re not objects, they’re not ours to do whatever we want with.”

Inside, the pork producers were impressed with how Fiorina handled the situation.

“She did fantastic,” said Joanne Tupper, a producer from Iona, Iowa. “As producers, we’re expected to take the high road. We don’t get to go places and stomp our feet like that, because we’ll be seen as shrill and unreasonable. But people can attack our indusry, and it’s perfectly ok.”

At that point, her friend and fellow pork producer Heather Hora jumped in.

“It’s just people that don’t eat meat,” she said.