Activist groups target children with educational materials claiming that people have no right to harvest animals for food.

But are these messages getting through to kids?

This question prompted the Pork Checkoff’s 2007 research project to determine whether these messages are reaching children and what impact they are having.

“Pork producers are very passionate about this issue, and they wanted to find out how much these messages are influencing kids,” says Traci Rodemeyer, manager of pork information for the National Pork Board.

The Pork Checkoff conducted four focus groups in Des Moines, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Raleigh, NC, comprised of 10 children in each group, ages 9 to 14.

An online survey was also conducted of 350 children in this age bracket. The youth were asked about their familiarity with Web sites like petakids.com and The Meatrix (one of the Internet’s most popular animated advocacy films), plus their views on vegetarianism and animal care.

“The good news is that only a small percentage of the students were aware of the activist groups’ messages,” explains Rodemeyer. “Unfortunately, when children are exposed to the groups’ messages, they have the power to change students’ perceptions on the spot. Going forward, we’ll be monitoring these groups’ activities closely.”

More than half of all youth surveyed indicated they had heard of animal rights organizations. One-fourth said the messages presented by the organizations had impacted their meat-eating habits.

Online Messages
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had a low awareness level among the youth, but higher impact on their meat-eating habits. Only one-third of all youth surveyed indicated they have heard of or visited the PETA Web site. But one-third of those who are aware of PETA reported viewing a video concerning animal care or meat consumption. Some 53% indicated the Web site/video had affected their meat-eating habits.

“Our research showed that today’s youth are very concerned about animal care,” adds Rodemeyer.

Activist groups are moving beyond traditional in-school initiatives to more online outlets.

The YouTube Web site, for example, has high awareness among youth and 25% of the students surveyed who were aware of the site said they had viewed a video on animal care or meat consumption. One-third of those who watched the videos indicated the Web site/video had impacted their meat-eating habits, says Rodemeyer.

The Meatrix Revisited
The online film The Meatrix, released in 2003, scored the lowest in awareness among kids, but recorded the highest impact on meat-eating habits. Spoofing Hollywood’s “Matrix” triology, The Meatrix stars a mysterious, trenchcoat-wearing bull, Moopheus. The bull offers young pig, Leo, a red tablet, which opens his eyes to the “real world” of agribusiness giants eradicating family farms and promoting intensive production methods. At the end of the movie, viewers are directed to an action page where they are encouraged to support sustainable food production.

Just 7% of all youth surveyed indicated having heard of or visiting the Meatrix Web site, but more than three-quarters who are aware of The Meatrix have seen a video concerning animal care or meat consumption. Of that group, nearly two-thirds said the Web site/video had affected their meat-eating habits.

“We’re keeping a close eye on these activist groups and their messages, and we’re prepared to take action if they escalate their efforts to target children,” says Rodemeyer.