Michigan State University, founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, was the first land grant university in the United States. MSU’s agriculture program is highly respected around the world today and has graduated a number of major influencers in the agrifood system. The beautiful campus in East Lansing boasts hundreds of acres committed to farms, 45,000 plus students and a faculty dedicated to improving all facets of agriculture.

Yet my alma mater seems to thrown their agrarian roots overboard and decided to bend to the way of animal rights activists. MSU also has a storied history of radical animal rights groups, who have gone so far that they have been prosecuted for their attempts to burn down MSU’s animal science building, damage Agriculture Hall and release animals at the poultry facility. These animal rights activists have managed to sway MSU’s opinions (though no one will claim responsibility) to ban a circus benefiting mid-Michigan charities, particularly needy due to Michigan’s economic struggles of the last few years. (side note – ironically, agriculture has been one of the few bright spots in the state during that timeframe)

Why should agriculture care about a circus being banned? It’s about precedent. If animals can’t be handled at a circus, then how can they be handled on a farm? I’ve never been a circus animal trainer, but those I’ve talked to assure me that they handle their animals in a very similar manner to the way we train food animals.  Circus animals certainly wouldn’t perform if they were abused; could you imagine an irate elephant coming at you?   Hundreds of hours at the end of a cow halter training cattle verify that show animals are amongst the most loved creatures – even if they end up as food at the end of their life.  If animals are handled in a respectful manner, why do we have to apologize for utilizing them?

Administrators and the Board of  Trustees won’t claim responsibility for this decision, but I’d urge you to contact them to let them know how agriculture feels about this.  The rodeo and horse show will be next, perhaps followed by cattle and hog shows.  Do we really want to have a major agricultural university setting that precedent and taking away opportunities from the young people who benefit from working with animals?

What right does an institution have to pass judgement without considering their entire community,  and simply react to a squeaky wheel?  It’s the first time that I’ve been embarrassed to be a Spartan – and that comes from someone who’s bled green and white for 25+ years and holds two degrees with a MSU seal.  I’d suggest MSU remember that it was founded on agriculture, make decisions representative of the whole community and consider the real agenda of radical groups seeking to drive animal agriculture out of this country.   If you’re in agriculture, don’t wait for an agricultural show to be banned  – get in front of these issues!