Straight Talk with Forrest Lucas: Protecting A Passion

protect-the-harvestThrough the lobbying organization Protect The Harvest, Forrest Lucas hopes to save the agricultural industry from the growing threat of the radical animal rights movement.

If you’ve attended or watched a major Western performance horse event in the last few years, you’ve probably heard of Lucas Oil and Protect The Harvest. Both have been big sponsors of major events such as the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity, National Reining Horse Association Futurity, National Cutting Horse Association Super Stakes, High Roller Reining Classic and more.

forrest-lucasForrest LucasWho they are

The first name, Lucas Oil, is a recognizable one in the automotive industry. Forrest and Charlotte Lucas incorporated Lucas Oil Products in 1989, and have grown the company into a global leader in the market. Through innovative research, Lucas Oil has developed top-selling lubricants and additives for consumer automotive, industrial, agricultural, truck stop and racing markets. Lucas Oil Stadium has been the home of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade, and the Lucas Oil name is prominent in automobile racing, with tracks located in California, Missouri and Indianapolis, as well as the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series.

The second name, Protect The Harvest, is a newer one. When Lucas saw a need for innovative lubricants and additives, he built Lucas Oil. When he saw a need to protect the agricultural industry, he founded Protect The Harvest. The latter builds on Lucas’ passion for ranching – a seed that was planted as he grew up in rural Indiana.

“I was raised on a farm when I was a kid. Everybody had some cows and chickens and lived out of the garden,” said Lucas, who left home at 15 to work on a cattle ranch to help support his family. “I worked my way through school showing cattle. I promised myself if I ever got a chance to come back and have my own cattle operation and do it my way, I would. So I did. We have a 16,000-acre ranch in Missouri and about 2,400 mama cows right now.”

What they do

Lucas started developing his registered herd in the early 1990s, and purchased 3,400 acres in Missouri in 2001. As the herd and ranch grew, so did Lucas’ involvement in the agricultural industry. One day in 2010, he received a call from a local cowboy, asking permission to place some signs along the road on Lucas’ property. The signs were in opposition of the Missouri Dog Breeding Regulation Act, also known as Proposition B or the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.”

“I said, ‘What is this about?’ He started explaining to me about the puppy mill law,” said Lucas, who began researching the proposed law and found hidden provisions that reached far past the puppy mill issue and threatened the state’s entire agricultural industry. He immediately pledged his support to fighting the proposition. “I flew to Missouri and realized that this was going to be worse than I thought it was. [Proposition B supporters] were way ahead and spent a lot more money telling lies.”

The proposition’s biggest supporter was the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). With less than a week left before the elections, Lucas produced television and radio commercials, urging people to “Vote No on B.” Others who spoke out against the proposition included the American Kennel Club, Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, Missouri Farm Family Agriculture Alliance, Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Pork Producers Association.

“We had two days to put together an ad campaign and six days to get it in front of the public. We lost 49 [percent] to 51 [percent],” Lucas said. “If you read down to the bottom line, you’d realize that this thing was going to ruin the whole state because they used the word ‘pet.’ The Missouri legislature also uses the word ‘pet,’ and a pet is anything that can live within 15 feet of your house, so it would have taken everything.”

Because it was a proposition, legislators could, and did, eventually change Proposition B, and the governor signed a much different version of SB 161 in 2011. In the meantime, Lucas dove deeper into the political plight of the agricultural industry. He found that extreme animal rights lobbying groups, such as the HSUS, had been pushing their agenda nearly unopposed.

“I’ve been following these guys since they were throwing paint on people in Europe. I watched them destroy Europe. We have an office in England; it used to be nice country farms out there and it’s all gone,” Lucas said. “What they’re trying to do here has already been done in England and several other countries. They were having their way with anybody and everybody. They passed some horrible laws. I realized that no one was fighting these guys.”

With that realization, Lucas picked up the fight. Protect The Harvest’s mission statement is as follows: “The animal rights movement in America, led by the HSUS, has evolved into a wealthy and successful attack group determined to end the consumption of meat, threaten consumer access to affordable food, eliminate hunting, outlaw rodeos and circuses, and even ban animal ownership. Protect The Harvest was created to fight back and defend American families, farmers, sportsmen and animal owners from the growing threat posed by the radical animal rights movement. We have three objectives: 1) inform America’s consumers, businesses and decision-makers about the true nature and reach of animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the potential consequences of their agenda; 2) protect our freedoms and way of life by creating lasting legal safeguards for farmers, sportsmen and animal owners; and 3) respond to the activities of radical groups like the HSUS by opposing their efforts to pass laws or enact regulations that would restrict the rights and freedoms of farmers, sportsmen and animal owners.”

“That’s why I knew I had to do it, because I knew what was going on,” Lucas said. “I knew I had enough money and enough name to make a difference. I assumed that once we got this up and going, people who had millions of billions to lose would come aboard and help us. I’ve been kind of disappointed in that part of it.”

Why it matters

When the topic of animal rights comes up, many who make their living in the agricultural industry – whether it is with cattle, chickens, horses or pigs – prefer to remain anonymous and on the sidelines. Animal right extremists have created a culture of fear within the agricultural industry that Lucas equates to terrorism. Many groups and individuals Lucas counted on to support the cause have backed out at the last minute, fearing retaliation if their stance is made public.

“They’ve got everybody scared to death and they’ve made it work. When they come out and scare somebody into something that they wouldn’t normally do, that’s being terrorized,” Lucas said.

The fear stems from attacks that have become more personal as time goes on. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology released a report last year that found that in the 1990s, illegal incidents primarily involved universities (61 percent) and rarely involved individuals (9 percent). From 2000 to 2012, only 13 percent of attacks involved universities while 46 percent involved individuals, including setting fire to the car of a neuroscientist whose research involved rats and monkeys. Investors and business partners – two groups not even mentioned in the 1990s – were the target of 17 percent of attacks from 2000-2012.

“They’re very good terrorists, but they’re not as tough as they talk,” Lucas said. “At birth, we’re not trained to distrust everything you say. We like to assume everyone is telling the truth. But you have to assume everything that comes from them is a lie. We don’t like to do that. I have yet to see anything come from them that was not a lie, and people have got to understand that.”

Protect The Harvest is trying to expose the truth behind those lies on its website, One of the primary ways they are accomplishing this is by making everyone – from consumers to pet owners to farmers to animal entertainment workers – aware of the threats presented by animal rights extremists. One of the groups Lucas hopes to reach through his sponsorships is the horse industry.

Lucas knows it will take an industry-wide effort to stop the animal rights groups that already have a strong foothold on public opinion. Even though dog breeders, and chicken and pig farmers have been facing the heaviest attacks in recent years, it’s only a matter of time, Lucas said, before the net expands to include the horse industry.

“It’s coming. They’re picking everyone off one at a time,” Lucas said. “They’re picking on the pet industry right now. The pet population in this country is way down from what it was. They will be coming after the horse industry; they’ll get here sooner or later. They will come in and do away with the sport. They want to get rid of all animals, period.”

Because the horse industry has not come under serious attack yet, many horsemen turn a blind eye to what is happening in other industries. Lucas has seen a minor shift in attitudes, however, as the closing of all U.S. slaughter plants continues to negatively affect the horse industry and equine welfare.

He also believes the attacks on the horse industry have already started on a small scale. There is an ever-growing number of stories circulating about horsemen being turned in to local animal control officials by people with no horse experience who believe an old horse is too skinny or a horse standing in the rain doesn’t have adequate shelter.

“They pick on the poor people that maybe have two or three horses in the backyard. They can’t sell them, but they can’t afford to feed them. [Activists] get the sheriff to come out and make [the horse owners] out to be horrible people. That’s what’s happening,” Lucas said.

“There’s such a problem with horses being overpopulated and horses suffering in the world. The horse industry, from top to bottom, knows that there’s a problem and we need to get horse slaughter back. So we’ve been fighting in [Washington] D.C. to try to get this put back into place. They need to see that we’ve got the whole Western industry behind us, because they don’t believe it. They don’t believe it because the horse industry isn’t saying anything, so they’re concerned that nobody wants anything done. Why should they go out there and pass a law that nobody is really going to use? There are enough people in the performance horse associations that if they would all join up and stand behind us, then we could take this country back and stop this whole mess. They want to help us, they just need to know that we’re out here, organized and willing to help them. It’s as simple as that.”

How to help

Lucas is passionate about getting people organized and involved. The first step, he said, is to visit the Protect The Harvest website. There, the group offers simple steps anyone can take to protect the agricultural industry from activists seeking to force their choices on everyone.

“The best thing to do right now is join up with us,” said Lucas, whose frustration is evident as he talks about the lack of support from horsemen who don’t seem interested in protecting their industry. “We’ve laid the ground work; just help us do this.”

One of the simplest ways to help is by getting educated. Read the website; sign up for the newsletter; “like” Protect The Harvest on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. There is strength in numbers, so by spreading the word to friends, family and neighbors, you are supporting the cause, as well.

In an effort to gain the support of industry leaders, Lucas addressed the American Quarter Horse Association’s (AQHA) political action committee at the 2014 AQHA Convention. He can often be found talking to horsemen at the shows he sponsors, as well. While a show of moral support is needed, Lucas also knows none of it is possible without financial backing. He has dug deep into his own pockets for Protect The Harvest, but is well aware it cannot be a one-man show. Protect The Harvest is set up as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. Donations can be accepted anonymously and may or may not be tax deductible, depending on how you give.

You can also contact your state representatives when animal rights issues threaten your county or state. A simple letter, email or phone call can go a long way toward showing politicians that the equine industry is concerned and passionate about animal welfare.

“It doesn’t take but just a few people to contact [your representatives] and have the same message and then all of a sudden, it’s ‘Well, everybody says we should do this,’ or ‘Everyone likes this or that.’ It just takes a few. And if you do that, they listen to you; it’s a big deal. It will make a difference.”

Lucas has seen the writing on the wall. The Protect The Harvest website states: “In order to protect our nation’s food security and maintain our role as the leader in the battle to end world hunger, our farmers and ranchers must be allowed to make decisions based on scientific reasoning offered by veterinarians and doctors, not emotional appeals from groups like the HSUS.”

Protect The Harvest cites the European Nation as a prime example of the detrimental effects radical special interests groups can have. In 1997, Europe, as a whole, imported 20 percent of its total food production. In just 15 years, restrictions placed on the EU agricultural industry resulted in Europe importing more than 60 percent of its food. Production methods forced on egg producers caused egg prices to rise more than 76 percent and cost producers 354 million Euros (approximately $500 million U.S.). Some of those same production requirements have been approved as laws in California.

“To live through this, people are going to have to toughen up and the whole industry is going to have to start talking. You’re going to have to have a backbone,” Lucas said. “We’re talking as much as we can, but we need a lot more people so we can tell more stories. We need to get everyone together and we can get things done that seriously need to be done.

“There’s enough horse power here in this horse community that if everybody in this community got behind us, we could take back America.”