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A beef with meat production

Animal-rights activists protest Free Beef Month at Les Schwab Tire Center in Ashland

ASHLAND ' In a month that's seen globe-spanning protests of impending war, the Southern Oregon Animal Rights Society is bringing another cause to a picket sign near you.

The choice is chicken or beef, depending on the day.

Last week, organizers objecting to commercial poultry-raising practices marched in front of a KFC outlet in Medford.

Today, they'll be outside the Les Schwab Tire Center in Ashland, protesting a 39-year-tradition: February's Free Beef Month.

Basically, in a nutshell, factory farming practices today are horrific, said Ron Elterman, an organizer for the animal rights group. The standard practices that are used in cattle rearing in particular are institutionalized cruelty.

Elterman opposes practices such as de-horning, castration and branding and other painful identification efforts.

The local protest, he says, is part of a nationwide effort by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

But the picketing planned for 4:30 p.m. leaves Les Schwab officials puzzled.

We've never had this happen before, said Brian Capp, director of sales and marketing.

Based in Prineville, the 51-year-old firm has handed out free beef since 1964, when its namesake founder wanted a way to help local ranchers promote their wares. If it boosted slow tire sales in the month of February, so much the better, said Capp.

This month, the company will offer more than &

36;1 million in free beef.

All I can really say is, it's been a favorite promotion of a lot of our customers, Capp added.

That would include Dick O'Brien, a 58-year-old grocery clerk from Medford. He stopped by a local Les Schwab store to get his brakes checked Friday and came away with better brakes, a pair of tires ' and a party pack of jerky and sausages valued at &


Folks who buy four tires get &

36;15 worth of beef ' or a cash discount.

While O'Brien shares sympathy for compassionate and environmentally sound cattle-rearing practices, he thinks the protesters are missing their mark.

I love barbecue steak, O'Brien said. If Les Schwab is going to give away free beef, it's fine with me.

O'Brien, who wore a button that read Show Bush the Door in 2004, expressed concern over the timing of the protest, coming as it does amid global anxiety over the threat of war.

But they have every right to protest, O'Brien added. That's why we live in the United States.

Asked if his protests dilute the impact of larger efforts, Elterman said the two issues are complementary, not competitive.

Some people have the vision to see the connection between human social problems and animal conditions, he said.

That notion was met with skepticism by Elizabeth Meadows, president of the Ashland Pigskins 4-H club.

Oh, brother, said Meadows, whose club recently benefited from a barbecue sponsored by Les Schwab.

I think these animal-rights people are going to the extreme, she said. It's only a matter of time before they start protesting at our county fairs.

Elterman said he's committed to raising awareness about animal-rights violations. The group, which has about 20 active members, has several future protests planned, including the Great American Meat-Out next month.

There's a lack of empathy, Elterman said. If we can't even find room in our hearts for other humans, how can we find room for our animal friends?

Olina St. Onge of Jacksonville protests commercial poultry-raising practices in front of a Medford KFC recently. Animal-rights activists also plan to protest Les Schwab?s Free Beef Month todayMonday 24, but some question their timing in light of global c Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven