What does the Church teach about animal rights?

I would appreciate an explanation of Catholic teaching lies in resolving the questions inherent in the new animal rights campaigns affording equal civil and constitutional rights of animals. Many Catholics are farmers and animal producers who are being bombarded with harrassment from various groups, claiming eating meat is cruelty, slaughter is cruelty, and even eating milk, eggs, and cheese (as told to me by Gary Francione directly last week) is “uncivilized”, “barbarous” and violently opposed to the teachings of non violence of the Ahimsa he follows. Problematically Gary is one of the strongest voices behind the efforts to put all farmers out of business.
I have trouble aligning all of this with the teachings of man being created in the image of God and the reality that the Lord Himself was a meat eater and the fact that the Holy Family and all of the prophets of the OT were from an agrarian background.
At the same time, however, I am told that our most ascetic and spiritual orders of religious refrain from meat eating, maintain a strict vegan regimen in order to avoid any “killing”.
Please help me develop a proper perspective of the use of animals in supporting human life and how it is actually viewed by the Church.
I run an organization which is brand new defending animal producers/farmers providing livestock to impoverished peoples for production within their own countries from unfair harrassment and illegal activities by various AR groups and government representatives. Many of our members are Catholic and confused and conflicted as to whether rabbits, poultry and the more economically available production livestock should be used in poorer countries for food or as companion animals.
Thank you.

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