At the recent New York Farm Bureau (“NYFB”) Farm Animal Welfare Conference, Kay Johnson Smith from the Animal Agriculture Alliance was one of the keynote speakers. I was extremely impressed by her poise and presence. I love seeing such powerful, articulate women in the forefront of agriculture issues in Washington.
The underlying theme of Ms. Smith’s talk was that those involved in the agriculture industry should also be “animal activists.” I thought this was a great point because animal groups like PETA and HSUS should not be deciding the future of the agriculture industry nor are they the only groups that care about these issues. The ag community should also become “activists.”
So how can farmers and ranchers become “activists? ”
– Start a farm blog;
– Get on Twitter;
-Participate in #agchat;
-Write your elected representatives;
-Join groups on LinkedIn;
-Get on Facebook;
-Post pictures of your livestock operation on Flickr;
-Post videos on YouTube;
-Pay your membership dues and become active in ag commodity groups lobbying on the state and federal levels;
-Talk to your local radio station;
-Work with your local newspaper;
-Write letters to the editor or comments to online news articles;
-Become an active member in your community (e.g., join the school board, sponsor a baseball team);
-Start a monthly book club in your farming community to discuss the misrepresentations in mainstream books and how to talk to consumer about those misconceptions (e.g., Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, In Defense of Food, Beyond Beef) (I just thought of this… I might just start one!);
-Introduce yourself to travelers and explain what you do; or
-Anything where you can tell your side of the story to consumers. . . .
In addition, Ms. Smith summarized the four key areas where animal groups criticize modern agriculture: confinement, production practices, manure waste, and public health. She stated that these animal groups argue that farmers only care about profit and don’t care about the animals. For those of us involved in the industry, we know that caring about the health and well-being of your livestock leads to profits and job satisfaction. I don’t know a single livestock owner that does not care about the health and well-being of their animals. It is the job of the industry to help get this point across to the public.
Smith offered the following recommendations for livestock producers to combat the war against animal groups who wish to harm the livestock industry:
1. Implement an animal welfare program in your livestock operation. There are many voluntary programs an guidelines offered through various trade organization programs. Groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association offer Beef Quality Assurance programs. Livestock producers can also create their own internal animal welfare policies and require that all employees abide by this program. Livestock owners should train their employees with proper animal handling techniques.
2. Improve the public image of your farm from an aesthetic standpoint. Livestock owners should go to Google Earth and look at the aerial photographs and fix anything that might put the farm or ranch in negative light to the public. Drive on public roads around your farm and improve anything that the public might view negatively.
3. Have a good working relationship with extension specialists. As noted in my previous blog, I think it is important to document visits with extension specialists. Smith agreed that it is paramount for livestock producers to have a good working relationship with extension specialists.
4. Have farm employees sign an agreement stating that they will not bring video cameras on your property. This would give the livestock owner legal recourse against an undercover animal activist who secretly video records activities on the farm.
5. Implement a farm security plan. Farmers should have passwords on their computers, protocols for farm tours, and a plan for disruptive phone calls.
6. Get a farm website and keep it updated regularly. I used Ranch House Designs, Inc. (“RHD”) to do this website and think they would do a great job for your livestock operation. You can also follow RHD’s blog here where they post blog specials. I also recommend EDJE Technologies (You can follow them on Twitter here). Both of these graphics design companies understand the unique needs of livestock producers.
Finally, Smith’s closing point was that we need to work as a coalition. We are Team Agriculture and we are in this fight together.
Next up, a debrief from David Martosko’s talk. I was extremely impressed with his presentation highlighting the misrepresentations from animal groups like HSUS. Check back in tomorrow!