Who would have thought the general public would believe the statements of movie stars over farmers? Or an organization that represents less than five percent of the American public would have the ability to convince food companies to take a stand against proven best-management practices?
One can see how we reached this point. While pork industry organizations were developing new products and opening new markets to create more profit for producers, activist groups were quietly and insidiously worming their way in with consumers, legislators and CEOs of food companies. The industry had developed good relationships with the procurement folks, but meanwhile, activists were using their vast resources and skewed surveys to convince an unsuspecting audience that producers are the “bad guys.”
It’s upsetting, because I’ve known the people in this industry my entire life. To see them characterized as not caring about the welfare of their animals is not only infuriating – it’s insulting. These are real people: whether owners, managers, animal caretakers or all three wrapped into one, you’re striving to do the best you can. You’re passionate about providing a quality product that contributes to meeting consumers’ nutritional needs.
We’ve learned – the hard way – that science doesn’t trump emotion. These groups know exactly what they’re doing and they’re savvy marketers.
They’re trying to de-humanized pork producers, while humanizing the pig. They’ve made producers out to be “big companies” that only care about the bottom line. They don’t accept production parameters as measures of animal well-being. Rather, they assume an animal can’t be “happy” confined in a stall, even though research has shown benefits to both animals and caretakers for this practice.
Sadly, that’s the world we live in, but we’re seeing some positive developments. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance connects articulate farmer-spokespeople directly with consumers through its Food Dialogues, website and outreach.
The CommonGround initiative brings farm moms together with non-farm moms to provide a forum for communicating the facts about how food is grown. In fact, one of those farm moms, Katie Olthoff from Stanhope, Iowa, will soon be writing a blog for PorkNetwork.
Our own industry is aggressively stepping up, too. There is much more emphasis on taking a positive, transparent approach to how we do business and why certain production practices are performed. And we’re making positive inroads with food companies to help them understand the whole picture – not just rhetoric from a very noisy minority.
We can’t let up, though. Every producer has a responsibility to not only make sure you implement sound management practices, but that you’re talking to your neighbors and friends about how you raise pigs. We need to bridge the gap for consumers with factual, honest information about animal well-being, because opponents of animal agriculture are making every effort to convince them otherwise.
It’s time to step up to the plate.