JoAnn Alumbaugh
JoAnn Alumbaugh

Who would have thought everyday consumers would listen to the rantings of an over-the-hill game-show host while ignoring documented animal science research and first-hand experiences of farmers? Or that an organization that represents a miniscule percentage of the American public would convince food companies to take a stand against proven best-management practices?

We’ve learned – the hard way – that science doesn’t trump emotion. Animal activist groups know exactly what they’re doing and they’re savvy marketers. They twist quotes and statements to their advantage and habitually tell only part of the story – the part that fits their well-defined agendas.

They frequently de-humanized pork producers with terms like “big ag” or “factory farms” while giving human emotions to animals. They’ve made producers out to be 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.

I’ve known the people in this industry my entire life and to see you characterized as uncaring about the welfare of your animals is infuriating and insulting. 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. In many cases, your sons and/or daughters are planning to take over the operation so your decisions today are based on its success tomorrow.

Fortunately, consumers are wizening up to activists’ deceptive practices. The public has grown tired of their antics. Research by the Opinion Research Corp. has shown that when consumers are told farmers and veterinarians support gestation states, they agree with the practice by a margin of 62 to 13. An additional 24 percent of respondents indicated they didn’t care.

Meanwhile, agricultural groups are more proactive in explaining production practices and why they’re performed. 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, is featured on page 13.

Our own industry is aggressively stepping up, too, with more emphasis on the importance of a positive, transparent approach to how we do business. We’re initiating important programs like See It? Stop It! (see page 18) that emphasize our commitment to quality animal care. 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.

With baseball season underway it’s appropriate to say: It’s time to step up to the plate.