Driving along roadways this summer you may come across the a billboard, showing: “An adorable baby pig standing in a sun-drenched field of grass, a ‘luxury’ never afforded to pigs who are raised on factory farms.” It will carry the tagline “Please, Think Before You Eat. Go Vegetarian.”

Those are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ words, not mine. It is also one of many new PETA campaigns.

PETA will target “leading pig-slaughtering states of Indiana, North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.” Go to PETA’s Web site http://GoVeg.com for a look.

I’m not alone in questioning the validity and credibility of PETA and other related groups. A new study shows U.S. consumers are shaking their heads too.

Market Directions, a Kansas City-based research firm, conducted a survey in April and received 1,002 responses. The Animal Agriculture Alliance and the National Corn Growers Association funded the study, but consumers didn’t know that since an independent firm conducted the research.

Consumers have a deep trust and confidence in school teachers, veterinarians, farmers/ranchers and physicians, the survey revealed. At the same time, there’s a distrust for politicians and celebrities when they delve into other areas such as animal agriculture. 

Respondents viewed animal rights-activists as being out of touch with the public at large, notes Bruce Andrews, AAA president.

Here are some of the survey findings:

  • 86 percent said consumers have the right to choose what they eat, and not be dictated to.
  • When it comes to messages about farm-animal well-being, the most trusted sources are farm-animal veterinarians, USDA, Food and Drug Administration, farmers and ranchers. Celebrities and politicians ranked lowest at 29 percent and 26 percent respectively.
  • Nearly 80 percent of respondents agreed with this statement: “While it is important to be concerned about how farm animals are raised, there is nothing wrong with raising animals solely for food.”
  • Most believe farmers are concerned about their animals’ well-being (81 percent) and food safety (84 percent.)
  • 84 percent said farmers are producing healthful food at reasonable prices.
  • 70 percent said that animal-rights groups do not influence their purchasing decisions. Only 7 percent said the groups had an influence.

Would consumers pay more for meat and poultry products labeled “humanely raised?” If the cost was 5 percent more than other products, 31 percent of respondents said they would try such products. If the product price was 10 percent higher, 23 percent would buy it. But at a 20 percent increase, only 11 percent said they would pay the price.

It’s worth noting that consumers are notoriously bad at doing what they say. Projections are always more optimistic than  reality.

Some uncertainty did surface in the areas of science and genetic enhancements. While the numbers still show support for both topics, the results weren’t as strong as in other areas. For example, 47 percent said scientists should be free to use science and genetics to breed farm animals that are resistant to bacteria that can cause human illness. Thirty percent were unsure.

Finally, when it comes to food safety and quality, those surveyed said family physicians, dieticians, FDA and USDA are the most credible sources. Politicians and celebrities again ranked at the bottom.

Certainly this is good news for animal agriculture. But just because you’ve scored well this time, doesn’t mean the work is done. In many ways it’s just beginning. The survey looked at consumers older than 25 years. You know that each year the public slips further away from understanding your business.

Also, credibility is fragile. It’s easy to lose and difficult to reclaim.

People are fickle. It’s amazing that anyone today could view PETA as a credible group. Yet they continue to get followers, media attention and money.

Animal agriculture will always be held to a higher standard. To be credible long term, you have to be sincere, conscientious and proactive in doing the right things.