It’s never a good sign when news vans are broadcasting from your child’s daycare.
I could not get inside fast enough. Inside that facility was my three-year-old daughter – or at least, I hoped she would still be inside. Initially, I was told by staff that a “few” of the toddlers had gotten outside of the playground for a “few” moments, but they were quickly found.
We later found out the majority of the small class of toddlers had found an open gate, escaping to the parking lot and beyond the not-so watchful eyes of two teachers. Thankfully, none of the children wandered in the adjacent busy intersection, and all were found within an hour.
No one was injured; no one was killed. Most importantly to me, none of those children happened to be my daughter. We immediately withdrew our precious toddler from the facility, and though they attempted several times to bring us back through their doors, we refused each time.
Mind you, there were plenty of other parents who stood by the daycare and felt the local media were being too harsh for just a minor oversight. “No big deal,” one mother told me.
So what does this have to do with agriculture?
Simply put, the public has a hypocritical view of agriculture. Often we hear stories of doctors botching a surgery or a child dying at the hands of a daycare provider. Those stories enrage us – as they should – yet nothing changes. We still need hospitals, and for those of us who either won’t or can’t be stay-at-home parents, we still need childcare.
There’s a general expectation that bad things do happen, but it won’t happen to us. Our doctors are just fine, and our daycare provider won’t let us down. In the rare case something does happen, we can just go somewhere else.
But in agriculture, there is rebuttal. The media isn’t waiting for the “other side” of the story. When an undercover abuse video or biased expose makes its way into the public eye, there’s no second chance. One bad apple is all it takes for the majority to question everything about how their food is being raised.
For every one producer who does turn to abuse or allow it to continue unchecked in his/her operation, there are countless others who work tirelessly to raise their animals the right way, using utmost care and concern about animal welfare.
Unfortunately, these men and women aren’t the ones being featured in the news or in activist crosshairs, but they are ones left paying the price. There’s no pat on the back for doing a good job; there’s only a slap in the face when a bad apple is revealed.
As an industry, we need to find an answer to renew the trust in our hard-working producers. It’s impossible to ignore the importance of interacting on social media. But it doesn’t stop there.
Yes, now is the time to answer the hard questions.
It’s time to step up and become a spokesperson for the industry in your community. It’s taking an oath, as a pork producer, to commit to superior animal welfare and pork safety and being vocal about this commitment. It’s also about communicating the new pork industry audit and explaining the care taken by producers and processors to improve animal care and food safety.
Don’t let activists dominate your conversation. Consumers want to hear your side of the story, too.