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6 ways to ask a farmer or industry leader

In the majority of my blog posts thus far I have encouraged the reader to ask a farmer or industry leader if they have questions about their food supply and the treatment of farm animals. I can only hope that curious consumers are taking my advice and reaching out to the men and women who take pride in producing our food. Then I got to thinking – what if someone genuinely wanted to ask a farmer, but wasn’t sure how to go about doing so?

Here’s a list of simple ways to get in touch with farmers and industry leaders:

Photo credit: extension.org

Photo credit: extension.org

1. Extension 

From having worked at a the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for about a year during college, I can assure you that they have more resources than you can imagine. From agriculture, animals, food safety and nutrition to economic development, gardening and youth programs, extension offices have resources on pretty much any topic you can think of . The majority of people who work in extension have masters or doctorate degrees in a specialized field and are always eager to share their knowledge about what they have dedicated their education and life to. Their mission is education and outreach so why not use them as a resource? I also recommend using extension.org for science-based information about agriculture!

To find an extension office near you visit this map and select ‘extension’ for type along with your state.

2. Social mediaTwitter logo

Farmers and ranchers are people too, which means they have social media accounts just like you and me! The smartphone has made ‘agvocating’ in between milking cows, spreading hay and checking on piglets second nature for a lot a farmers. They are able to share their daily experiences on the farm with people around the world who may have never stepped foot on a farm. While the activists who have probably never been to a farm are sharing photos that do not represent what animal agriculture is about, farmers are sharing photos that capture snapshots of what they live and breath everyday.  Some farmers take it a step further and write blog posts sharing personal stories and anecdotes about their farm that address hot topics in animal agriculture.

Some of the ‘agvocates’ I follow are: Will Gilmer, Crystal Blin, Val Wagner and Carrie Mess.

farm b3. State/county agricultural organizations

Every state has a farm bureau that provides ample resources about farming along with educational events and programs like ‘Ag in the Classroom,’ which teaches school children about agriculture through hands-on activities. Most sites have calendars with upcoming events about agriculture you can sign up for to learn and hear what the farmers have to say about certain topics.

To find your state farm bureau visit this map and simply click on your home state.

4. National commodity group organizationsncc_logo

When I’m searching for fast facts to share about animal agriculture I use the websites of national commodity groups more often than not. The majority of them have designated tabs filled with resources about their specific protein group whether it be pork, beef, dairy, or poultry.

A few of my favorites are: National Chicken Council, North American Meat Institute, National Milk Producers Federation, National Turkey Federation and National Pork Producers Council.

Alliance logo with social icons5. Follow the Alliance

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is an industry united non-profit organization that works to bridge the gap between farm and fork. We are continuously sharing engaging content on our Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts that tells the truth about modern agriculture in hopes of creating a more informed audience. One popular social media campaign we do every week is #MythbustinMonday, which dispels common myths about animal agriculture.

In addition to our social media outreach, we have valuable materials on our website about antibiotics, animal welfare and sustainability that are worth looking at.

6. If you know a farmer, just ask!

If you live in a town where you know a farmer down the road and you have a question about how your food is produced, just ask – it can really be that simple! Keep in mind that you should ask questions that relate to what that specific farmer is involved with so you can get the best informed answer.  Think about it. If you have a questions about pork, you might not want to ask a chicken farmer because although they may be familiar with pork production they may not be an expert, but a pork producer would be the right person to ask.

As you can see, there is more than one way to contact a farmer or industry leader without having to leave the comfort of your own house. These are just a handful of resources that are available to anyone interested in learning the truth about agriculture. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, I recommend following a handful of farmers and commodity group organizations on social media. So the next time you have a question about your food and agriculture, do yourself a favor and ask a farmer!

 


Animal Welfare: What It Means In Terms of Animal Agriculture

Every industry, especially the agriculture industry is subject to ambiguous terminology that has extremely important implications. One of the most contested terms that holds serious implications for agricultural enthusiasts, animal lovers and farmers alike is: animal welfare. In the simplest terms, animal welfare correlates to the proper treatment of animals both in and outside of the livestock production sphere. The notion of “proper treatment” however is another issue in itself. In this, there is an overwhelming presence of ambiguity as far as who defines what proper treatment means.

The question I have come to ponder is…. what does animal welfare REALLY mean? We have laws, regulations and social movements dedicated to this mysterious notion of “animal welfare.” To what standard does one have to meet to be engaging in the proper welfare of animals? There are a lot of different opinions on this subject.

My steers in their corral, heading out to the field

My steers in their corral, heading out to the field

For example: The American Veterinary Association defines “animal welfare” as follows: “Measuring and protecting an animal’s welfare requires attention to its physical and mental health. The actions and choices of people impact the welfare of all domestic and many wild animals. Accordingly, the veterinary profession has great responsibility and tremendous opportunity to work with people and animals to ensure animals’ good welfare.” https://www.avma.org/kb/resources/reference/animalwelfare/pages/default.aspx

I like that the AVMA’s explanation communicates the broad idea that animal welfare refers to the health and quality care of animals, and that they emphasize veterinarians’ role in helping farmers establish and maintain good animal welfare practices. In my opinion, this definition does leave “good health” up to interpretation, though. This vague definition can leave the door open for a lot of confusion on who is able to define what ‘good health’ is, which is troublesome considering the disconnect in understanding animal care practices between livestock industries and animal rights activist groups such as PETA and the ASPCA.

Lets look at another definition…. The World Organization for Animal Health cites animal welfare as being the following:Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress.” http://www.oieint/index.phpid=169&L=0&htmfile=chapitre_aw_introduction.htm

Yet again I see another example full of interesting concepts like “healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, etc.” But once again I see the same issue occurring once again… ambiguity.

National Beef Cattlemen's Association

National Beef Cattlemen’s Association

Another example is:  In a video released by one of my personal favorite organizations, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, members of the beef industry were asked to react and define for themselves what animal welfare means to them. Check the link out here: http://beefmagazine.com/beef-quality/cattle-handling/0208-video-redefining-animal-welfare

In almost EVERY response, animal welfare was taken to include the notion of taking care of their animals everyday, ensuring that they always had proper food and water and shelter and even at times treating them like they were in a symbiotic relationship with us. Lance Zimmerman of Kansas who owns a cattle farm quoted, “we respect these animals (cattle).” He continued to say that “if we’re good to them, they’re good to us, just like a good friend would be.”

I realized quickly that pondering this question would not yield me any finite answers. I do not believe that anyone could possibly have a totally all-inclusive answer for animal welfare. I did see that everyone can be helpful by providing their own definition of what animal welfare means to them. That being said, as a cattle farmer and beef steer enthusiast myself I attempted to provide my own inclusive answer for animal welfare…

Animal welfare means to me: Animal welfare (n): Treating my livestock as well as I would treat myself while out in the barn, meaning keeping the stalls clean from fecal waste products, providing 24/7 access to clean water that has been run by a purifier, access to a food source with consistent feedings twice per day, feeding rations of proportional body weight (for steers, its roughly 3% of body weight per day), keeping all corrals free of any potentially harmful substances such as glass, or garbage blown in by the wind, and providing shelter from harsh weather conditions, and lastly regular check-ups on all animals so that any illnesses or medical issues are spotted and taken care of appropriately by a trained, medical professional.

My steers and I enjoying a nice summer day

My steers and me enjoying a nice summer day

My definition is long, yes, similar to other definitions, yes, but attempts to be a bit more specific as to what animal welfare means for me personally. I know there is some sense of ambiguity, however I think defining the concept for myself helped me get just a little bit closer to a firm understanding than I was before, and I would encourage others to ponder the question too. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and certainly the animal welfare definition mystery won’t be solved in a day either. In closing, I feel accomplished every day when I adhere to my guidelines, and as Mr. Zimmerman said, when I am good to them, they are good to me, especially in the show ring!

Me and my steer Ozzy after a big win in April 2015!

Me and my steer Ozzy after a big win in April 2015!


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Don’t believe everything you see: the truth about undercover videos

Years ago, whenever I saw one of the undercover videos that animals rights groups release, I was sure I was watching torture to farm animals. My heart would beat like I had just finished a marathon and my eyes would sting with fury as I watched the poor animals endure so much pain. How was this kind of cruelty taking place on American farms!? I wanted an answer and I told myself I would eat a salad instead of a burger every chance I got.  At least that’s what my naive self thought before I became interested in agriculture and learned the truth.

Undercover videos are one of the most powerful tactics that animal rights groups use in an attempt to portray animal abuse on farms. The thing is, the tactic is a lot more unethical than you probably think.

Farmers make sure everyone stays warm in the winter! Photo credit: Carrie Mess

As part of my job I am responsible for researching animal rights groups and their campaigns. I was recently researching exactly how many undercover videos the Alliance has on file that resulted in convictions. As I was going through all 82 cases* and reading the background information on what allegedly happened in each facility, I couldn’t help but question how much abuse actually happens in agriculture. What the videos claimed to be describing would make any human squirm in their seat.

What’s really going on?

Then I reminded myself that these activist groups have a specific agenda and don’t care that they are spreading lies to get what they want. Out of all 82 videos only six cases resulted in convictions*. This one fact makes the point that what undercover videos capture is not always animal abuse. It may not always be pretty to the eye of someone outside of agriculture, but it is not abuse.

Slaughterhouses are a perfect example. When the animal reaches the slaughterhouse they are not meant to live through the process, as I’m sure we all can agree on.

Piglets stay safe while they eat breakfast! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Piglets stay safe while they eat breakfast! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Although they are meant to end up in grocery stores, farmers, scientists and industry experts are continuously working to ensure the animal is treated as humanely as possible.

Just last month Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group, posted an undercover video from a chicken processing facility in which they claimed showed “horrific animal abuse.” An expert panel comprised of a veterinarian, an animal scientist and an ethicist reviewed the video and said that there was no animal abuse.

“If people want to eat meat, we must kill animals,” Dr. Chuck Hofacre, the veterinarian on the panel, said. “Some of the process isn’t camera friendly – it’s not pretty. There are systems and processes in place to make sure it’s carried out in a humane manner.”

Why go undercover when you can jump on Twitter?! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

Why go undercover when you can jump on Twitter?! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

The different protein groups (poultry, beef, dairy, pork, goat, sheep) have programs in place addressing animal care. The National Dairy FARM Program and the Beef Quality Assurance program are two examples.

As this thought came to mind, I realized that if I work in the agriculture industry and am a true advocate for it, what would the average person who doesn’t have the background knowledge to remind themselves of all this think?

Unfortunately, media and consumers often take the videos at face value. They don’t ask questions and the activist groups have won their donation and support.

So what all contributes to the making of an undercover video?

Piglets staying warm and cozy under their heat lamp! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Piglets staying warm and cozy under their heat lamp! Photo credit: Chris Chinn

Animal rights groups get people to apply for a job at a farm or processing facility and act as if they are genuinely interested in the job, but in reality are plotting how they can hurt the company by filming what they see as animal abuse.

These workers who are hired to do a specific task on the farm choose to be negligent and film what they think is abuse instead. Sometimes the consequences of them not doing the job they were hired to do leads to things not getting done properly and animals get hurt, all in the name of animal rights.

Why do we never hear from the undercover investigators who “worked” at the farm? It’s because they find an excuse to disappear months before the video surfaces. Wonder why?

One thing I bet you didn’t realize is that in the case that actual animal abuse does occur, the undercover investigators don’t report the incident immediately. Nope. They continue to film the abuse for weeks and sometimes even months at a time just to provide the animal rights groups with a PR campaign to further their vegan agenda.

If someone really believes they are witnessing animal abuse, they need to report it to authorities right away rather than sitting on the footage for a few weeks to produce a catchy video.

Farmers love welcoming new farm babies into the world! Photo credit: Carrie Mess

Farmers love welcoming new farm babies into the world! Photo credit: Carrie Mess

How do undercover videos affect the farmer?

Animal activists commonly single out corporations that the farm supplies to in order to get as much attention as possible, which causes a misrepresentation of the agriculture industry to spread. The videos are just a tactic that pressures farmers and corporations to cave into activist demands in order to make the negative attention disappear, even if what is being demanded isn’t what science says is best for the animals’ health.

You may see free-range as hens roaming in big, green pastures, but agriculturalists see it as a threat to the birds’ safety. An open pasture means open for everyone including predators and diseases, making the birds look like free prey.

Now don’t get me wrong, in the case that animal abuse actually does happen, it is horrible and the animal agriculture industry does not condone it by any means.

The emotional toll farmers take from the impact the videos have is crucial. It takes a strong connection to animals for farmers to devote their life to them 24/7/356 year after year. Despite how passionate farmers are about their work, there is a reluctance to even respond to the videos that do show abuse. The industry as a whole doesn’t want to give credibility where credibility isn’t due. If we give them credibility, then videos that capture humane, industry standard practices will seem more credible to someone who thinks a cow or chicken is just like their cat or dog.

Farmers don't just talk to their cows! They want to talk with you too! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

Farmers don’t just talk to their cows! They want to talk with you too! Photo credit: Will Gilmer

What should you do?

These videos are not a representative sample of what actually does happen on farms across the United States. So what should people do when another undercover video surfaces? Don’t judge a book by its cover, or rather a farm by its undercover video. Be realistic and ask yourself if what you’re viewing is actual abuse or a humane process that just doesn’t look like a bouquet of roses.

If you have questions or concerns with what’s happening on farms, ask a farmer. I’ll have a future blog post providing guidance on ways you can easily get in contact with someone who would be glad to answer your questions!

*Statistics included is this post are as of April 10, 2015.


“Ag-Gag” Bills –ENOUGH with the False Labels

In the past few years, legislators have proposed farm protection legislation, with the intention of putting a dent in activists’ ability to break the law. These farm protection bills however have been given a powerful label by those who oppose them – they are referred to by opponents as “ag-gag” laws, and I’m really concerned to see that some of us involved in the livestock/farming industries have adopted the term as well.

As members of the farming community who know that these bills are in place to protect our fundamental rights to private property, we know this legislation is important. What is more important, however, is that activists claim this legislation intrudes on their right to free speech- and mistakenly- we are buying into it.

Advertisement showing activist portrayals of Farm Protection Bills

Advertisement showing activist portrayals of Farm Protection Bills

It is dangerous for us to use the “ag gag” term ourselves. When we do, we give activists’ distorted version of reality more credibility. This post explains very simply why that is: primarily, the laws have nothing to do with gagging any speech whatsoever! By taking their label and using it ourselves, we validate a notion that is purely fictional.

THERE’S LIES, MORE LIES, AND THEN THERE’S “AG-GAG” LABELS

Let me be clear- the laws in question here do not “gag” anything.

This false label is applied to the bills by activists to make it appear as if these laws actually violate one of America’s most important fundamental rights… the freedom of speech. Activists argue that these laws infringe upon their right to speech because they prevent them from filming instances of “animal mistreatment.” They claim that the drive behind opposing these laws is for the betterment of the perceived “animal mistreatment” on farms.

Activists never mention, however, their equally expressive opposition to bills that require all undercover videos to be turned into authorities in less than 48 hours. This requirement serves to ensure that the issues the photos and films recorded could be dealt with swiftly.

Farm Protection does not equal "gagging speech"

Farm Protection does not equal “gagging speech”

This addition to farm protection bills was not good enough for the activists- why? The answer is simple: the production of these videos is a strategic art that has less to do with actually helping animals and more to do with promoting an agenda that will make them millions. Fighting “the good fight” against “abuse of animals” on “factory farms” gives activist groups meaning; something to fight for; something to rally support; people’s hard earned money for; it has nothing to do with reality or with the way animals are really treated by farmers. If the goal was sincere- every activist would be behind farm protection bills that require evidence of abuse to be reported within 48 hours.

FARM PROTECTION BILLS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH SPEECH

What do farm protection laws say? Here is a brief outline of Wyoming Senate Bill 12.

The bill says: AN ACT relating to crimes and offenses; creating the crimes of trespassing to unlawfully collect resource data and unlawful collection of resource data; limiting use of unlawfully collected data.

In sum, the bill works to make it a crime for anyone to trespass on to a farm or private property to collect information. Where’s the speech limitation? The answer: there is none.

The right to protect one’s private property has been of fundamental importance long before America was established in 1776. Philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes established that private property and protection of that property is among the most important, if not most important right of individuals.

John Locke- defendant of private property rights

John Locke- defendant of private property rights

These farm protection bills have one main goal: they PROTECT the private property of farmers on their own farms where they live with their families. There is nothing inherently different in these farm protection laws than those outlawing criminals from breaking into your house and stealing your belongings or taking pictures of your home so that they can break in again and again.

EVEN IF THERE WAS A QUESTION ABOUT SPEECH: YOU CAN’T EXERCISE RIGHTS BY BREAKING THE LAW

What farm protection legislation does is prevent individuals, who believe that they can transcend the laws of this nation, from breaking the law.

Activists argue that the prevention of going on to private property without consent of the owner to film or take pictures violates freedom of speech. The speech component that they have conjugated together however is not speech. The act of taking pictures and/ or recording videos alone is not speech. How do I know? The highest Court in America, The Supreme Court, has spent decades defining what the First Amendment’s Right to Free Speech means.

The First Amendment protects me writing this blog post. It also protects the speech of an individual commenting on this post agreeing with me or disagreeing with me. The Supreme Court has never ruled that documenting events on film or taking pictures is protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. Further, the Supreme Court has NEVER affirmed the right of an individual’s Constitutional protection to break the law to exercise what they thought was speech.

The Supreme Court has never held that speech is protected when laws are violated

The Supreme Court has never held that speech is protected when laws are violated

The iconic example of this comes from the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien, in protest of the Vietnam War, stood on the steps of his local courthouse and publically burned his draft card. He was convicted of violating a federal law that prohibited damaging or destroying the government-issued draft cards. O’Brien appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that his public burning of his draft card was an example of symbolic speech and that the federal law prohibiting him from doing that was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the law was not unconstitutional because the law’s application served an important interest in holding a record of all individuals who were on the draft list. Further, the Court ruled that O’Brien’s speech could have been conducted in a way that did not break the law. There’s an idea…

BAD LAWS THAT INFRINGE ON RIGHTS CAN BE REVERSED?: NOT WHEN AN UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAW IS ABSENT

Activists may try to argue that farm protection laws should be overturned because they are unconstitutional. Plain and simple: you cannot overturn a fundamental right. Plain and simple: as farmers and agricultural professionals, we need to stop giving activists the power by endorsing their label of “ag-gag” when the laws do not gag anything, not a single right, not a single act of speech. In America, there are protections and laws to enforce those protections. Farmers and their families have a right to their property. They feed our world and deserve every right guaranteed to them to do so.