Animal Ag Engage


1 Comment

HSUS bullies animal ag and hurts low-income families

Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, shares her story of standing up for agriculture while the Humane Society of the United States pushed for a ballot in Massachusetts that would hurt low-income families at the grocery store. 

Less than a year ago, I attended the 2016 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, my first real introduction to agriculture beyond labels on products in the grocery store. I had recently learned about a ballot initiative filed in my state that, despite efforts to legally challenge its certification, would become Question 3 on the Massachusetts 2016 ballot.

As I considered engaging in this food policy debate, I reflected on my own family’s experience with hunger, homelessness and poverty which drives me in my work for social justice. I recalled the times I would dig through my sofa for change just to purchase a dozen eggs to feed my children some protein for dinner. In deference to the real victims of Q3, I would later agree to become campaign manager for Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice.

In my work, I have always sought to break down the stereotypes we all know too well – that poor people are lazy and uninspired; that if we would just go to work, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather than focus on solutions to poverty, policies began to look more like punishments, as broad brushes of accusations of fraud, waste and abuse taint us all when one bad apple makes a new headline.

While attending last year’s summit, I quickly learned that those of you providing the gift of nutrition have your own unique, yet similar challenges. I noted to Brian Klippenstien of Protect the Harvest at the time that low income families and farmers have their respective stories to share, stories that left untold by us, would be told for us by others with self-serving interests.

My years in policy work have also shown me that when we start to solve for a problem that does not exist, there will be unintended consequences. More often than not, the poor will suffer the worst. Q3 is the very definition of social injustice, those elite with money and satisfied choices imposing burdens on those with neither.

On its surface, Q3 would appeal to the good-hearted voters in Massachusetts who want to prevent cruelty to animals. In reality, Q3 was a cruel indifference to those of us who struggle to feed our families in a state ranked 47th in housing affordability and where our food costs are already 26 percent higher than the national average. Like most everyone, I don’t want to be cruel to animals, but I refuse to be cruel to people.

The Humane Society of the United States and their supporters would ultimately spend $2.7 million on the passage of Q3, while ensuring that the good and truth of agriculture would be a story left untold in my state. HSUS would continue to ignore not only the economic impacts for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, but also the animal welfare trade-offs for the very livestock they claim to protect.

The politics is strange. Imagine if President Trump were to propose doubling the cost of the most affordable and accessible source of protein available to low income families. Outrage would ensue as advocates for the poor and the media would express their disdain for such a heartless and reckless act. Yet, when merchants of veganism do it, compassion for our fellow humans can simply be set aside, it seems.

Thankfully, Mr. Forrest Lucas and the National Pork Producers Council would provide enough funds for me to give voice to the voiceless in this debate. Sadly, we would ultimately be outspent 10:1 as funds directly from HSUS and their supporters in places like California, New York and DC poured into their campaign. Citizens for Farm Animal Protection rained down TV ads that portrayed animals in awful conditions, duping MA voters into thinking these conditions existed across farms in our state and were acceptable, normal agriculture practices across the country.

Walking into this debate, I had no idea how extraordinary our food producers and science partners are at providing healthy, affordable and sustainable nutrition. I am among the grateful who appreciate why your work is so critical and meaningful. I know why, going forward, the coalitions that I am accustomed to working in must be working in partnership with you all who feed us.

HSUS cleverly played on the emotions of voters in a progressive state where we, in general, know very little to nothing about agriculture. HSUS has bullied our local farmers into submission with direct threats to their livelihoods. HSUS lied about the cost, as they did in CA, selling their ‘penny-an-egg’ story to unsuspecting voters. HSUS claimed that consumers were driving their cause, not mentioning the consumers they were referring were retail executives who know about a good marketing plan, not your average shopper on a budget. HSUS called me as a pawn for big agriculture.

HSUS would soon learn that my supporters hadn’t just come to MA to randomly pick some low-income woman to be the face of this campaign. HSUS wasn’t certain how to handle me. This low income grandma, working 2 jobs to survive, with a solid record of 15 years in anti-poverty work, was on a crash course in agriculture. I found myself being the voice for not only those victimized by Q3, but also in defense of agriculture.

I created a unique challenge. HSUS couldn’t protest in front of my home: my neighbors would have had a field day with them. HSUS couldn’t threaten a boycott of my business: I don’t own one. HSUS couldn’t bully me out of this debate: though they tried. Their supporters suggested that I be locked in a cage. Some commented that my children should not exist if I ever struggled to feed them.

Despite our efforts, Q3 would pass overwhelmingly in MA, with a 2022 implementation date. As predicted, HSUS has moved along to another small, coastal state that, like my own, ranks among the very lowest in agriculture receipts in the country. HSUS is taking to state legislatures and ballots what they have been losing at the check-out counter where 90 percent of us purchase conventional eggs.

As I consider my next steps in this debate, I am reminded that HSUS did not happen overnight. Campaigns take time. Now, I know there has been an on-going food policy debate where those most impacted – and harmed – have been absent. I am here to take my seat at the table. HSUS is now pressing further, trying to bully big agriculture into producing slower growing broilers driving up the consumer price of chicken meat. That negotiation does not include the voice of those most adversely impacted. Any meaningful debate on these issues requires the presence of one of its major stakeholder groups –low income consumers.

In MA, nearly 800,000 residents rely on the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). Nationwide, that number is 45.5 million. We know that these numbers only scratch the surface at what food insecurity in the United States really looks like.

We must be more united and assertive in protecting and distributing our abundance. We must have the victims of this debate join with those who produce. The voice of low-income consumers can no longer be excluded from the negotiating tables. It is critical we unite urban and rural partnerships to promote food security and protect our dinner plates from the self-appointed food police.


Leave a comment

It’s fair season! I like pig butts and I cannot lie…

This past Monday, I was sitting in my Washington D.C. apartment when I received a phone call from my mother; she wanted to FaceTime. I didn’t even know she knew how to that. I sat down my book, “The Fred Factor” and picked up her call. As I peered into the screen of my iPhone4, I was greeted by several familiar faces saying (some of them actually screaming) “HEY!” This crowd was filled with friends of all ages – some my parents’ age, some my age, and some that haven’t even hit double digits. The sight of this group and their location resurfaced many nostalgic feelings.

They were at my county fair!

Although my days showing at the fair ended three years ago, my parents always take time out of their week to reconnect with friends and be a part of the excitement and fun associated with showing livestock. The people I began chatting with over the phone are those I met and became close to when I was an exhibitor. During the conversation, I began to reflect on my fair memories. I am ever so grateful that I had the opportunity to raise livestock for the fair. It provided me with so much laughter, new friends and a chance to grow in many different ways.  Four reasons that immediately stuck out in my mind include:

Responsibility

Raising livestock is no easy task. Regardless of the animal, it must receive daily attention to ensure it has food, water and a comfortable living environment. I can remember spending hours cleaning out my hogs’ pen because I wanted to make sure they were kept clean throughout the entire production process. In addition to its welfare, I needed to be around my hogs to get them comfortable with humans and foreign noises. Transporting animals to the fair might seem hectic, but if you have given your animals the proper attention prior to this relocation, they are much more calm and relaxed throughout the process.

As you can see, one project can consume a lot of time. Some of this attention cares for the hogs basic needs, i.e. food and water for growth, but the additional care teaches me the value of hard work.  If I go the extra mile with a project, it is mutually beneficial.

Competition/Sportsmanship

I have always been a competitive person…just ask my sisters. Consequently, raising animals for show further prompted my drive to create healthy and happy animals.

  • Brush? Check.
  • Water bottle? Check
  • Show stick? Check.
  • Competitor’s number? Check.

Slide033

Before any show, I would mentally go through this check list to ensure I had all the necessary items. I needed a brush to keep my hog clean; a water bottle to keep it cool; a show stick to guide it; and my competitor’s number to check-in.  I enjoyed being in a ring with fellow friends and classmates to showcase the end product of our hard work. Because this was a competition, it subsequently taught me sportsmanship. Although I never made it to the championship drive (when the judge announced a winner), those who were not selected always went up to the champion to shake his or her hand. Were they disappointed? Probably. But they were able to put aside that emotion to congratulate a fellow exhibitor on a job well done.

Slide034

Working as a Family

I am the youngest of three, and with two ambitious sisters, there are few times that our entire family is able to get together. In addition to the holidays, fair time was one of those weeks I could guarantee a team of five. (Some might even consider their fair a holiday!) Every summer, we would camp at the fair; it provided convenience and a time to bond. I can remember getting up early to feed and water our hogs. Some mornings, we would get up extra early to wash them. Fair projects always brought my family together, and for that, I am beyond thankful. Being crammed in a small camper for seven days might have created some conflict at times (especially during our elder years!), but I was always sad to see fair week come to an end.

Creating Friendships

Fair friends. Have you ever used this term?  By being involved at the fair, I was able to interact with so many smart, funny and driven individuals. Through my interactions, I quickly learned the caliber of young adults that make up livestock exhibitors.  Not only were they successful, but they built me up to reach new heights, too. Consequently, they soon lost the title “fair friends” and became close friends. (But we won’t forget what started it all…the fair!) One of my friends actually gets married in a few weeks, and despite our separation the past few years because of college and careers, I, along with many others, were still invited to be a part of her special day. I have found that very few organizations or circles have this type of longevity and loyalty.

In addition to the friendships I created, my parents were also able to build relationships. As I previously mentioned, they are taking time off this week to reconnect with old friends and help their kids with their projects. This past Monday when my mom FaceTimed me, I was actually wearing a fair shirt that our friends made last year. The shirt reads (and something I will never forget!)… “I Like Pig Butts and I Cannot Lie…”!

Blog Post, July 31 Picture 1


Leave a comment

Proactive steps to prevent an “undercover activist” from telling their version of your farm’s story

In my previous blog post, I examined the various “ag-gag” laws across the country. These laws vary widely in their scope, intentions and effects. Some farmers living in states with these laws may fear they do not go far enough to protect against undercover activists. Farmers living in states without these laws may fear that without them, they are defenseless against smear campaigns against their livelihoods. Agriculture is a business, and just like any business, farmers need to proactively protect themselves from potential legal issues. Below are some suggestions that farmers could implement today that may help mitigate the disaster that is animal rights activism.

Paper trail and training

First and foremost, all agricultural employers should provide written guidelines on every action employees should undertake on the farm, coupled with appropriate training. In the case of animal rights activism, making sure that all employees understand how to properly care for livestock is an excellent safeguard for employers. These guidelines and training sessions should also include information that explicitly demandCollege_Math_Papers employees raise any concerns about animal abuse – or any other problem for that matter – with a supervisor or employer immediately. This kind of rule will prevent animal rights activists from being able to claim that abuse is rampant on a farm; if employees are not holding themselves and each other accountable, it is less likely that the employer can be responsible as well. That said, employers should always try their best to personally oversee operations to ensure that no improper actions are conducted. Additionally, employees should sign a notice indicating that they have read the written guidelines and received appropriate training. This way, animal rights activists or otherwise rogue employees cannot claim ignorance of the materials an employer provides.

Be your own ‘Undercover Boss’

In conjunction with creating a paper trail that proves vigilance in caring for animals, employers should consider installing cameras on their property in areas where employees will likely handle livestock. While this can be expensive, having your own video evidence to combat the claims of thsurveillance-camera-241725_640e significantly altered activist videos can provide necessary context. Also, having this kind of video evidence is beneficial to the entire animal agriculture industry, as consumers could have the opportunity to see what really happens on farms. Perhaps if consumers better understood what farming operations really look like, they would swallow sensationalist claims from agenda-driven animal rights organizations less readily.

Public defamation is already illegal

Now let’s assume that despite an employer’s best efforts, an undercover activist infiltrates a farm and releases a video that portrays out of context activities as abuse. Employers should not be afraid to sue the activist for defamation. These undercover videos can completely destroy the livelihoods of farmers. If an employer can prove – perhaps through the measures mentioned above – that no abuse has occurred on the farm, or that appropriate measures have been taken to eliminate abuse therefore placing liability on the individual abuser, then that is simply fantastic. But the damage that arises from public defamation can be absolutely devastating to farmers and their families, not to mention public perception of animal agriculture as a whole. Many animal rights organizations see 4442238548_e54f2c3396_oeconomic benefit from jumping from one issue to the next, as Chris DeRose – a fringe animal rights activist himself – points out in an interview with an animal rights terrorist organization. These organizations profit dramatically every time a new video or other public outreach campaign creates a national firestorm. Because we can connect economic benefit to defamation, it is even possible to claim that these organizations violate the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. Granted, this act has historically always been employed in cases of data theft, usually involving an individual attempting to sell or otherwise transfer trade secrets to foreign corporations. However, the text of the law could be interpreted to apply in this circumstance as well. Any attorneys out there? Just some food for thought.

Closing thoughts

With or without “ag-gag” laws, employers can disincentivize activists from even trying to erroneously accuse hardworking farmers. If there is real abuse, then employees should report it immediately so they and their employers can find a solutions to correct the problem. However, the likelihood of discovering real animal abuse on farms is far lower than animal rights organizations would like the public to think. Animal care is the number one priority on my family’s farm, and for all other farm families. At the end of the day, I hope my suggestions can help farmers effectively reduce the likelihood of being the target of an undercover activist while also improving the public perception of animal agriculture.

 


Leave a comment

On the job hunt? The agricultural industry can provide you with a meaningful career.

As a rising senior in college, I will soon be tasked with the daunting responsibility of applying for jobs with the hopes of building a career. As a communication major, there are endless industries, companies and organizations that I could join in pursuit of accomplishing my goal of having a career that is meaningful and impactful. But where do I start? With so many opportunities, how do I narrow down my options to find the best fit?

There are a multitude of opening questions one could ask to begin their research. Where do I want to live? What are my passions? What experiences do I currently have that will benefit me long-term? While these are all fair starting points, I would like to focus on one that I believe holds the most weight – What do I want out of my career? While each individual’s expectations will be somewhat unique, there are general trends in society that have been summarized through research. Studies have been conducted to gauge the expectations and interests of recent college graduates to determine what they expect out of a career.

One research study, mentioned in this article, conducted an online survey that collected responses from nearly 60,000 undergraduate students from 320 universities across the United States. The study found that college graduates are interested in the following:

  • Job security is considered top priority and is rated as the #1 job attribute.
  • The next most important requirement is professional training and development.
  • Young people are more mobile and more interested in an international career with a company brand that is consistent over national borders but flexible enough to adapt to cultural preferences.
  • They want a clear opportunity for future growth.
  • Many want the chance to do something that is meaningful and the freedom to work where they’d like.

Are these findings similar to your expectations? I know I could get on board with them, which is why I have chosen a career within an industry that can meet these demands – agriculture.

Job security

It makes sense that job security tops the list. The argument as to why agricultural jobs have high job security can be very simple – food is needed for life; everyone eats. Consequently, there will always be a need for agriculture and the business associated with it. ‘Nough said, right? But let’s look into other figures…

Fortunately, unemployment numbers have decreased within recent years, but can this increase in employment be seen within the agricultural sector? A report released by the United States Department of Agriculture states, “During the next five years, U.S. college graduates will find good employment opportunities if they have expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment. Between 2015 and 2020, we expect to see 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in those areas.”

USDA

Those numbers are comforting, but what if you don’t have a degree in one of those areas? The report goes on to state that of the 57,900 annual new openings, only 61 percent will be filled by individuals with degrees in food, agriculture and environmental sciences. So even if you don’t have a degree in these areas or come from a production agriculture background, there are still employment opportunities for you within the industry!

USDA 2

International travel

As someone who has studied abroad twice and loves to travel, I can totally relate to this expectation.  It is no secret that we live in a global market, and with the U.S. being a leading producer of agricultural products, agribusiness and the exportation of our commodities is essential to the U.S. and other countries. U.S. agricultural exports more than doubled from 2006 to 2014. Our top exporting countries include: China, Canada, Mexico and Japan.  Because agriculture has such a strong international market, the business behind the industry provides numerous opportunities to travel abroad.

Speaking of trade, some of you might have been hearing about Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA was signed by President Obama this past Monday, June 29. Its passage will open up more international markets for agricultural commodities, making this an even more opportune time to get involved with the industry.

*Want to learn more about TPA? Click here!

Clear opportunity for future growth

A career in agriculture is sure to aid in one’s growth, both personally and professionally. I believe we experience the most growth when we are challenged, forced to step outside of our comfort zone when dealing with adversity and challenges. The agriculture industry has been tasked to meet many demands that are quite challenging. Some popular ones include:

  • Increase food production to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
  • At the same time of increasing production, we need to conserve and enhance our natural resources such as soil and water.
  • Improve nutrition and public health by providing a safe and affordable food supply.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of an industry that is always changing and finding solutions to world problems!

Pursuing a degree in agriculture might be intimidating to those who didn’t grow up on a farm or have production agriculture experience, but don’t let that deter you! There are many benefits to working in agriculture, and I am confident you can find your fit. If you need further convincing as to why you should join America’s largest industry, check out the articles below!

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/01/31/cheat-sheet-highest-paying-degrees/22478439/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102691649


2 Comments

A Brief Examination of “Ag-Gag” Legislation

Just after calving season on my family’s Polled Hereford ranch this year, I helped my father and grandparents treat new calves and their mothers for lice. At one point, a calf inside the barn saw her mother on the outside and tried to jump a fence to reach her – poor thing got stuck, so I had to extricate it from the fence. The problem here is that the calf was already weighing in at around 450 pounds, so I had to push less than gently to get him off the top of the fence. In the end, the calf reunited with his mother, I patted his head as he moo-ed contentedly, and then I returned to the job at hand. Pretty innocent story, right?224282_129546030454370_1495270_n

Now imagine an animal rights activist had obtained employment with us under false pretenses and secretly filmed the incident, then edited the video to show a five second clip of me tackling a calf splayed over a fence, baying with displeasure. Out of context, that five second clip would seem quite a bit worse than how the actual event occurred, and it just so happens that animal rights activists do this kind of thing rather frequently. A previous blog post illustrates this point, showing that only a very small percentage of undercover video campaigns actually resulted in convictions. In that same post, our communications coordinator Casey Whitaker thoroughly explains how animal rights activists’ primary objectives are to propagate a pro-vegan, anti-animal agriculture agenda, so I will not detail that subject here.

Many in the agricultural community seek protection from malicious animal rights activists through various laws (termed “ag-gag” legislation) that place penalties on individuals or organizations for performing different actions on farms, depending on the state. The purpose of recounting the above anecdote is to establish that I understand and sympathize with farmers who are searching for ways to protect themselves from malicious animal rights activists. I too want to protect my own family farm. Farm protection legislation (so-called “ag-gag” laws) are one way that farmers and legislators are trying to eliminate this activist tactic. These laws share some similarities and differences, so let’s look at all nine of these existing laws to get a feel for what they entail.

Idaho

Idaho’s law is similar to the Kansas law (see below), but with the addition that seeking employment under false pretenses and with intent to cause economic injury to the employer is a misdemeanor. I am definitely supportive of that idea, but I have some reservations about the subjectivity of what false pretenses and intentions could entail. For instance, if a person overstates his or her ability to operate a tractor during an interview, is it really worth a misdemeanor charge? Or what if a person really can drive a tractor well, but makes a mistake one day that breaks a piece of equipment, or simply works more slowly than the employer would have hoped; is this worth a misdemeanor? I would consider issues such as these civil disputes, not criminal dispute, which are distinct areas of law and are handled differently.

Iowa

Iowa’s law doesn’t deal directly with with undercover videos. Instead, it focuses on ensuring that farmers have recourse against activists who impede farming operations by damaging property, killing animals, or otherwise harming animals.

Kansas

Kansas’ Law also has provisions against the damage of property and animals, but also makes it illegal to take pictures of nonpublic areas in the farm through any means without the consent of the property owner. Though the latter provision would indeed protect farmers, it achieves that protection through a law that may be contradictory to legal precedent involving the Fourth Amendment (see Katz v. United States, and in particular a “reasonable expectation of privacy”). A property owner has no reasonable expectation of privacy if he or she allows a person access to a private area, even if the property owner issues a notice explicitly forbidding the recording of any data. Property owners do have a reasonable expectation of privacy if the area or objects being recorded are not visible from a public vantage point, like a public road. This idea also means that individuals cannot break an entering or utilize technology outside the general public use – such as advanced thermal imaging techniques – to view private property.

Missouri

Missouri’s law is very practical in terms of protecting farmers from undercover activist. The law stipulates that any farm professional who digitally records animal abuse must submit that recording, unedited, to the proper authorities within 24 hours of its capture. I really like the idea of requiring unedited recordings to be submitted quickly. Taking that further, it seems that tampering with evidence that may be admissible to court should be illegal in the first place.

Montana

Montana’s Law has similar to provisions to Kansas’. However, it does include a provision exempting humane animal treatment shelters whose purpose is the humane care of animals. While this certainly does not apply to animal rights organizations, I’m concerned that they may try to find a way to take advantage of this exemption.

North Carolina

North Carolina’s law is also similar to the previous three, but with some key differences. For instance, it references the concept of “duty of loyalty to the employer” as justification for some important provisions. The text never defines what this duty actually entails, and is open to interpretation. Does it mean employees can be persecuted for any perceived breach of that loyalty? Crazy as that sounds, it may just be the case, due to another provision that states employers can sue for damages resulting from “An act that substantially interferes with the ownership or possession of real property”. So hypothetically, if an employee decides to leave his or her job for any reason, an employer could potentially sue for breaching a subjective notion of loyalty that may or may not interfere with business operations, transitively affecting the ability of an employer to own property. I understand what this law is trying to achieve: protection against activists seeking employment under false pretenses. I agree that employers should be able to hire employees without fearing nefarious ulterior motives.

North Dakota

North Dakota’s law is similar to both Kansas’ and Montanta’s. Additionally, North Dakota boasts another section designed to prevent the theft or release of animals (another problem perpetuated by animal rights activists).

Utah

Utah’s law is basically a more concise version of Idaho’s.

South Carolina

South Carolina’s law looks well done. This law allows farmers to sue for damages if an individual enters property without consent and with the intent of somehow damaging the enterprise. This seems reasonable, as it does not specifically refer to employers or employees. Rather, it focuses on consensual entry to the property, meaning that courts can determine if a crime was committed based on whether or not the person had legal access to the property or not.

While these laws take a step toward protecting farmers, I have more ideas for what animal agriculture can do. I will share these thoughts in my next blog!


Leave a comment

Millennial tendencies can benefit the agricultural industry

As a millennial, one of my biggest pet peeves is when my elders roll their eyes and use the phrase, “Your generation…(fill in the blank with some comment about how our reliance on technology reflects our inability to interact with others or has hindered our formal written communication and speaking skills.)” Below is a list of some of the stereotypes associated with the millennial generation, along with a few links to blogs and articles that expand on them further.

  • They are entitled; they expect things to be handed to them.
  • They are “know-it-alls.”
  • They are job hoppers.
  • They are too plugged in.
  • They have no concept of privacy.

http://aboutschwab.com/index.php/work-at-schwab/career-investments-blog/millennial-myth-busters-breaking-down-millennial-stereotypes

http://switchandshift.com/breaking-the-top-7-millennial-stereotypes

While I would like to take the time to elaborate on these stereotypes – not to completely debunk them but to explain their benefits and how they were inevitable because of societal changes – I am going to focus on the last two and how it is essential for farmers and other agriculturalists to embrace these characteristics to ensure the progression and transparency of their industry.

They are too plugged in.

While there isn’t necessarily an exact age range for millennials, generally speaking, they were born between 1981 and 1997. Meaning, these 18-34 year-olds have grown up almost their entire lives with access to cable TV, the internet and cell phones. Consequently, digital media has become a comfortable source for them to find information, stay connected with family and friends and share their story.

From an individual or company perspective, we all have a story to share. What types of pictures and posts do you share on social media?

  • A victory for a sports team?
  • A visit to another state or country?
  • Events and news related to your work?
  • Socials with family and friends?

For those involved in the agricultural industry, they know just how important it is to share agriculture’s story. In a time when less than 2 percent of the United State’s population is involved with farming and ranching, there are not many people directly involved with production agriculture. I don’t want to portray this as bad news, because this has allowed other individuals to spend their time progressing modern medicine and other advancements that improve our daily lives. However, it is still important to keep them in the conversation, because not only do we eat on a daily basis, but our diet directly affects our health and livelihood.

So how do we reach this 98%, which equates to over 312 million Americans? Do we share it in person? A newspaper article? A video? While any form of communication is better than none, the industry can benefit most by using online social media outlets.

Facebook is a news powerhouse. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults use Facebook, and of those adults, half of them get their news there. That means over one hundred million Americans receive news stories via Facebook. And the best part…one doesn’t have to be a journalist our news anchor to share. While this presents some credibility hurdles, it allows every American the opportunity to share their personal story. So when you see individuals on their phones like below, don’t shake your head in disgust. Rather, put into perspective the meaningful engagement that could lead to education and advancement personally or professionally.

Cell Phones

They have no concept of privacy.

While this might be a strong statement, something can be learned from this stereotype. In a world where professionals become specialized in a trade or skill, it can be challenging to stay up-to-date with other industry affairs. But because every person consumes agricultural products, transparency within farming and food processing is almost essential. While the industry has taken it upon itself to set standards for animal welfare and food safety, this needs to be transferable to the public.

By tearing down the “privacy barrier”, the industry can regain or maintain the public’s trust. Many of you might be wondering, how might the industry have lost this trust in the first place? Animal activists groups, in their interest of creating a vegan world, have misinformed the public through videos and stories. By capturing staged imagery or misinterpreting standard industry practice, they have sparked and capitalized on public interest about the way farm animals are being raised.

Animal welfare has been and will continue to be a top priority among American farmers and ranchers. They can prove this to the American public by being more open and transparent. Now, I am not suggesting that they be required to install video cameras and release this footage to the public upon demand. Just like every other business, they have the right to some privacy. However, current trends are demanding more transparency among the industry. Therefore, by becoming more open, whether that is inviting interest groups to their farms for a tour or sharing their story through digital media, they can become more transparent with the public.

Embrace Being a Millennial

So as a millennial, I could dispute, argue or complain about the stereotypes associated with my generation. Rather, I want to highlight how they can be beneficial to the agricultural industry. As a rising college senior studying agricultural communication, I know just how important it is to bridge the communication gap between the producer and consumer. Therefore, it is my desire to embrace the changing trends in society to help accomplish this.


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!


“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.


1 Comment

Veterans farming for a better tomorrow

When a farmer wants to tell his story, you listen (and take notes if you’re a communications intern). David Gevry recently contacted the Alliance about wanting to share what he’s been up to on his farm and I was thrilled. My favorite assignments in college always happened out of the classroom when I was able to meet new people, learn their story and turn it into something publishable and worth reading.

I enjoy writing news articles, blogs or feature stories that shine light on people and places that are doing something positive for themselves and their community. Make that person a farmer and that place a farm and I’ll write a book for you!

Vet2Farm logo

Although I wasn’t able to meet Gevry in person, I can tell he is a farmer worth writing about. If his name sounds familiar it’s probably because we were talking about him on this blog last October.

After returning home from combat deployment in 2011, Gevry found farming to be therapeutic, so he started farming as a hobby. Four years later and that hobby has turned into something great.

Gevry co-founded Vets2Farm, a 15-acre farm in Little Falls, New York, which helps disabled veterans to heal from the trauma of war and give back to their community through farming.

In 2014, Vets2Farm was on Kickstarter, but didn’t receive enough donations to reach its goal of $5,000.  This was only a minor setback for Gevry. Since our last post, he has received two different land-lease donations. One is being used for a crop operation while the other is helping to begin a pork operation. They will continue to use their previous land-lease donation for poultry.

Two of Gevry's pigs he received this week.

Two of Gevry’s pigs he received this week.

“We have purchased pigs, chickens and loads of seeds,” Gevry said. “We plan to begin marketing our veteran-grown products at the numerous local farmers markets to help achieve sustainability.”

Like all farmers across the country, Gevry has had to battle the snow while tending to his crops and livestock, which he described as “no easy feat.”

While a lot of people may have enjoyed having some relaxing snow days out of the office, farmers don’t have the luxury of dropping everything to build a snowman and drink hot chocolate. Farmers work everyday, rain or shine, to ensure quality food is being produced for consumers across the country and even the world.

In addition to working in the field, Gevry is thinking about the financial future of his farm and has filed for 501(c)(3) status. “We have also been working with grant writers on developing grants that will work on consolidating efforts to reduce expenses and to be able to increase our ability to provide more for our veterans,” he said. “There is so much more to come in the near future for this project.”

Vets2Farm follows all-organic practices, but it’s important to remember that there is room for diversity in the agriculture industry. There is room for organic and conventional farming and one is not better than the other, but they are just different ways of farming. Consumer choice is a privilege that not everyone has, but Americans are lucky to have.

From small to large farms and from beginning farmers to men and women who have been farming for generations, they are all working hard to provide food for their family, friends and the growing population.

From the farms I’ve visited and all the farmers I have met, I have come to admire the quote “…everyday, three times a day, you need a farmer,” and from what I have read about Vets2Farm, I think Gevry is another example of the quote ringing true.


1 Comment

#Farmtopork Blogs Continued

Earlier this month, we posted a blog pertaining to our great #farmtopork blogger tour (https://animalagengage.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/farm-to-pork-blogger-tour/). Since then, these extremely talented bloggers have continued to write amazing blogs about where their meat comes from. If you want to check out any of the new blogs (which we highly recommend!), click the links below.

Kirsten Wright, The Crafting Chicks, “10 Things that Surprised Me about Commerical Pig Farming

Gina von Esmarch, Bowl Licker, “Wordless Wednesday-North Carolina

Kelly Pugliano, Eat Picks, “Mexican Pork Roast

Cristen Clark, Food and Swine, “#Farmtopork Blogger Tour

Carmen Stacier, Mom to the Screaming Masses, “Hog Butchering Class” “Sausage, Bacon, Ham? Cassoulet!”

Also make sure to check out the Alliance Pinterest page for all of the #farmtopork chatter!