Animal agriculture needs to do a better job reaching consumers through Extension, outreach groups, teachers and education, she says.

“People not connected to the farm are interested in what happens on the farm. Even though producers are busy, they should take the time to open their doors and show others what they do, and why and how they do it,” she says.

Often, agriculture's response on housing issues is that change isn't really necessary, and then they go on to respond with food safety, nutrition, affordability, food access, and sometimes environmental stewardship explanations that don't really address the question at hand, she says.

“We are being challenged on animal welfare, and responding with food safety, which just upsets the consumer. We need to address each issue instead of being like politicians at a political debate who give canned answers to issues they are challenged about,” she says. “When we do this, it makes consumers think there is a reason we are not answering the question.”

Rather, Croney recommends explaining to consumers that today's food challenges require maximizing the use of land and space. “We also need to mention that it requires us to grow and finish a lot of animals quickly. In the case of sows, we need to show the public how they are fed, and that they are housed in a way to protect workers and other animals,” she says. “The attention span of the American public regarding these issues is about two minutes, so we need to develop a quick and effective way to address these concerns,” she says.

Croney adds that it is more expensive to ignore animal welfare issues than to address them. “If you don't address these issues, you will get left behind and you can't afford that. If there's anything done on the farm that causes pain and can be filmed, be sure you can explain why it is necessary and what is being done to control that pain.” 

And when something bad happens that has to do with animal welfare, producers should address that it was bad, she advises. “And be sure people understand you don't do that and what you do instead to protect the welfare of your animals. Take the high moral ground.”

Most of all, Croney encourages producers to find their voice, and not let others, such as activists groups, speak for them.

“Make sure people know no one is more concerned about our animals than us, and that we are committed to their health and welfare,” she says. “Develop a statement committed to animal welfare, and put it out there where people will read it. Actions speak louder than words, but words can be very effective when people don't know you or what you do.”