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How Can We Show Consumers Our Morality And Integrity?

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In an emotionally charged world, science doesn’t always hold a candle in discussions of morality and ethics. One reader asks how ranchers can better show their integrity and values in the face of attacks from animal rights activists. Weigh in on the discussion today. 

I receive many emails from readers that really get me thinking, and one from reader Austin Black is a good example. Black suggests a discussion about the ethics and morality of the beef business and how we can demonstrate to consumers that we do what is right in raising cattle. Here is what he had to say:

“For the past few years, we have been preaching the need for farmers to share their story and get personal with consumers about how we raise food. We try to help them put a face to the plate and trust the people who provide for families across this nation and world. And while the ag industry has made progress and educated people, we still seem to face an insurmountable battle with activist groups, natural-focused food companies and even the government. 

“We as an ag community have preached how humane our practices are, how efficient and environmentally friendly our farms run, how much we produce compared to 50 years ago, and how science and technology aids in our progress. But what the opposing team (HSUS, Panera, Chipotle, PETA, etc.) is saying, and what is resonating with consumers, is the question of what is ethical, what is right and what is moral.

 

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“I know as farmers, we do look at the bottom line, as well as the science, the technology, and yes the humane aspect. But because we don't have any qualms with how we operate, we don't think about what is really ethical or moral about how and why we farm. So naturally we aren't inclined to talk and share in this way.

“My question is how does the ag community address and respond to this? How do we get away from using facts, numbers and vocabulary that address our efficiency, our effect on the environment and the fact that we are caring for our animals in ways that are approved by the government, and focus on sharing the ethical and moral reason for why we farm, how we produce and why we are justified in that regard?

“I hear the same story over and over from farmers, and I see attack after attack from outside groups and campaigns. But I don't see the ag industry changing how we handle, react to and go on the offense to these situations. I would love to hear your thoughts and see a blog addressing this aspect.”

Black makes a good point that while we have plenty of science and research to back up our production practices, our adversaries are much better at appealing to the emotional side of the conversation. Think about the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) TV commercials asking for $19.99 to save dogs and cats. Put to gloomy music, sad-eyed and frightened puppies and kittens are show in video close-ups, and HSUS practically reaches through the TV screen and into our wallets.

What about celebrities? Many cite being sympathetic to animals as reasons why they have chosen a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. They’ve either read something sensational in an article or book, or watched a video of animal abuse taken by undercover activists on a farm (not aware that, too often, the abuse is actually perpetrated by activists to get the footage they want to do the most damage to the industry).

Many consumers mistrust modern agriculture. Words like “big ag,” and “factory farms” leave the impression that American agriculturalists willingly sacrifice their integrity and the wellness of the animals in their care to maximize production. Rationally, our consumers probably know that large farms and ranches enable us to produce enough food to feed a growing population, but emotionally, they want Grandpa’s Old MacDonald-style farm to return, complete with two cows, three chickens, a horse, and a couple of pigs.

So how do we address morality, ethics and integrity in our conversations with consumers? For starters, I think we can continue to post photos on social media of our contented cattle grazing summer pastures, our families working together on the ranch, and healthy beef sizzling on the grill. A picture is worth a thousand words after all; simply by sharing the aspects of our daily life, I think we can show our consumers who we are and what we are really all about in agriculture.

But how about counteracting the emotionally charged attacks that animal rights and environmental activists throw our way? That is not such an easy task; however, I think the biggest thing we can do is to never leave such attacks unaddressed. It’s not fun to be reactive, but if we don’t respond to negative press, it can quickly become “fact” in the eyes of the consumer, no matter how outlandish.

I’d like to have readers’ thoughts on this topic. How can we show our consumers that we are doing what is right when it comes to raising livestock? How can we showcase our values, integrity, ethics and morality? How can we regain our consumers’ trust? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thanks, Austin, for the great email and conversation starter! Have a suggestion for a future blog discussion? Send me an email at amanda.radke@penton.com. Thanks!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 12

Calvin Christensen (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

I have not been hot branding my calves and I use a Bradizzo so I cut the cord but not the skin. Steers show no more sign of pain or stress the next day than the heifers. I always make sure my cattle have clean feed and water. If we have a drought, I feed hay in the summer.
We vaccinate twice with Vista Once and to our knowledge, none of our calves get sick in the feedlot. We use a Silencer hydraulic chute and handle cattle as carefully as we can.
We love a gentle cow and try to select for small birthweight and explosive growth bulls.
We are very proud of what we do and how we do it and love to show and share our ranch with others I post a lot of pictures on Facebook to share how we work hard to be good stewards of our land and cattle

on Jun 30, 2014

The best way to show Morality And Integrity is to ACT with Morality and Integrity. I was working a ranch the other day and after a couple of cows got through the chute, he lost his temper and started kicking the cows in the face and hitting them in the head with a piece of pipe. That would have made a great video for PETA. Later, after calming down he tried to justify his actions by saying that he really didn't hurt the cattle, that they would kill you, they are not your friend, etc. I have been to slaughter houses, and all of them do not practice humane treatment nor practice Dr. Temple Grandin's methods. The forest service here in New Mexico are more than willing to tell people how that the cattlemen destroyed the area by improper grazing techniques for cattle and sheep. The same methods are still being used by most today. It takes work and study to implement effective grazing techniques, work that many ranchers do not believe in, or are unwilling to put in the effort to realize a change. The Savory technique and Holistic Management techniques work, it has been proven, so stop whining and get on with it. At least be able to explain how your techniques work better than those. At least show that you care.

The majority of people in the U.S. have removed themselves from the messy business of food processing. They did it for a reason, so they don't have to mess with the icky parts. The MAJORITY have never seen an animal dressed or even cut up. People with real human relationship issues replace the love and affection missing from humans to animals to which they project human emotions. Just look at the horse slaughter issue. Pretty ladies in tight English riding pants that "love" their horses (at least once a month) have convinced the world that horse slaughter (and most slaughter for that matter) is inhumane. Where were the game and animal management people explaining why this is necessary?

This brings me to my second to the last point. Stop talking to ourselves. We already know the issues and understand. We need to spend the money of the associations spreading the good news about the cattle industry to the general public, not to trade magazines. We need the good TV commercials and PR. Emphasize the positive. Explain that there are certain nutrients that come from animal tissue that we need. Milk is good for you! etc. Get your cattlemen's associations to spend money on something besides golf. They are leading us, not vice versa.

Lastly, the best way to convey being above reproach, is to be above reproach! Stop giving the opposition material to hit the cattle industry with. Ranchers will not join associations UNLESS they believe the association is working for them and there is a benefit to the hard earned money they pay to belong. Help in the communities you live. Show support of schools and get the kids out of their prissy classrooms and into the fields. Volunteer your facilities to show what you do. If the school says no...Ask why. Why talk about bugs and snakes in a classroom instead of going outside and getting a personal experience? Of course that would require being involved in schools. You know, the place where most of this animal cruelty and how to eat properly is being taught.

Yes, all of this is a lot of effort. But the USHS, PETA, and other activist don't mind the expense or the effort. In fact, it is their business.

Anonymous Beef Farmer (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

lots of good points here...particularly about preaching to the choir...I DO have to point out that as a feedlot owner, cow/calf producer and lady (I leave the "pretty" up to someone else's opinion) that wears "tight English riding pants" (ha. they are called britches) and rides more than once a month, I don't fit your silly stereotype. Kindly re-wire your brain on that one!

Greg W (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

This is really very simple. We need to start thinking like a consumer and stop thinking like a producer. As producers we are biased. Admittedly many consumers are misinformed and need to be educated but do not dismiss their opinion. After all, opinion shapes behavior.
As an industry we argue about COOL, Chipotle's marketing campaign etc. Our biasness shows first. We need to supply the end-suer what they want. If we won't someone else will.

Shanon Sims (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

Ditto, Snake Whip! We also all need to be much better at engaging the general public. Just last week I heard a nationally recognized ag advocate tell her audience that the best way to mold public perception was to have a "30 second elevator speech." When someone in the audience asked her what her's was, she responded that she needed to go back to her room and work on it. It is time to quit giving these issues lip and service and get to work. If a person truly believes in what they are doing, it should be EXCITING to get to share that story!

Christie (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

Excellent post Snake Whip!

I am on the consumer side of this. I don't have cattle or own a ranch. I found my way to this blog by simply growing sick and tired of the lies H$U$ and their wacky partners spread daily.

I completely agree with Snake Whip, the schools are a great way to "educate" our future! They are the ones who will either become a rancher, or an activist.

WilliamC (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

When i hear someone use the term "calf crop" i picture a combine cutting calves off at the hooves. I read how a rancher does not treat their cattle the same as their pets, while they meet a different end the cattle should be treated better, not only are they living beings but they are the bottom line. Put yourself in the consumers shoes listen to what you say, you may be offending people with a money driven business attitude.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Jun 30, 2014

AMA calls for Federal action to ban antibiotic use in food animals for growth promotion purposes.
Food Safety News (6/30, Zuraw) reports, “The American Medical Association (AMA) is calling for federal action to ban antibiotic use in food animals for growth promotion purposes so as to slow the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” Additionally, “Resolution 513, which was adopted earlier this month at AMA’s annual meeting...calls for members to support regulatory and legislative measures requiring that antibiotic prescriptions for animals be overseen by a veterinarian within a valid context and for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand its surveillance and data collection of antibiotic use in agriculture.”

Representatives of the beef industry may use the following letter about correct antibiotic use in humans. Chronic low dose use in feedlots IS in fact an ideal setting to produce resistance to the antibiotic used.

Karen Kaplan, Science & Medicine Editor

Los Angeles Times

202 West 1st Street

Los Angeles, California 90012

Bloomberg Business Week

Critique of Antibiotic Resistance tactics and strategy

We are operating on a false paradigm for treating acute infections. Mutation rate mathematically determines the evolution of resistance which is directly related to time of exposure of germ to antibiotic. Acute infections should be treated as promptly as possible when the inoculum is smallest and most susceptible and when it is most difficult to be certain of the need for antibiotic. Early, a single dose of antibiotic may be transformative, tipping the balance in favor of the patient's own defense mechanisms. (note effective big single dose therapy with ciprofloxin for UTI and metronidazole for trichomoniasis, reference in CV) It is glib and unknowable to claim 'unnecessary' as NOBODY knows what the organism is early, viral or bacterial or both, and secondary bacterial infection with the complications of mastoiditis, ruptured eardrums, peritonsilar or sinus abscess, pneumonia, lung abscess and encephalitis, are just as real in the 'don't use antibiotics' era as in the pre or post antibiotic era.

My bias includes Dr. Dykers' Cold Medicine to comfort patients not needing antibiotics.

Nicole Allan recently echoed Drs. Linder and Barnett in Boston that 'the vast majority of antibiotics prescribed for sore throat and bronchitis --- are useless'. This cannot be certain even in hindsight, except for the untreated person who gets well, as many of us do, without going to the doctor for x illness, and even then shortening/prolonging the duration of illness remains uncertain.

Their accurate contention is that "Antibiotic resistance is inevitable". Genes for resistance to antibiotics have been demonstrated over eons. The culprit is duration and dose. The worst treatment is ampicillin 250 mg three times a day for 10 days and 'be sure to take it all', an old doctor's tale nurtured by laziness and based on eradicating strep with penicillin to prevent rheumatic fever, a beautiful study done in Utah in the early 1960's.

Treatment should be with at least 2 antibiotics in the biggest doses tolerable, each chosen to kill germs missed by the other. Encourage the patient to STOP if dramatic improvement occurs and accept the risk of RELAPSE rather than RESISTANCE. Reevaluate in 48 to 72 hours, prepared to change treatment in a heartbeat as time will improve judgment.

If a patient presents after feeling bad several days, judgment is improved, and if exam and a white blood cell count and differential indicate the patient is winning, avoid antibiotics. If they are in pain and 'sick'(Judgment call - live with the uncertainty!) go back to plan A.

Treat urinary tract symptoms as quickly as humanly possible, but Culture urines before starting antibiotics, even if the sample is taken at home in a boiled mayonaise jar and put in the fridge 'till morning. If partially treated cystitis turns into pyelonephritis without a culture we have a very sick patient and only guesses for therapy.

Animal industry use of antibiotics is tricky. Crowding is the culprit even in good conditions for poultry and pigs. I have no idea what these industries can do. Comingling is the culprit for beef in sale barns, shipping and feedlots.(think your kids going to day care) We have learned that we can move feed to cattle less expensively than move cattle to feed in many settings but not all. Have more grass than cows and bring the feed to calves bred for rapid growth and they need less feed. Keep the herd on clean pasture; then antibiotics can be reserved only for occasional sickness. Harvest big and young and tender and profitable.

John R. Dykers, Jr. MD

Chair, Thursday Morning Intellectual Society, retired

New Hope Farm, CharLean Beef ™

P. O. Box 565, Siler City, NC 27344

johndykersmd@dykers.com

Attachment: CV

rod (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2014

It's really simple. Stay away from the unethical and immoral. Remember when your parents said to "choose your friends wisely, because you are, who your friends are"? The beef industry should completely divorce itself from the pork and poultry industries.

Anonymous Beef Farmer (not verified)
on Jul 2, 2014

YES!!!

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2014

Snake Whip presented the conundrum that we need to educate BOTH the totally unexposed populace AND those IN our industry who still don't understand the emotional and economic benefit of humane animal practices. I know it took me a few years to learn to work cattle 'easy' and avoid the 'rodeo cowboy' behavior around my herd. Sure works better and we measured the improved growth and tenderness of our product over the years and money in our pocket. I have turned the herd over to the next generation and I MISS the contact with the calves, mamma cows, and even the bulls! Even the 'kill floor' and the 'cutting room' but not as much. Miss the selling and the happy customers!

wynne (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2014

We live in a rural area where most people have cattle, horses, hogs, chicken houses or some combination of these animals and poultry. Most people in the business speak the same lingo about the issues and we forget that individuals that are not in the business often don't have a clue what we are discussing. I think that animals raisers are like nursing home owners, 95 % are doing a good job of taking care of their charges, it is 5% that cause the media attention and the mass media is there to report anything that generates emotions among the viewers and listeners. The facts very often do not get reported at the same time as the pictures. In the day of cell phones, every action causes a reaction. Now the consumption by humans and animals of antibiotics is in the news and the dangers of overuse and resistance with everyone but the experts expressing their opinions.
We invite the schools to visit our operation and explain how the operation works for the betterment of the animals and the consumers. Individuals in the business should welcome students and teachers to take the time to educate the public on the humane practices that are used and why antibiotics may be part of good practices.
If a person is using ethical and moral practices, be proud of your methods and let the public see your results.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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