The challenges we face in agriculture can sometimes seem overwhelming. The daily trials and tribulations of running a farm, ranch or feedyard are only part of these challenges. In recent years, we've seen political pressures become more commonplace in our daily activities.
Recent “Vet's Opinion” columns have dealt with environmental issues, livestock stewardship and the potential for stricter regulations on antibiotic use. So, not only do we have to worry about getting the cattle fed every day, we also have to worry about the next step activists and politicians may take.
Activism has become an industry. Many activists, whether involved in animal rights or environmentalism, have made activism a full-time job. When our full-time job is feeding the world, it is very difficult for us, on a part-time basis, to compete with full-time activists. But these activist groups are able to raise huge amounts of money by using emotion, distortions and propaganda to further their misguided cause.
When we think of the animal rights industry, many of us still think of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as the leader. However, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) poses the greatest threat, by far. In spite of the words “humane society” in its name, it is a Washington lobby group.
Many people have made donations to HSUS, thinking they were helping out their local pet shelter. Ironically, the very existence of HSUS has cost pet shelters untold amounts of money in lost donations.
There are good things HSUS does — the group is very aggressive in stopping dog and cock fighting and has made contributions to several veterinary colleges. HSUS has also helped with some starving/malnourished horse cases, for instance. However, in my opinion, most of these seemingly benevolent gestures have an ulterior motive — they offer a false sense of credibility so more donations will flow in.
In some ways, HSUS has to be admired. It is a very well-run, slick organization whose leadership has impressed even the most wary of agriculture leaders. Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of HSUS, is a strict vegan and enforces a “no animal products” rule in the Washington office of HSUS. J.P. Goodwin, another HSUS leader, has stated that his goal is to “abolish animal agriculture.” And yet, many people involved in animal agriculture have unwittingly donated money to the very organization that would like to end their way of life.
Of course, there are activist organizations other than HSUS that are impacting agriculture. The point is, those of us involved in animal agriculture must take every occasion to tell our story and become proactive in preserving our future.
There are many opportunities to do this, from as simple as offering help at a grocery store meat counter or talking to people on an elevator about what you do for a living, to replying to online news articles that distort agriculture, or speaking to school children or civic groups. The key is to put a face on agriculture so consumers can develop a level of trust in the producers of their food.
There are tremendous resources available to help with your message. Some of my favorites are the Animal Agriculture Alliance (www.soundag science.org), American Farm Bureau Federation (www.fb.org), Faces of Agriculture (www.facesofag.com), National Animal Interest Alliance (www.naiaonline.org), Center for Consumer Freedom (www.consumerfreedom.com), American Humane Association (www.americanhumane.org) and Advocates for Agriculture (www.advocatesforag.com).
In addition, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) offers a Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program. Go to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask how to earn the “MBA.” It's free and you don't need to be a member of NCBA to do it.
I encourage you to check these resources out.
Dave Sjeklocha is a feedlot consulting veterinarian at the Haskell County Animal Hospital in Sublette, KS. Contact him at 620/675-8180.