A recent article in the Kansas City Star that highlighted the deaths of animals in confinement operations during the recent record heat wave caused quite a bit of controversy. The article was pretty slanted against modern agricultural production standards (it continually referred to "factory farms”), and producers sent in quite a few letters addressing some of the misperceptions propagated in the article.
It was also interesting to read the responses by the anti-agricultural activists. One doesn't have to read very far into the thread to conclude that the two sides will never find common ground. And, that's frustrating because ranchers and feedlot operators know the dedication and commitment that everyone shares to take care of their livestock.
Obviously, animal comfort and health are the top priorities of every operation, not only because they're integral to profitability, but because they're part of the creed all cattlemen have ingrained in them. That is that it's an honor and great responsibility to be given stewardship over the cattle and land.
I remember when one of my sons was a first-grader and had a friend over one winter day. I'd come into the house because I needed my son's help in opening gates in one of those classic Eastern Colorado blizzards. His friend elected to stay inside (which I didn’t blame him for) and he remarked that we should just wait and do it later. Matter of factly, my son told his friend that "we don’t eat until the cattle eat."
I understand the frustration of cattlemen who spend so many hours taking care of their animals, only to be castigated in the press by people with no grasp of what we do, or the efforts we make. Yet, reading the comments to this story, it was obvious that we aren't going to change the minds of these activists.
It reminds me of those currently protesting on Wall Street; they may not have their facts correct, but they have no desire to learn them, either. They've already made up their minds that capitalism, and thus Wall Street, big banks and corporations are inherently evil. Nothing – outside of maybe a few years, a mortgage and some kids – will change their minds.
Similarly, no amount of education or enlightenment is likely to sway the anti-meat, anti-modern agriculture, anti-corporate agricultural crowd. Well, maybe hunger might. So, we need to keep in mind that our message isn't for that fringe.
It's akin to modern-day politics, I suppose. No diehard liberal will vote for a Republican candidate; nor will any diehard conservative vote for a Democrat. The key to getting anything done lies in persuading the independents.
In much the same way, our industry needs to persuade and influence the average consumer, not the radical activist. Thus, we have a two-pronged challenge – we must correct the misinformation about our industry, and find a way to enlighten those who don't understand what we truly do on behalf of the animals we own.
We'll never convince HSUS or PETA that they're wrong about the evils of modern agricultural production. But, we can’t afford to let them continue to shape the perceptions of reasonable, thinking consumers by letting them only hear one side of the story.