I’ll admit I was one of those who felt a certain pride back in the late ’90s when a group of Texas cattlemen sued Oprah Winfrey for food libel after she disparaged beef on her program. The issue, however, didn’t prevail in court, and it proved to be a media circus that did little to bolster our case. And perhaps we should have thought twice about taking on one of the most influential influencers (Winfrey) of the primary influencer of our product (homemakers).
This week on her program, Winfrey highlighted California’s Proposition 2, “The Standards for Confining Farm Animals," which is on the Nov. 4 state ballot. A measure proposed by the Humane Society of the U.S., it seeks to prohibit the confinement of farm animals in a manner that doesn’t allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. You can read an article on Proposition 2 here.
During her program, Winfrey said "I believe how we treat the least of beings among us determines our own humanity." In and of itself, there isn't a single person involved in animal ag who would disagree with that statement.
To be fair, she gave opponents of Proposition 2 a chance to state their case in between the emotional displays and videos. But her show was designed to attack "factory" farms and to advance Proposition 2 which would take a big step toward eliminating egg production in California.
I'm not advocating not standing up for what is right and fighting hard for our positions, but I do think the industry has to develop a little more of a Switzerland style of mentality. Switzerland decided because of its size and location (our size, dollars and lack of votes put us in a similar position), that remaining neutral when possible was the best tactic for advancing its own interests. If you can't win a fight by yourself, then you need to avoid direct confrontation or have a lot of friends.
The industry as of late has found it has very few real friends. As an industry, we learned a hard lesson in supporting George W. Bush for U.S. President. The beef industry took an unprecedented stance of endorsing Bush, which made sense as he seemed to be on the industry’s side on most major issues.
One would have thought this would have given us not only a seat at the table, but unprecedented access. The reality was something quite different, as we're thrown under the bus on so many issues, with no other recourse for help.
Perhaps we have learned our lesson, or maybe it's because, this time around, neither major-party candidate seems to have much interest in agriculture, while many positions that have been staked out are surely seen as negatives for our industry. These include ethanol, trade, taxes and animal welfare. But hopefully, regardless of who wins, we will at least be invited to the table.
Because whether it was taking on Oprah or supporting Bush, all we ended up with a big “L” in our won-loss column.