Guest opinion: Consumers want to know about animal management
February 3, 2015
Editor's note: We asked several prominent college students to answer an industry-related question.
Question: PETA and similar groups are very effective in portraying to the public what they consider "atrocities" in the livestock-rearing world. How can the livestock community communicate effectively with the public regarding our healthy and humane animal care methods? Does the livestock industry need to be concerned that perhaps there are situations of abuse that need to be addressed?
Answer: The livestock community has made huge strides in being transparent and showing the consumers how farms and ranches are run, but there is more work to do. As producers, it's our job to not only take care of animals and provide a healthy, humane environment but it's also our job to address any situations of abuse. As a community, we are not perfect. There are situations that need to be addressed. Humane handle is not defined in a clear cut matter but we do have bad eggs. As a livestock producer, I believe we should be the first to advocate and demonstrate humane handling. Care for animals is becoming more visible and more important to the consumer. The issue is what is humane handle to the consumers? Everyone seems to have a different opinion but I believe Temple Grandin's definition fits the best. She talks about what is acceptable and what is not in her paper titled "Behavioral Principles of Livestock Handling," which was recently edited to fit today's standards.
The livestock communities can communicate healthy and humane animal care through a few different methods. Social media is an effective method to answer questions, show common ranch practices and be transparent. Consumers have a desire to know exactly what goes on during the animals' lives and now we have an avenue to communicate those practices. Blogs are also methods of communication that consumers use to know our lifestyle. Blogs allow for tougher topics to be explained and to answer "why?" Also, with blogs we can show consumers that we are real and ranching is not only our job and career but it's our lifestyle as well. The best way to communicate is in person. The livestock community is shrinking every day, so being able to be available in person is irreplaceable. At the grocery store, waiting in line for stamps, at a restaurant, at a soccer game, we must tell our story.
PETA and similar groups tend to find the worst situation and group all ranchers and farmers into that category. The livestock community might hold the most diverse careers. It's impossible to say that one bad egg represents all of the producers. Often the footage PETA finds is heartbreaking and I am a firm believer that we need to stop all forms of abuse or neglect but one size doesn't fit all cases. As a producer in the livestock community, our farms and ranches need to be YouTube proof. Everything we do must be able to be shown to the general public. They want to know where their food comes from and we have nothing to hide.