Animal agriculture has come under increasing attack by animal rights groups for everything from management practices to their very existence. The most visible action has been by the Humane Society of the United States and their state-by-state crusade to outlaw the use of gestation stalls, calf crates and battery cages. While those in animal agriculture see these as management tools designed for the health and protection of the animal, animal activists see them differently.
Charlie Arnot is CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, a non-profit organization which works to build consumer trust and confidence in the U.S. food system. He says this is going to be an on-going challenge because with each generation, consumers are further removed from the farm. “So everybody has to take a personal responsibility, whether it’s education your neighbor, being involved in a spokesperson program or participating in a more formal program to help tell the story who we are and what we do today in a way that is compelling and meaningful for consumers.”
In a case such as the Westland-Hallmark animal abuse video, Arnot says animal agriculture needs to be the first voice those consumers hear saying; “That is not acceptable, that is not consistent with our standards, we won’t accept it, we won’t tolerate it.”
As for the HSUS campaign against gestation stalls, calf crates and battery cages, Arnot says we cannot rely solely on science as justification for their use. “If they come back with an emotion-based argument, we will lose that every single time as we have seen.” He says producers need to be able to look consumers in the eye and tell them with confidence that they are using these tools for the safety and/or health of the animal.
Another area Arnot says agriculture needs to change is to get away from the iconic images of farming in years gone by, “They’re completely inconsistent with what we use today.” He says when we promote those images and then consumers see hidden camera videos of today’s farm, “It creates greater suspicion about what we are doing in today’s operations.”
One tool that CFI has become involved with is Farmers Feed US. It is a website which offers consumers the chance to win free groceries for a year. Consumers select the state in which they live then select a farmer to meet. That farmer then introduces themselves, explains more about their farm and even invites them to visit. Arnot says the response from consumers is it really does increase their level of understanding modern production. So far, two states, Michigan and Ohio are on the website. Taking that one step further, more farms are operating their own website with personal videos. Arnot says when people drive by many of today’s farms they don’t see any animals, they see big buildings and “Don’t Enter” signs, it causes suspicion. “Anything we can do to become more transparent, to show more of what we do, benefits all of agriculture.”
Charlie Arnot talks about the issue:
© Copyright 2009 Brownfield, All rights Reserved. Written For: Brownfield