Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the Animal Ag Alliance meeting in Kansas City. It was a great two days and was probably one of the most informative conferences I have ever attended. My biggest takeaway was that those of us in animal agriculture should be scared, very scared about the opposition who will do anything to further their cause and put us out of business.
They will resort to disruption and make a public scene. Imagine a large mob walking into the restaurant you are in yelling, throwing things and getting right into your face. Picture being accosted at the meat counter at your local grocery store. Yes, those things are happening, and they are happening with chilling frequency.
Think about a large, unruly and even violent mob showing up at your farm. They will tear your facilities apart, steal your animals and ruin your business. Sound farfetched? Well, it isn’t. These things may not be happening with any frequency where we live, but they are happening, and it is probably only a matter of time before they reach your neighborhood. In fact, a group of protesters tried to gain access to the meeting I was at and were turned away.
Radical splinter animal rights groups, funded by more visible, larger animal rights organizations are becoming more and more violent and predisposed to illegal activities. They are willing to cross the line to make it difficult for you to continue to produce meat for the world’s dinner plate. While this is most prevalent on the coast, it is moving our way.
The very same groups are also seeping into every part of our society. Their handiwork and propaganda can be seen in elementary schools and even in mainline church denominations. Think it isn’t so with your church? Do some digging, go to the website and it isn’t hard to find. Things like meatless Monday and anti-GMO rhetoric. I promise you, it is all out there. These groups will even go so far as to make up stories they say are from the Bible to prove their point.
I left the conference scared out of my mind. Any of us can be a target, and anyone could be confronted by these radical ideas anywhere at any time. How do we combat this? In the case of the radical takeovers and mobs, we must utilize our law enforcement, file complaints and call them when there is suspicious activity. If you are threatened or if someone approaches you, make note of it and let the authorities know. That is step one.
While much of the information that was shared was very disturbing, I did come away with some hope, but we must act quickly and as a unified group. Whether we are conventional, grass fed, organic or any other production system, we are all part of the larger industry and we are all in this together. The radical groups hope that they can divide and conquer us. Their goal is singular and that is to put us out of business, no matter who you are or how you go about raising your animals.
This conference also featured a consumer panel and quite a bit of research about how consumers make their purchasing decisions when it comes to meat. That, too, was concerning. Often the consumer is open to misleading and untrue sources of information. Doctors and experts with agendas or books to sell. So-called experts who base their claims on poor research, bad information or completely untested hypothesis. It is hard for consumers to wade through the murky pool of labels, social media and the endless supply of information at their fingertips. Often it leaves them very skeptical of all food and how it got to their plates.
OK, so enough with the bad news and here is the best part of what I learned. The greatest majority of our customers trust us and want to believe what farmers tell them. They are leery of big business and corporations but regard farmers and ranchers with a great deal of trust and admiration. We need to learn how to leverage that and tell our story before someone else does.
We know that the meat we produce is safe. All meat is free of antibiotics and added hormones. All of it.
We know that, but we don’t do a very good job of promoting it. Speaking of promotion, we need to promote the good things about our products and stop highlighting things that cause consumers to have doubts about the safety of our meat.
This is a battle that we are fighting, whether we like it or not. It is one that will affect all of us, no matter how we chose to grow our animals or what animals we chose to raise. We must address this as a unified front, build relationships and tell our story, and we need to start immediately. We are the best in the world at what we do, and we should be proud of that fact. I know I am, and I want everyone to know that and you should, too.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at email@example.com.