South Dakota ranchers Troy and Stacy Hadrick have had enough of animal rights organizations telling their story. They have first-hand experience with that after author Michael Pollan used a visit to their ranch to twist information and put them in a bad light when he wrote “Power Steer”, an article published in the New York Times that followed a steer from birth to dinner plate.

Speaking at a recent animal welfare meeting held in conjunction with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention and organized by the Academy of Veterinary Consultants Beef Cattle Health and Well-Being Committee, Stacy Hadrick encouraged those in attendance to talk, teach and touch those in their communities and elsewhere, and prepare a “30-second elevator speech” about their role in the livestock business. “We can’t argue emotion and science,” Hadrick says. “We have to argue emotion and emotion. Science has to be the foundation of our arguments, but we have to have emotion, too. We are taking care of these animals every day and we need to get that message across to consumers.”

United we stand

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, Haskell County Animal Hospital, Sublette, Kan., is the chairman of the AVC committee and organized the welfare meeting. “Groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals want to pick the ‘low hanging fruit’,” he says. “The more splintered the meat production industry is, the greater the chances these groups will have to find opportunities. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to animal rights groups if meat is produced naturally, organically or conventionally  —  they want meat production stopped. The more we are united, the better chance we will have in facing this battle.”

Animal rights groups count on us to remain inactive, Sjeklocha states. “The first step we need to take is to decide to become proactive and start telling our story for ourselves. The only story the consuming public is hearing now is the one animal rights groups are telling, and they are not telling the right story. We already have a huge number of tools at our disposal, we just have not used them.”

Moving forward

We need to get the consumer re-acquainted with their food and how it is produced, says Sjeklocha. “And we do need to start early in each consumer’s life.” Participants at the welfare meeting suggested tactics such as getting involved with scouting troops, local chambers of commerce and in the classroom.

Most consumers believe that farmers and ranchers are good people and can be trusted. “Most consumers also have a very high level of trust for veterinarians,” Sjeklocha notes. “Not only do we need to get into schools and teach these young minds, but we need to help develop a source of good, science-based information that veterinarians and livestock producers can use to develop their elevator speeches and airplane conversations.”

So what would you say in your 30-second elevator speech to a stranger about the role you play in beef or dairy production? Do you have a confident, positive message to tell the person you’re sitting next to on the airplane? We’ve all been there and it’s easy to get tongue-tied or fearful of a question you can’t answer. But you know what you do and why you do it. And if you believe you are helping to produce food in a responsible manner, you shouldn’t be ashamed to look someone in the eye and say so.