Editor's note: The following commentary was written by Daren R. Williams, Executive Director, Communications National Cattlemen's Beef Association and published on the Pioneer Hi-Bred website, available here.
Scenario: You do business the way your father did. He rarely talked about himself or bragged to neighbors (except maybe about his grandkids). He worked hard and let the results speak for themselves. But times have changed. Today, you live in a glass barn.
Working with animals isn't for the faint of heart. It's dirty, smelly and sometimes even a little bloody. Animals get sick, injured and die. Sometimes you have to end their life prematurely to prevent suffering. But when you do, you always follow humane euthanasia procedures.
The problem is, many people just don't get it. Your new neighbors complain about the smell, the dust and the engines running at all hours. The county government is making it harder than ever to expand, and Hollywood is telling your consumers they should be eating less meat.
Then one morning you get the call. It's a reporter asking for your response to an undercover video of animal abuse on your farm. You race back to the house, jump on the computer and watch horrified as one of your workers violates every standard of acceptable animal treatment. One guy is missing, the one who quit a few weeks back. Then you hear his voice and it dawns on you. He is shooting the video.
Sick to your stomach, you ask yourself, "How could this happen? What do I do now?" As you head back out to your truck to grab your phone, a TV crew pulls into your driveway. A reporter jumps out of the news van and sticks a microphone in your face. What you say next will determine whether the family farm survives for the next generation, for your children and grandchildren. Are you prepared?
Adhere to High Standards
Keys to surviving in the glass barn
Accept transparency – Today’s consumer demands, and has every right, to know where their food comes from. Conduct your business as if you are on camera every minute of every day.
Assume responsibility – Take ownership when something goes wrong. Take immediate action to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Share your story – Proactively meet with your neighbors, community leaders and business partners to talk about the steps you’ve taken to prevent animal abuse on your farm or ranch.
If you think this can't happen, you haven’t been paying attention to recent headlines. If you think it can’t happen to you, ask the owners of the farms whose workers were caught on tape abusing animals. In many cases, these are good people who got caught in a bad situation. In some cases, sick people who had no business stepping foot on a farm were responsible for caring for animals.
No matter the circumstances, we must do better. No matter the species, we must stand together and condemn animal abuse. We must insist that every farmer and rancher in this country adhere to the high standards for treatment outlined in programs like Dairy, Pork and Beef Quality Assurance. We must demonstrate to ourselves and our consumers that we care about the animals we raise. We must show we're committed to providing safe, high-quality protein for their families.
We can’t blame the circumstances on the activist group that exposed the problem. However, we can insist that anyone who witnesses abuse be held accountable for stopping it immediately. It is not acceptable to let abuse continue to produce a video advocating a vegan diet.
We must hold each other accountable and accept nothing less than the best animal care from our business partners, family, friends and employees. Working together, we can stop animal abuse and build consumer trust.