The American Agri-Women organization encourages everyone in agriculture to speak up for animal welfare and assure the public that we take the care of our animals seriously.

The election-day vote by Californians to adopt state Proposition 2 was a wake-up call to all of us in agriculture. Proposition 2 is an initiative that outlaws contemporary food-animal practices, including use of gestation stalls, veal stalls and layer cages. Unfortunately, many people who donate to the organizations sponsoring bills like these think that they are contributing to groups that work to improve animal care, yet many of their campaigns demand changes that are actually harmful to animals’ overall health and well-being.

How does agriculture meet the challenges that the animal-rights groups present? Here are a few ideas American Agri-Women has assembled from several sources:

Recognize that this is an industry-wide issue. All of us in agriculture must be involved to prevent unreasonable restrictions being put in place that have a negative impact on the production of livestock. Many states have already formed state and regional organizations that work to “tell the real story of animal agriculture.” The Ohio Livestock Coalition and the Minnesota Foundation for Responsible Animal Care are two examples. Other states are organizing or have organized agriculture-based coalitions around the animal-care issue.

Understand how society listens to the messages food-animal producers are sending. Our mainly urban society thinks of animals as pets and companions. They are not interested in our economic problems but that food-animal producers provide good care to their animals. We need to assure them that we care for our animals but do the work that consumers don’t or won’t do to have meat on the plate.
 
Institute an animal-welfare assurance program on your farm or ranch. Utilize good production, transporting and processing standards following industry guidelines. Set your standards high and maintain that quality. Properly evaluate all employees, including day labor. Be vigilant in hiring practices; check applications, work history, backgrounds and references thoroughly. Fully train employees in basic animal-care practices and the priority of these practices in everyday husbandry Take swift and appropriate action if unacceptable animal-handling occurs.
 
Keep informed. Know who the leading activists and anti-agriculture groups are; check out their Web sites. Become familiar with their agendas; know who the leaders are and how they are funded.
 
Be a legislative watch dog. Activist groups have well-designed strategies and resources for influencing legislation at all levels. Many states report a flurry of bad legislation and court cases led by anti-animal-agriculture groups. Prominent law schools around the nation are preparing lawyers by offering courses on animal rights. Agriculture leaders need to stay alert and work to defeat bad legislation at both the state and federal levels.
 
Speak up for animal agriculture. Let consumers know that farmers and ranchers give animals humane, healthy and caring treatment while providing safe and nutritious food products for a hungry world. Provide accurate, science-based information while inspiring positive emotion among consumers toward farming and ranching.
 
The challenge of educating the public about animal-rights issues and organizations is not easy, but it is winnable. All segments of agriculture — feed industry, equipment companies, animal health companies, animal science friends, veterinary medical community, processors, and retailers — must put aside their commodity squabbles and differences and come together to speak with one clear voice.