Mercy For Animals (MFA) and its founder, Nathan Runkle, won't be invited to many rodeos. If he or any of his employees are spotted sneaking around a sale barn or lurking in the dark anywhere near a dairy farm, the consequences won't be pleasant.  Tar, feathers and a rail come to mind. I picture the townsfolk coming for him with lighted torches and pitchforks.

Let's be honest, MFA is in the 'gotcha' business. They exist to catch people in the act of animal abuse and they are very good at what they do. In 2014, they averaged about one expose per month and their limited success points at two things: (1) In the animal ag business, animal abuse is rare and difficult to find, and (2) After years of hard work by the industry to eradicate it, the problem is still with us.

In the past, I've interviewed several people for my Five Minutes With column from such reviled organizations as MFA and HSUS. Please understand that I do so, not to promote them or further their agenda, but to tell you what they're thinking and what they're doing. It is a 'you need to know this' project. Not knowing or understanding the strategies and tactics of these groups is dangerous to your livelihoods.

It has always been my intention to do everything that I can to help stop animal abuse. It was why I got involved with the American Meat Institute's Animal Care and Handling Conference from the very beginning, urging that organization to permanently locate the event in Kansas City. I've been delighted, too, that Temple Grandin, one of the foremost spokespeople on the subject, has been invited every year to share her knowledge with the attendees. 

The Conference posits several important points. The incidences of abuse are rare but must be addressed. What constitutes proper handling and care must always be examined, discussed and improved. Sharing the best practices is important. Finding failures and rooting them out is just as important. Nailing a bad guy to the wall is an indictment against him, not the entire industry. I'm certain the good guys outnumber the bad guys by at least 99 to 1.

Although I expect a little kickback from folks who do not understand why I 'consort with the enemy', the hair-on-fire Facebook vitriol I experienced after I interviewed Nathan Runkle about the Andrus Dairy video was way overboard. Comments made by several people indicated that they did not read past the headline before they decided to saddle up and come after the messenger. If they did read beyond the first paragraph, comprehension seems to be an issue with them. Black hats were furiously waved, mustaches were evilly twirled, and obscene accusations and epithets were cast.

Behind it all, I could almost hear the voice of Snidely Whiplash crying out in total frustration. I had consorted with the enemy, therefore I must be a turncoat condemning the entire dairy industry! Given a broader audience, the comments might have been actionable. Libel, after all, occurs when a false, defamatory statement occurs in print, most often in newspapers or magazines but it includes social media, too.

It's way past time to encourage civility when it comes to honest differences of opinion. Hiding behind a keyboard and taking pot shots at things you don't agree with is the refuge of small minds and cowards. I encourage and enjoy an honest debate about anything that I write. There are rules of engagement, though, to insure decorum and intelligent discourse. Here they are: Ad hominem attacks and their perpetrators will be placed where they belong - in the trash can - and not answered.  Statements of honest disagreement, especially those that can be backed up with hard data and solid facts, will be answered. If I'm proven wrong, apologies will be rendered. If I'm right, an apology will be accepted.

There is an important tag line at the end of everything I write for Cattlenetwork.  "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator." I write opinion columns; hopefully well thought out, researched and constructed. Whether you agree with what I say or take issue with it, I invite your opinions. Comments can be made at the end of any article published by Cattlenetwork or you can email me directly at Chuck@JolleyAssociates.com.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.