For those of you that know me, you know that Molly is our loveable, huggable one year old Newfoundland dog. Why am I clarifying that she is not a cow? Read on, and you’ll understand why our views on animals are increasingly blurred.
I recently attended the final conference for Holstein Foundation’s Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI). An outstanding leadership opportunity, YDLI was actually the inspiration for me to begin Go Beyond the Barn and has encouraged me to continue to share my message with others.
The recent conference was jam-packed with outstanding speakers, but the day-long conflict management and messaging seminar facilitated by Wes Jamison, associate professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and president of Cornerstone Public Relations, LLC, had a message that hit home to me.
The highlight of the day was a debate between two well-known authors, each taking a very different stance on the animal rights issue. Gene Baur from Farm Sanctuary was a cool, calm and collected representative of the animal rights side, trying to convince us that animals are equal to humans and that everyone should only consume plant-based foods. Wesley Smith, lawyer and award-winning author, provided the alternative view, discussing the difference between animal rights and animal welfare and affirming the point that humans are exceptional, meaning that we are different from animals.
During the debate, you could feel the energy in the room because of the emotions felt by my YDLI counterparts in opposition of Baur’s views. After the debate, we were left with many questions – the biggest one being, how do we compete with the radical animal rights views to make sure that consumers make the right decisions on their food choices? Luckily, that was exactly the discussion in our next session led by Wes Jamison, and the principle is simple:
Farm animals are not the same as companion animals.
Having grown up on a dairy farm and always being involved in the dairy industry, this is something that I’ve always known without even thinking about it. Yes, our one year old Newfoundland dog, Molly, is about the same size as a calf, but she is NOT a bovine. We certainly give both the utmost care possible, but Molly is a companion animal and cows are not. They have entirely different purposes, and therefore, we should not put them on the same playing field.
While this may seem like a clear-cut concept to us in agriculture, this is a huge revelation for consumers that have no ties to agriculture. Even though it’s not their fault (as discussed in my blog post First Things First), oftentimes, they see all animals through the eyes of their pet. And this is exactly how animal rights activists try to make their point – comparing farm animals to Fido or Sassy. It’s easy to see why this generates an emotional reaction from consumers, making them feel bad about eating beef or drinking milk. After all, they wouldn’t do those things to Fido or Sassy.
As agricultural advocates, we need to recognize this disconnect and know how to combat the emotionally-tied messages that animal rights activists showcase on billboards, in books, through videos and many other means in today’s society. Like Wes Jamison outlined, our response is very straightforward. We need to:
- Give permission for consumers to live as hypocrites
- There is a difference between companion animals and farm animals and we must affirm this to consumers. In general, consumers have a high level of respect and trust towards farmers. They care what we have to say, but oftentimes, we say nothing.
- Empower consumers to feel good about using agricultural products
- Consumers want to eat a juicy hamburger and drink a wholesome glass of milk. After all, humans are omnivores and consuming these products is natural. We as farmers need to reinforce these reasons.
It may seem that these concepts are extraordinarily basic, and that’s exactly the point. There’s no need to make it more complicated. Agricultural products are good for humans, and consumers should enjoy them. That’s the message that we all should be sharing in our day-to-day lives.
It’s been an honor to be a part of YDLI Class 7, and I’m proud to continue spreading the messages learned through YDLI through this blog. Thank you to the Holstein Foundation, sponsors of YDLI, Wes Jamison and the rest of our YDLI speakers for your dedication to building future leaders in the dairy industry.