I almost deleted the e-mail in the in-box this morning. But I decided to take a closer look at the interview by Chuck Jolley of CattleNetwork.com with Steve Kopperud, senior vice president of the Washington D.C.-based lobbying firm Policy Directions. And with the beauty of all-thing-are-available-online, I watched a 34-minute video of Kopperud speaking this summer at the International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare.
Kopperud doesn’t mince words in his call to arms if agriculture hopes to win the battle for public opinion. “We have to get off our duffs and open our mouths.”
“We’re too shy. We have to start bragging. We have to start boasting.”
Funny thing: I said some of the same things speaking to the new Four-County LEAD program last week. And I’ve said them before.
Agriculture is losing the public relations battle.
Without your voice, no one will learn how things work in the real world of farming. Without your voice, the public will hear only voices that aren’t shy about speaking to the media. Without your voice, consumers are getting only one side of the story.
Kopperud is a former reporter and editor, and former senior vice president of the American Feed Industry Association. He is founder and past president of the Animal Industry Foundation (now the Animal Agriculture Alliance).
We need to sell the farmer to the American consumer, which is an easy sell, Kopperud says. “The public likes farmers and ranchers. They trust you.”
Farmers do a really good job of farming and they are committed to animal welfare, he added. But no one tells that to today’s shoppers.
The animal rights groups, like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PeTA, have mastered the political strategy called “step-wise,” Kopperud explains.
“It’s kind of like being nibbled to death by ducks,” he told the audience this summer. “A little bit this year, a little bit next year, a little bit the year after that.”
Logically, everyone wants to embrace animal welfare measures, just as consumers want to support independent farmers. But every time a regulation like California’s recently passed Proposition 2 is enacted, a farmer’s cost goes up. The unintended consequence to Proposition 2 is that even the small farmers and the free-range chicken producers are hurt.
“If you cannot regulate them out of business, and you can’t legislate them out of business, then you cost them out of business,” Kopperud explained of agriculture’s foes.
What the public wants more than anything is assurance. Consumers want to trust that farmers are doing the right thing. They want to know that their concern for animal welfare is a reality on the farm.
The ag industry has listened to animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, who has designed and advised more humane handling of animals throughout the farm and processing channels. But now, Kopperud says, “we need Temple times 10.”
Farmers need to be following experts’ science-based animal handling and animal welfare procedures and they need to be following it 24/7.
More than anything, agriculture needs to be more proactive. Any time there’s an animal rights picket outside an event or a corporate office, there should be a farmer picket there, too, the lobbyist said. “We have to push back. We have to take control of the issue.”
Animal welfare is just as important as animal health and nutrition, and “nobody does it better than we do.”
You cannot assume your story is going to get out there if you don’t tell it, because it won’t.