Dr. Wes Jamison is a professor of agriculture politics. For nearly two decades he has studied the behavioral and communications tactics of animal rights activist groups. Now, he offers some advice for agriculture.
Dr. Jamison explains the strategy that activists use as “framing a moral issue around a common agricultural practice.” When the non-farming public does not understand why that practice is employed, the activists’ perceived moral issue can be easy to accept. Most of agriculture understands the tactic, but how is it defending itself? Poorly, says Jamison.
According to Jamison, countering the activists by telling the farm story and backing practices with facts and science is the wrong approach. Instead, agriculture should respond with its own moral issue.
Jamison’s position makes sense, but I propose that the current strategy is not wrong – just incomplete. Studies show that urban populations do not distrust individual farmers. They see farmers as moral, the salt of the earth. But when city and suburban residents vote on an animal welfare issue, they don’t vote for or against an individual farmer. They see it as voting for or against a system. An industry.
Yes, agriculture needs to share its story: Farmers are individuals ensuring the welfare of animals. The practices used today are responsible, and we will work for continuous improvement.
Don’t stop at telling the farm story
But we also need to move beyond that message. As Dr. Jamison suggests, we need to show the morality of eating meat and raising animals for meat. There’s a tough moral issue that needs to be discussed: It is OK to separate how you feel about your pets from how you feel about livestock. I know, because I’ve lived it.
As farm kids, my brothers and I always had a dog. The dogs had names. My brothers and I played with them. They were our pets. The farm also had cattle. We learned quickly, through experience, that playing with these animals after they grow beyond baby stage is nearly impossible. But of course we still provided for them and ensured their good health.
And when their time came, we worked in a way to minimize any suffering. Most importantly, we understood that the time would come. That’s not inhumane. That’s remembering that these animals are not human or pets. They are the wonderful animals that provide us food.
Do you agree with Dr. Jamison? Is this a moral issue that animal agriculture should take on?
Heather Koehler is a farm girl turned public relations professional. Her family continues a two-century tradition of farming crops, raising steers and growing and selling produce.