I am a huge fan of crime and punishment television shows. The juicier the episode headline, the more I am prepared to make time to watch and learn how, in under an hour, murder and mayhem can be solved and the guilty parties brought to justice. Unfortunately, even TV shows are not maintaining clear distinctions between black and white, guilty and innocent.
One such program, “How to get away with Murder” leads you to believe one thing while something quite the opposite is closer to the actual truth.
Which brings me to the charges that activist groups lodge against farming practices. Misdirection is one thing, as long as you have no personal stake in the outcome but when headlines imply “Farmers are Murderers” we are no longer spectators only. It isn’t that long ago that undercover videos and animal right activists capturing headlines with their horrifying revelations, which would have been considered ludicrous when applied to the dairy industry. Not so today.
We Can’t Change the Channel or Wait for the Season Finale
TV series “How to Get Away with Murder” can win ratings by revealing the truth in the last episode. Unfortunately, real life on dairy farms means you have to go beyond the Neilson ratings. To remain viable, the ratings that our consumers apply to us really do mean life or death to the longevity of our dairy industry and our self-respect.
There’s No Easy Out! Be Prepared to Answer Difficult Questions
Once you’ve managed to reign in that first desire to give back as good as you’re getting, it’s time to respond smartly. If you’re attacked on social media or through live news or written media, give yourself a cooling down period and then respond with something positive, something pro-active and, at the same time, recognize the position of the challenger. Don’t let negativity fill you with anger. Taking attacks personally only allows your emotions to cloud your judgment. Nothing good will come of acting irrationally. Of course, all of this assumes that you are running your dairy ethically and responsibly. There is never any excuse for cutting corners on human or animal health, care, and management.
It rarely happens that an attack comes along when you have everything at hand to diffuse the situation. By their very nature attacks are meant to blindside you. Thinking on your feet when emotions are running high is difficult for anyone. When you feel that it is unjustified, you are at an even further disadvantage. Having a good game plan is one way to be prepared. Sinking to the level of the accusers, is rarely successful, so let’s use the word ATTACK itself as a six-step acronym for the best response:
A: Always Answer and Acknowledge:
When it comes to attacks on farm practices, both producers and consumers have a vested interest in making sure that food is healthy and safe. Acknowledge that we share the same goal and attempt to answer their concerns. Running for cover is not a solution.
T: Take Time.
When someone gives you the finger verbally or in actual fact, try your best to respond with a thumbs up. There must be something positive in the situation that you can build upon. At the very least, it is an opportunity to begin a dialogue instead of a beat down.
T: Tell the Truth.
Sometimes the simplest response is the best response. All dairy managers have put serious thought and effort into providing good conditions for their dairy herd. Honestly sharing the planning that goes into making it possible for each dairy animal to live up to their best potential is a terrific way to move toward less angry observers and to influence supportive dairy consumers.
A: Agvocate with Anecdotes.
We all have stories about the work we do. Anecdotes always gain more ground than anger. Tell stories that speak honestly to the concerns of the attacker. When there is fear that you’re uncaring, respond with examples that they can relate to.
C: Connect and Change.
Ultimately you want those who have attacked your farming practices to have a change of mind. The best thing you can do is to try to determine what is igniting their negative viewpoint. When you know the situation that is influencing their perceptions, you have an opportunity to answer in a way that doesn’t demean their concerns but, at the same time, helps them to grow their understanding.
K: Know when to quit
It is one thing to welcome, give and take viewpoints with those who have genuine questions and concerns, but it is important to know when to draw the line. If things get out of hand, and shouting or name calling begins, it’s time to stop.
Will you be able to fix everything? Probably not. But a positive attitude and outlook can be a game-changer over time.
Many of the concerns raised by non-farm people stem from the fact that they humanize cows.
They attribute their feelings to the needs of the dairy cow. Rather than debate the inherent differences between people and bovines, it is a much better idea to build on the understandings they can relate to. Everyone understands needs for food, warmth and comfort.
Social Media and Angry Outbursts
The online dialogue we enjoy with most people on The Bullvine or through The Milk House is enriched by the varied perspectives of those who bring their concerns to the forum. When discussion goes too far, we have the ability to moderate the conversation or ban or delete those who merely want to use the page as a platform for their attack viewpoint. We have also had a face to face confrontations, where the only choice was to agree to disagree and excuse ourselves from the situation. The majority of our audience is interested in moving forward not tearing apart. Our time and energy is for those who consume the dairy products that dairy farmers are so passionate about providing. Walking away may leave the door open for better discussion another day.
Where Does Misinformation Come From?
Everyone is entitled to hold their own opinions and concerns, and that includes strong feelings about the way the food they eat goes from the farm to the table. It is only natural to seek out information on how that happens. Unfortunately, with all the benefits of modern day information exchange, there are opportunities for error. What sources do attackers use?
Newspaper headlines? Undercover videos? Emotional outbursts from activists? Only after getting a better grasp of where the question is coming from, you will you be able to give the best answers. The key to increasing their understanding is learning what practical experience they have had up until now. If it’s all through media or hearsay, it would be great for you to set up an opportunity for them to visit a farm.
Reflect their concerns with examples they relate to.
For example, we are often asked why animals are taken from their mothers, raised in hutches, undergo clipping or hoof trimming and many other questions usually arising from seeing animals at local fairs or cattle shows. There are numerous ways to relate each of these concerns to many of the health and safety protocols used by responsible parents. The main goal is to manage bacteria, infection, and clean food issues in a farm setting — whether it’s in a barn or a field. Calves are not born in sterile hospital rooms and throughout their lives, decisions must be made to prevent them from being infected by environmental pathogens or by germs from other animals. Nutritionists, Veterinarians, dairy staff, work 24/7 to give them the best opportunity for healthy growth and to eventually become producers of healthy milk. Most people can relate to this responsible team approach.
Turning Foes into Friends
For the majority of activists, their hope is that they can sway public opinion away from supporting farmers. Always respond with a calm, level head. You probably can’t change their opinions and can only hope that your responsible actions will be seen by those who are reasonable in their evaluation. It is unfortunate that there are extremists who go beyond verbal challenges to tactics of harassment and intimidation, and this too greatly diminishes public support for their position.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
When you’re under attack, there is a rush of adrenaline in the hurry to defend and respond. The key thing to remember when responding to attacks is to LISTEN. Always try to diffuse drama with dialogue. After all, neither side wants the other to “Get away with murder!” Hear! Hear!