Why I Agvocate

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Sarah Shultz author of NurseLovesFarmer.com blog.  When I read it I thought this to be an excellent message of keeping the “Agvocating” message positive and certainly worth sharing.  If you want to see additional posts from Sarah please check out her blog!

Jean L Clavelle

 

Why I Agvocate

It’s been almost a year since I started writing about agriculture on my blog. Sure I had posted dozens of pictures during seeding and harvest times and blogged about our family farming life, but I hadn’t ever really taken the plunge into blogging about the business of agriculture. I started off by asking my Facebook friends if they bought organic food, and Sarah Schultzwhy or why not. I got a varied set of responses and asked my friend Lyndsey from RealAgriculture.com do a guest post for me as I knew the majority of my readers (moms of young kids) would be able to relate to her as she’s also a mom of young kids and a professional in the agriculture industry. I then had my farmer husband write a post on his thoughts on organic and non-organic food from a producer’s perspective. These posts received good feedback and gave me the confidence I needed to keep agvocating.

What It’s Really Like to Speak Up for Agriculture

It is like an emotional roller coaster with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. A little background info to that is that in the late spring of 2012 in my mommy blogging world I came across a Twitter party which was a plight to get a baby formula company to be a leader in the industry by removing GMOs from their formula. It really bothered me that such fear was being spread among my parenting peers, so I attended this party in an attempt to try to be the voice of reason for agriculture and science, even simply as a farmer’s wife & mom. This would be the first time I was indirectly called a shill for agriculture when a participant asked me if I was being paid to attend this party. I had no idea what they were talking about and attempted to talk to these participants that GMOs were not harmful and that worldwide scientific consensus stated the same, but no one would listen. At that point I decided something needed to be done on my part because it was not right that so many parents were being lead astray thinking that they were causing harm to their families by feeding them “evil and poisonous” GMOs. This is when I started researching GMOs and how I could best agvocate and teach my readers about biotechnology in agriculture. My first post merely posing my reader’s questions for GMOs entitled “Do You Have GMO Questions?” received 136 comments, mostly from people of the anti-GMO nature. Immediately I questioned “what have I gotten myself into?!” as my anxiety shot through the roof at the negativity my blog was receiving. Cami Ryan, my mentor and now good friend, gave me lots of invaluable advice and many counseling sessions via email!

Overcoming Challenges

Educating about ag when I’m not really in the industry is a challenge. On one hand I lose credibility as “just a mom” and blogger…but on the other hand a lot can appreciate where I’m coming from because I’ve taken the time to do my own research as a mom. I’m a farmer’s wife and I’ve learned a ton through my husband, people in the industry via social media, and mostly by reading articles and researching myself. Trying to maintain composure and confidence when it feels like most people are attacking and fighting back gets very draining on the nerves. If you want to agvocate or be a positive voice for anything you feel strongly about, I highly recommend having a mentor and joining some Facebook groups who talk about whatever your interest is. I’ve connected with a lot of other farm wives, farmers, and ranchers who blog and that are on Twitter that I know I can rely on for support and to help agvocate in the comments sections of my ag posts. I always disclaim these blog posts that I’m not an expert in these fields and that I’m happy to connect my readers with people who can properly address their questions and concerns. I overcome these challenges by educating myself and having the confidence to do so. I know most of the tricks up their sleeves and how to dispel a lot of myths.

Speaking of Negativity…

As a blogger I have to be professional and ethical as I represent a lot of brands, but I’m also representing myself and my family too. I could get snarky and mouthy, but I always remember that our words can heal and be life-giving or our words can be hurtful weapons – so I strive to abide my the former. Fighting fire with fire just doesn’t get anyone anywhere and if the naysayers keep coming at me with snark and negativity, in the end it makes them look like fools and discredits them. I’ve absolutely had to grow a thicker skin since I started agvocating, which is a good life lesson anyway, and I have learned that it’s okay to not address every single comment and it’s okay to delete comments that are just plain vulgar and destructive. I have been called a pawn or a shill for big ag, I have been called a bad mother, I have been called an irresponsible blogger for sharing “misinformation”, and most recently I have been called a “stalker” for responding to the misinformed tweets of an anti-GMO blogger. That’s okay because I have the confidence in myself and in what I blog about, and I don’t feel the need to fight with these people anymore to defend what I know to be true. I have also decided to not engage with anti-GMO activists anymore as their minds and their ideals won’t be changed and it’s not worth being put through the ringer and dealing with the stress it brings.

nurselovesfarmer card pic

This thoughtful card from AgMoreThanEver came at a much needed time!

Should We All Agvocate?

Simply answered – no. I strongly feel that if you cannot engage with people in a positive and respectful way, you shouldn’t attempt to agvocate. There’s no need to name-call or assume that people know anything about the agriculture industry, and that if they don’t they are ignorant and stupid, because so many don’t have a clue about anything in ag, and that’s okay. When we put our knowledge out there we must be accurate, accountable, and authentic, as I heard Cami Ryan recently shared in her presentation at Farm Tech, and I wholeheartedly agree. We must remember to agVOCATE and not to become an agTIVIST, there is a huge difference between being an advocate vs. an activist. Let us share our knowledge in agriculture, be proactive, respectfully dispel myths, avoid feuds, and just be positive. Share your story.

I also have to update this to add that I have made some absolutely amazing friends, especially my fellow female ag bloggers, who are some of the most kind, funny, and passionate women I have ever ‘met’ in my life! Love to you all!

 

Lets Get Talking!

Jean L Clavelle

Alright.  I believe it is time to dust off the old soap box and step back on.

Many organizations reporters and marketing programs recently have expressed opinions about what is the “ideal” regarding animal production in Canada.  “Better Beef” from A&W, the W5 report regarding egg layer operations, PETA, HSUS throw around ideas and words intended to pluck at the strings of the consumer’s heart to show that they are better, that they care, that they are not the enemy while big business – agriculture – is trying to simply make an extra buck.  Phrases such as environmentally friendly, sustainable, humane, antibiotic free are tossed around like so much feed in a pig barn.

Although I group these organizations together, their underlining intent is often not the same.  PETA and HSUS want to eliminate the use of animals altogether, A&W wants to drive sales, W5 well I’m not entirely sure why a “news” organization would publish such a one-sided sensationalized commentary other than to increase viewers.  The common denominator is that they are all focused on currying the favour of society and the consumer at the expense of producers and livestock.

Deep down my dirty little secret is that I truly don’t have a problem with a company creating a marketing campaign that targets the needs and wants of the consumer or when a news article provides a balanced article detailing the pitfalls of a production system.  Where I do draw the line is when an organization does not support the Canadian producers that are purchasing their product, the people that have reliably supplied them with a safe healthy food product for decades.  For example the A&W campaign that openly sourced product from suppliers outside of Canada.  I suspect that had the lines of communication been open, Canadian beef producers would have happily agreed to provide whatever beef product A&W requested.  However to imply that the beef industry is not willing to adapt or evolve or cannot supply what is needed is simply erroneous.

Now, that brings me to the point of this story.  Why are the lines of communication not open?  Why are we not telling our story?  Why are we not working with our consumers to identify new trends and supply that product?

I am at a loss as to why livestock agriculture is so afraid to seek out the needs and opinions of its consumers.  Is it because we are afraid that we will not stand up under scrutiny?  Is it because we are afraid we will have to eat humble pie and acknowledge maybe we might have to change?  Agriculture by its very nature is the epitomy of adaption and evolution.  This should be something we in livestock agriculture are excitedly engaged in!

So come on agriculture.  Step up.  Let’s figure out what consumers and society wants.  If that means seeking out consumer’s opinions, and asking questions well then lets get asking!  If that means changing then we may just have to change to meet their needs.  I fear that if we do not, we (and therefore animals and society in general) are going to lose out because the misguided and misinformed may force us to go down the wrong path.

Bridging the great divide

by Jean L Clavelle

There are some statistics being tossed around these days on social media – only 3% of the population is involved in food production agriculture.  Of those involved in primary production, 98% are family owned and operated.  Interesting as it seems this has set up our culture to be an “us against them” scenario in terms of food production and the general public.

It has been my experience that people in animal agriculture are passionate about raising their animals.  This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.  Most of my colleagues feel the same way, and primary producers (those directly involved with on-farm production) that I’ve had the pleasure of working with here in western Canada exemplify this statement.  They want to produce a safe product, they want their animals to have a satisfying life and they want to have enough income to provide for their families and continue on with this lifestyle.

Sure there are some bad eggs (sorry for the bad pun) and those that don’t make the right choices.  This happens in every walk of life, every profession, every business however it is not the norm and it is certainly not the norm (or considered acceptable) in animal agriculture.

Sadly animal rights groups and some media presentations like those we saw in the recent W5 report do their best to highlight the small percentage that do not represent what conventional agriculture really is.  And instead of highlighting positive practices, sensationalized media coverage takes small snippets of unacceptable episodes and position them as being the norm.  Let’s be clear, animal rights groups do not want us to use animals in any way shape or form.  They do not believe we should eat meat or any animal by-product.  And unfortunately this message is lost for the average consumer. Continue reading

A poultry vet responds to this week's activist videos

Guest blog by Dr. Mike Petrik, Ontario poultry veterinarian

(reprinted with permission from http://mikethechickenvet.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/response-to-activist-video/#comments)

This blog post is one I was hoping not to have to write. In Canada, there was recently an “investigative report” on the commercial egg industry. It developed after an animal activist group took undercover footage and passed an edited video to a television newsmagazine. The resulting 30 minute show was a black eye to the professional farmers, and has caused a stir in the public. I am disappointed in the response from the industry groups to address this attack, so I am writing this blog post in hopes of doing my part. This commentary does not represent any organization, and is entirely my own opinion.

First, let me point out some of the issues that are at play in animal activist videos in general.

1) Modern farms are large. This is daunting to most non-agricultural people. Looking at a barn with 10,000 chickens is as alien to you as me looking at an auto assembly plant, or a brewery, or a company that makes computer components. The shock of seeing the alien environment is leveraged by insinuating that it is impossible to care for large groups of hens. The fact is, there are basically as many laying hens in Canada as there are people. The farms are large because so many people live in cities and towns and don’t have time or interest in raising their own food. 30 Million chickens have to live somewhere in Canada if we want to continue to eat eggs the way we do now. Interestingly, the average flock size in Canada is smaller than anywhere else in the developed world….in the US, farms are between 50 and 100 times as large.

2) Activist videos are not what they seem. No, I’m not saying they fake them (although that has happened in some cases). What you need to realize is that the activist takes video for 4-5 months, then edits the video into the worst possible 15 minutes possible. The mandate of animal activists is to stop the use of animals…..all animals. They aren’t interested in showing the truth….if false representation helps them stop a process they see as immoral, that is very acceptable to them. Think about what this means. Imagine someone secretly taping you interacting with your kids or coworkers for months, and then trying to make you look bad. Imagine going through 4 months of footage of baseball games, and clipping out batters getting hit, hard slides, collisions at the plate, then make a 15 minute video of how baseball should be stopped because it is too violent. If the people watching were from the interior of China where people are unfamiliar with baseball, what would their opinion of the sport be? Continue reading

Expert Panel Addresses Hidden Camera Investigation at Alberta Egg Farm

A panel of farm animal care specialists has examined undercover video footage from an egg farm in Alberta and says that the scenes clearly show unethical and irresponsible treatment of animals. The panel also felt it was difficult to reach conclusions based on the video footage as presented.

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) created the Animal Care Review Panel to engage recognized animal care specialists to examine hidden amera video investigations and provide expert perspectives for food retailers, the egg industry and the media. The panel was asked to examine video contained in a report on the television news magazine W5 as well as a 3-minute video segment posted on the Mercy for Animals Canada website.

The panel was comprised of Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue University; Dr. Ed Pajor, University of Calgary; and Dr. Stewart Ritchie, a British Columbia veterinarian and poultry consultant.

In the video, hens are seen being tossed and handled roughly by workers, dead birds lie in cages and on floors in various levels of decay and chicks appear to be trapped in cages or farm equipment.

“What was shown in the video is inappropriate and unacceptable,” said Croney. “Handling birds that roughly reflects a lack of cognizance that these are live, sentient animals that can feel pain. What I saw shows a real need for additional training of farm employees at the very minimum.” Continue reading

Attack video renews call for farming advocates

By Owen Roberts

This column first appeared in the Guelph Mercury. It is reprinted with permission from the author.

A renewed call is being issued for modern-era farming advocates to stand up and be heard, following a new attack by a popular U.S.-based Mexican restaurant chain.

The company, Chipotle—with five outlets in or near Toronto—teamed up with Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios to create a sappy but sophisticated animated video that takes an opportunistic, mean-spirited shot at commercial-scale agriculture.

The video, which has drawn more than six million views in the past couple of weeks, is heavy on generating pathos for farm animals. Among other things, it shows animated livestock getting pumped full of drugs, one of the greatest myths about farming that agriculture just can’t shake.

The approach reflects the disdain company founder Steve Ells, a chef, has for modern farming in America. On his company’s website, he says what he’s learned about the way most of the food in the United States is produced and processed is “pretty grim. Pigs are raised in stark confinement, produce is grown on vast factory farms with little or no regard for the environment, and dairy cows are confined and injected with hormones that can make them ill in an effort to increase their milk production.”

Farmers have heard all this before and try countering it with “No we don’t!” rebuttals that resonate with some people, but not with those who think they have little control over what they eat and how it’s produced. Continue reading

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan pleased with the success of another ‘We Care’ Billboard Campaign!

By Jean Clavelle

TBillboard campaign June 16his year marks another triumph for the “We Care” billboard campaign initiated by the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan (FACS).  The program, which began in 1996, feature beef, bison, horse, chicken, egg and swine producers with their animals and are posted around busy thoroughfares of Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw.

Continue reading

Farmers use social media to express anger over Panera Bread’s new advertising campaign

Farmers, worldwide, are learning of the powers of social media when it comes to speaking up, proudly telling the stories of what really happens on their farms and correcting misinformation, when they see it.

A great example of this came last week from the United States where dairy farmer Carrie Mess (known through her blog as Dairy Carrie) took on American company Panera Bread for a horrible advertising and promotion campaign that it had recently launched – one that seems to call farmers and ranchers lazy.

Carrie has a large readership, both through her blog and through Twitter, and her post and subsequent tweets instantly went viral. The result? Thousands of reads of her blog in a few short hours and hundreds of farmers and industry supporters across North America posting links and comments of their own about Panera Bread’s perceived lack of support for – and understanding of –farmers.

If you want to read the conversation last week, go to Twitter and search for @Panerabread or #EZChicken . It’s a good read and confirms the fact that farmers do have a voice. The farm community has also coined a hash tag of its own – #pluckezchicken which also worth checking out.

As of today, a marketing executive from Panera Bread has contacted Carrie. She’s posted a subsequent blog on their conversation at http://dairycarrie.com/2013/07/26/heres-what-panera-has-to-say-for-themselves-pluckezchicken/

Here’s her original blog. Thanks to her for permission to reprint it and kudos to her – and the legions of angry farmers and Panera customers – that have rallied around this issue.

Dear Panera Bread Company, You’ve lost a customer. Now most people wouldn’t offer to help someone out that they don’t like but I am going to be the bigger person here and give you a heads up.

On Friday I stopped into one of your stores to grab a bite to eat after spending the morning at the Dane County Fair watching the hard working 4H and FFA kids showing their dairy cattle. My mother-in-law was along for the ride and since the line was long and she needed time to pick out her sandwich before getting to the counter I grabbed one of your handy menus from a stand. That’s where I found this…

You can read her whole blog post here: http://dairycarrie.com/2013/07/23/dear-panera-bread-company/

Dear Ryan Gosling…

Dear Ryan Gosling:

Letter sent to the Globe and Mail – July 11, 2013

To the Editor:

Putting ‘Actor turned animal welfare expert’ criticisms aside, let’s correct the premise first – a pig is not a dog or a chicken or a bat or a dolphin. They all have very different housing, health and care needs.  Although it may not come up at many Golden Globe parties, millions of dollars have been invested in researching farm animal welfare.  Virtually none of that money has come from the animal rights critics Mr. Gosling has aligned himself with to write this commentary, even though they fundraise to ‘improve animal welfare.’

The Code of Practice for Pigs is an amazingly Canadian process.  It’s based on science and put together with input from government, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, agriculture and food industry and farmers themselves. There is always a need for continuous improvement in farming, and critics voicing their disapproval is part of that process.  However, I support a more reasonable approach to improving animal welfare based on science and practical farm experience, which may not be as sexy, but might actually help real animals in real barns in Canada today and tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Crystal Mackay, Executive Director, Farm & Food Care Ontario

To see Ryan Gosling’s original opinion piece, visit here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/a-tiny-cage-is-not-a-life/article13117337/

 

Canadian experts convinced GMO swine feed study is deeply flawed

By Farm & Food Care

Canadian animal health specialists are among the experts around the world denouncing a recent study suggesting animals are harmed by eating GM crops.

The study – published in the little-known Journal of Organic Systems (sponsored by the Organic Federation of Australia) claims researchers found severe stomach inflammation in pigs that were on a diet of genetically modified (GM) grains. But Canadian animal health experts say the study has many flaws.

Dr. Robert Friendship is a professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, and a swine health management specialist. He has reviewed the research report and concluded that it was incorrect for the researchers to conclude that one group had more stomach inflammation than the other group because the researchers did not examine stomach inflammation.

“The researchers did a visual scoring of the colour of the lining of the stomach of pigs at the abattoir and misinterpreted redness to indicate evidence of inflammation. It does not,” Friendship said. “There is no relationship between the colour of the stomach in the dead, bled-out pig at a slaughter plant and inflammation.”

Friendship suggests the researchers would have had to take a tissue sample and prepare histological slides and examine these samples for evidence of inflammatory response such as white blood cell infiltration and other changes to determine if there was inflammation. Including a veterinary pathologist on the research team would have prevented this mistake from happening, Friendship says.

Environment writer Mark Lynas researched and wrote a blog post [http://www.marklynas.org/2013/06/gmo-pigs-study-more-junk-science/#more-1227] also questioning the study’s validity.  Among his findings, the lead researcher, Judy Carman, is a long-time anti-biotech campaigner. One co-author, Lynas notes, is the president and co-founder of a company that markets non-GMO grain. “Despite this, the paper declares that the authors have no conflicts of interest,” Lynas says.

Lynas continues: “…Carman and colleagues claim significant differences in a long-term study of pigs fed GMO and non-GMO diets. But if you look at the data they present…there are obvious problems. Clearly all the animals were in very poor health – weaner mortality is reported as 13% and 14% in GM-fed and non-GM fed groups, which they claim is “within expected rates for US commercial piggeries,” a vague statement intended to justify what seem to have been inadequate husbandry standards.”

Another finding that the researchers held out as proof that the GMO fed pigs were different was that the uterus weight was different between the two groups. Dr Friendship noted that the authors did not appear unbiased in their discussion.   “The research had a number of factors that could not be controlled for,” Friendship says. “It is disappointing that the authors of the paper did not admit the weaknesses of the study design and caution readers that there may be many reasons for a difference in uterine weight. Unfortunately instead of presenting a fair discussion they made a wild speculation about the weight difference such as the heavier weight might indicate  cancer.”

Hundreds of studies have shown that GMO foods are just as safe as conventional, as summarized in this recent statement form the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

“The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”