By Hannah Thompson-Weeman, Animal Agriculture Alliance
I am a big fan of Fair Oaks Farm and fairlife milk. I frequently cite Fair Oaks in presentations as an example of the value of transparency and importance of connecting consumers with modern animal agriculture. It has been extremely disheartening to see a farm well-known for doing the right thing (and demonstrating it for the public) be targeted by an animal rights activist group.
This should be a warning to all in animal agriculture that this could happen to any of us – in fact, the more committed you are to telling a positive story about agriculture, the more likely it is that activists will want to take you down. After all, connecting consumers with accurate information about farming makes it much harder for them to spread myths and misinformation.
To be clear – I (as well as the Animal Agriculture Alliance and the rest of the animal agriculture community) do not condone any mistreatment of animals. Fair Oaks Farms’ response says it well – what's shown in the video is unacceptable and the farm has taken full responsibility.
It's reassuring to know that all but one of the employees shown had been terminated before anyone knew about ARM’s 'investigation' because other employees had already reported their misconduct – this demonstrates that the culture at Fair Oaks Farms includes commitment to animal care.
This situation serves as a reminder to all about the importance of careful hiring and employee management. All operations need to take steps to ensure that all employees are committed to providing the level of care to your livestock that you expect. This includes having animal care policy statements that employees must review and sign, ongoing training programs and ways for employees to report anything they witness that they find concerning.
It’s also important to keep in mind the mission and intentions of ARM. They are an animal rights activist group who wants to damage the industry, not promote animal welfare. They've had this footage for months and never reported any concerns to the farm. This is not the first, and unfortunately will probably not be the last, time that they target the dairy industry with a carefully planned campaign.
While our first piece of advice is always ensuring that your animal care practices are beyond reproach, we also advise farmers, ranchers, plant managers and everyone else involved in handling livestock to be very vigilant in your hiring processes to ensure that everyone hired is there for the right reason – to provide care to livestock – and does not have any ulterior motives that would distract from that. Always verify the identity of applicants, check references and keep an eye out for any red flags. You can contact the Alliance at any time for advice on farm security and hiring.
In addition to considering how to protect yourself, I also strongly encourage you to keep in mind that what damages one farm or company’s reputation ultimately hurts all of agriculture. Don’t make the situation worse by sharing videos or adding commentary to the situation – focus instead on helping to amplify the company’s response and sharing positive information about your industry and business. We’re all in this together – try to offer the kind of support you would want to receive if your operation were caught in the activist crosshairs.
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