Guest Commentary: Advocate for Your Industry
As large animal veterinarians, I know you already have a lot on your plate between traveling to farms and ranches for routine appointments, seeing emergency calls and trying to have a home life, too. I have another responsibility I'd like to ask you to consider adding to your list: communicating with the public and key influencers about animal agriculture. Hear me out - if you have a vested interest in ensuring your clients continue to operate (and profitably), this could be one of the most important duties of all.
Veterinarians are the on-the-ground experts on animal care. You're visiting farms and ranchers every day and helping to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare. Your extensive education and first-hand knowledge make you uniquely well-positioned to help communicate science-based, factual information. Consumers recognize this, too - in a study by Colorado Farm Bureau, consumers rated veterinarians' credibility at a positive 82 percent - even higher than farmers and ranchers themselves, who were assigned a credibility score of 68 percent. Additionally, consumers in the Center for Food Integrity's 2014 Consumer Trust Research ranked moms with a scientific background (veterinary medicine certainly counts!) as the most trusted resource on food issues.
Many of you may have had the opportunity to hear from Monsanto's Vance Crowe on this topic at the recent AABP Conference in Charlotte. If you are still questioning why you need to step into the conversation around animal care, I encourage you to simply visit Google and search "How are dairy cattle raised?" The top results are from organizations like Farm Sanctuary, Free From Harm, and even PETA. These animal-rights organizations are the loudest voices that consumers are hearing when they decide to pursue their curiosity about the industry.
These organizations, along with many others, are completely opposed to humans using animals for food, clothing, entertainment or anything else. Their goal is to end animal agriculture, and they use a variety of tactics to spread misinformation and myths about the industry to consumers in the hopes of encouraging decreased trust in the industry and decreased consumption of animal products. This includes attacking certain production practices - like antibiotic use, housing systems and dehorning - with the intention of making farming less efficient by banning them.
At the end of the day, these groups want to see your clients out of business - which puts you out of a job and takes milk, meat, poultry and eggs off of our plates. Don't just take it from me - here are their own words:
"We're preying on emotions to push our vegan agenda. We do not give our consent to enslave meat, we do not give our consent to murder." - Simone Reyes, television personality
"We are trying to destroy animal agriculture." - Wayne Hsiung, Direct Action Everywhere, 2016 National Animal Rights Conference
"Humane meat? There is no such thing." - Mike Wolf, Compassion Over Killing, 2016 Animal Rights National Conference
"My goal is the abolition of all animal agriculture." - J.P. Goodwin, The Humane Society of the United States
"Nothing is more important than promoting veganism." - Paul Shapiro, founder of Compassion Over Killing (now with HSUS)
I hope that hearing from our detractors convinces you to use your unique expertise to help consumers discern fact from fiction and navigate the complex world of food production. You can take action for the future of animal agriculture by exploring opportunities to engage with your neighbors and other stakeholders. This could take a few different forms - your state fair may have a birthing center that needs a speaker, you could introduce an "Ask The Vet" booth at a local event or festival, or you could wade into the waters of social media.
Your background is in science and medicine, not communications - so partnerships with other individuals and organizations are key to being successful. In your local communities, Farm Bureau and Extension professionals are valuable resources. County and state commodity groups also work to connect with consumers and would be great allies. The Animal Agriculture Alliance can help supplement your animal care expertise with our communications resources.
If you're interested in pursuing in-person engagement opportunities, we recommend finding interested consumers where they are (fairs, festivals, local civic organization meetings) versus starting from scratch. Be careful you aren't just preaching to the choir by attending agricultural or veterinary events. On the other end of the spectrum, don't target audiences who already have a deep-seated opposition to agriculture - your goal should be to reach the "moveable middle," or the majority of consumers who don't have a background in agriculture but enjoy consuming milk, meat and eggs, which is about 95% of the U.S. population.
Social media can be a useful tool to amplify your voice and quickly reach a broad audience. It allows us to build relationships, share information and connect with a diverse audience of people we may never meet in real life. Interacting on social media channels will help you develop a community and share your story in a way that wasn't possible just a decade ago. My tips for getting started on social media include:
Choose one way to participate at first and go from there. You do not need to be active on every social media network to make a difference. A few of the most popular tools to consider using are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Each of these channels has a different user base and unique nuances, so explore a bit and select the one that matches your goals and skills. The Alliance has a social media guide for beginners that you can request by emailing email@example.com.
Share interesting content consistently. Ideas include success stories (for example, a difficult case you've treated), anniversaries or milestones, a challenge you're facing, or a unique story. It's important to connect with people using shared values rather than just dry facts and figures. Consistency is also key to developing a social following - try to post once a day.
Photos and videos are very important to driving engagement, but be mindful of your audience and make sure you are providing adequate context to explain any images that may be surprising to a casual viewer (like the aftermath of a bloody surgery). Consider sending your photo to a friend outside of agriculture to gauge their reaction and what additional information you may need to share along with it. We encourage transparency, but don't forget that your readers probably don't have a medical background.
Some topics in veterinary medicine are complex and require in-depth explanations. These may be best discussed in a blog post rather than a Tweet (which are limited to 140 characters).
I have a tremendous amount of respect for veterinarians (so much so, I married one) and the critical role you play in helping farmers and ranchers provide quality animal care. Your voices are sorely needed in the conversation about how animals are cared for today, and I hope that you will choose to use yours.