My path into agriculture was a little different than most people. Agriculture wasn’t my family business; I didn’t grow up raising farm animals or helping to plant fields. I often tell people that agriculture was the career that chose me: as a college sophomore who started working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Fast forward eight years, two degrees, four moves and numerous life milestones later — and I’m back where my love for agriculture began. I’m in Washington, D.C., working as the Communications Director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
While my background may not be typical, what it lacks in tradition, it makes up for in perspective. My unique background helps me look at things both as a person strongly dedicated to serving the animal agriculture industry, as well as a person “on the outside” ― someone who is removed from the farm, someone, for instance, like the majority of consumers.
It’s no secret that the animal agriculture industry has been having some, what I like to call, public relations growing pains. For so long, the animal agriculture industry has been “mums the word” about what they do, how they do it and why they love to do it. But no more.
The onslaught of anti-meat campaigns and propaganda, the new, hyper-social, uber-connected world we live in and the consumer’s desire to know the “story” behind their food has forced us all to critically examine the need to communicate and the importance of communicating effectively.
A few weeks ago, I visited a large, vertically-integrated pork production operation in the Midwest and chronicled my observations in a guest blog for Meatingplace. This trip was important because it allowed me to ask the experts (the people that actually work with animals day in and day out) the questions that I get asked all the time by reporters, the general public and activists.
The trip also highlighted for me some discrepancies in the terminology we use to describe common industry practices. For example, the company I visited prefers to call gestation stalls “individual maternity pens.” For me, a fellow industry stakeholder, I can get on board with that terminology because I know what those words mean — just like I know the meaning of a gestation stall.
But to the consumer, you might as well be speaking another language. Couple the industry’s technical and often scientific terminology with the images that consumers see from the activist community, and we communicators have a battle before we even wake up in the morning.
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