My point is that the name shouldn’t matter as much as the rationale, or story, behind why we do the things we do. To most consumers, when presented with the pictures by activist groups of modern hog housing, regardless of whether we call them gestation stalls or individual maternity pens, they are left with the impression animals experience inhumane conditions on “factory farms.”
We in the industry know that’s not the truth, but it doesn’t matter. We’re dealing with perception and not reality; exactly what the activists capitalize on.
Take, for example a recent Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) campaign that asked bus riders in Washington, D.C., and Des Moines, Iowa, "How would you like to spend the rest of your life in a space as small as a bus seat?,” a comparison to the size of gestation stalls.
Activist groups, like HSUS, know that there’s no quicker way to tug on the emotional heartstrings of the average American than to use an image with a compelling slogan or question. And notice—they didn’t even use the term gestation crate, maternity pen or any other combination of those words in their advertisement.
Why? Because it doesn’t matter to consumers what we (the industry) call them!
So let’s stop worrying about the semantics (and trust me, as a trained attorney I love my semantics) and look at the forest and not the trees. Let’s start communicating about the “why” and not just the what.
I’ll tell consumers all the things I learned on my trip: that sows are aggressive, that they like to be close together (those in group housing typically lay together anyway, a term my guide called “Velcro pigs”) and that in some ways, individual stalls allow for better management and tracking of the sows’ wellness, feeding habits and other factors.
Or if you’re a proponent of group housing, I’ll explain the “why” behind that, too.
If we don’t start getting to the root of the negative perception, decisions about how to raise animals are going to continue to be made by those most removed from the farm.
And I think we can all agree that no one wants that.
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