Protect your farm and remove the gag

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Flights are a great way to meet people. They are also excellent opportunities to share the story of agriculture.

click image to zoomWyatt BechtelI asked for his mother's consent for a photo, but do I need it from agriculture producers? During my trip last week to Agricultural Media Summit in Buffalo, N.Y., I met a young woman and her not quite 2 year old son. He became quite fussy upon takeoff and was screaming for the first five minutes or so. Eventually, the toddler calmed down but he was still very anxious because this was his first time on a plane, it was also his mom's first trip on a plane.

To help keep the little guy occupied I pulled out my latest copy of Dairy Herd Management. I thought if nothing else the toddler would have fun looking at the pictures, and he did.

Every time the tiny tike turned a page he beamed with delight, "COOOOWWWWS!"

He enjoyed looking at the pictures of baby calves and tractors. I'm sure it was a great learning experience for the soon to be 2 year old.

It was also a good time for me to share with his mother what I do as a rancher and an agricultural communicator. She didn't know a lot about farm life, but I think she gained a greater appreciation of what agriculture does for her family.

click image to zoomWyatt BechtelHeadlines and images like this are changing the perception of agriculture for the worse. I was pretty happy with myself after I got off the plane at Washington Dulles International Airport as I thought about sharing pictures on social media of the young boy staring at the latest issue of Dairy Herd Management. But that was before I saw the newest magazine version of Mother Jones.

On the cover of the politically left-wing publication was an illustration of a man with his lips sealed shut with bacon and the headline "Gagged by Big Ag."

Now, I wasn't shocked to see the magazine as I had already read the article online. It was an interesting take on the "ag-gag" dilemma that is facing many states, but a rather one sided view of the story from the perspective of animal rights activists. It did leave a bad taste in my mouth seeing the magazine so blatantly out there in public.

I began thinking did anything that I said to that young mother on the plane have any staying power, or would a salacious news story undo one small victory for agriculture. It's hard to know, but I do know this "ag-gag" does not look good in writing or on television.

I'm really torn on this "ag-gag" debate. As a livestock producer, I don't want my way of life, my family business and my home put at jeopardy because of an undercover camera. However, as a journalist who believes in the First Amendment and the Freedom of the Press, I think we are overstepping our boundaries in protecting what we hold so dear.

For instance, I live in the state of Kansas, the very first state to enact farm protection legislation back in 1990 (side note: I was barely 2 years old in 1990). I take a lot of pictures of livestock and crop fields on weekends as I drive back and forth from work in Lenexa to the family ranch near Eureka. This activity could potentially get me into a lot of trouble if someone were to catch me in the act of photographing their property without consent.

click image to zoomBechtel Family PhotoThat's me in the front. I've grown up in agriculture, but I'm not sure "ag-gag" is a good thing. Until that time comes, I'm going to continue taking pictures of agriculture in Kansas and across the nation. I'm also going to continue spreading the word to consumers about an industry I care a great deal for and I hope you will too.

I know that last message was beating a dead horse (by the way that's something an animal rights activist would love to catch you doing, so don't do it), but I think it bears repeating that agriculture producers need to be more open to having conversations with consumers.

Talking to people while you're away from the farm on a parts run, grocery shopping, or even the rare plane flight for a vacation could give that consumer a better view of agriculture. Social media is an excellent way to stay on the farm or ranch and connect to 98 percent of American citizens who are not involved with agriculture. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are great mediums to share your story and make a positive impact.

Let's take the gags off ourselves and stop trying to put them on other people.

Oh, and the next time I'm on a flight I'll make sure to have an issue of PorkNetwork, so the person sitting next to me will know that bacon isn't meant to keep your mouth shut.


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Jim    
Denver, CO  |  August, 14, 2013 at 08:25 AM

It should be obvious to everyone that the appearance of laws enacted by big business to restrict the public's knowledge about operations only stokes the fire of "they have something to hide". But animal ag seems to believe it's better to have this problem than for the general public to discover the reality is not the "happy California cows". Apparently animal ag believes that in a world where the producer fears their own consumer, hiding the details and marketing a fantasy instead of reality is the road to success.

Becky    
North Dakota  |  August, 14, 2013 at 08:55 AM

Not exactly sure what the ag-gag debate is all about, but as a business owner, be it agribusiness or any other business, we certainly have rights as well. For someone to come into our place of work with an undercover or up front camera and expect that we are obligated to show all that we do so someone can scrutinize it based on their point of reference, which may or may not be accurate and well educated, is certainly not right. It is "our" business, not a public business. It is called the right to privacy. We actually welcome people to come to our agribusiness to find out what it is all about. We want to educate the general public as to how we do, and why we do the things we do. With openmindedness everyone can get along. It's the sneaky things done and sneaky ones doing it that make it bad for everyone. A long time ago my dad told me that if we take care of our land(we are dairy farmers) so that it is in better shape for the next generation we are being good stewards. He also said that if you take care of your animals, they will take care of you. I'm thinking those are good things to live by. And we have nothing to hide, but also want to protect our way of life, and provide for the next generation. That is just good business. Multigenerational business.

Jim    
Denver, CO  |  August, 14, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Becky, you have a reasonable position from a personal viewpoint, but animal ag has a broader impact on our country that needs to be considered. Many of the people engaged in the discussion over animal ag view the animals as beings with rights, just like your employees are viewed. No one expects to be able to keep private how you treat your employees and the animal rights side expects you to be open about how your animals are treated. A broader segment of the public views what you do as food production and believe they have a right to know how the food you want them to consume is produced in all aspects. It's not about just meeting specs anymore. It's about responsible production all the way through the chain.

John Munsell    
Miles City, MT  |  August, 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM

The majority of records I maintained in my USDA-inspected slaughter & processing plant were available to the public via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Included are documents generated by the USDA inspector which would reveal deficiencies in my plant. My perception is that farms and ranches likewise need to be open to public scrutiny. If not, then indeed, consumers conclude that farmers and ranchers have something to hide. The irony is that if you want to know what USDA itself is doing, and submit a FOIA, USDA has the right to redact (meaning black out) all evidence which would be embarrassing to the agency. Consumer activists should focus on the "Agency Gag" protocol which enables USDA to be unaccountable for its misbehavior. John Munsell

Carolyn    
Indiana  |  August, 14, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Which do you think the consumer will remember longer and will impact their buying dcisions greater - a falsified video, edited with specific music and voice over tell how bad artificial insemination or tail docking is, or an article about legislation that is being passed???? You may thin twice about videotaping in Kansas, but that is better than having activists creating false, edited videos on private property and releasing them to the press. But the real issue is, almost every state legislation proposed requires reporting of animal abuse - not hiding it - so the articles calling ag-gag are almost as bad at misrepresentation and falsehoods as the videos themselves.

Laurie    
Texas  |  August, 14, 2013 at 03:16 PM

It is immoral and unethical to obtain work under false pretenses. The "uncover" new employee is NOT working for the farmer, but the for unethical animal rights organizations. Carolyn is right. Videos can be edited to make a normal "vet" approved practice look bad, particularly if you don't understand what is happening (hoof trimming tables). Animal rights organizations can make their point without resorting to falsehoods are vandalism (the Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair). The ends does not justify the means. Calling the bills "Ag Gag" is very biased and politically charged. It should be call "Protection from False Employees." It sickens me that farmers have paid people to work against them.

Patrick    
Wisconsin  |  August, 15, 2013 at 12:46 AM

Society has become so far removed from agriculture that even the common tasks performed everyday on a farm are seem as mysterious, strange and by some, life threatening. I have to wonder sometimes if all of this talk of animal abuse is simply an excuse for not wanting to work on a farm in the first place. It is amazing what people will do to avoid doing anything. But seriously we live in the era of Farm Inc.! And some people really do believe that food should be produced in the same fashion as it was in the year 2013,... BC!


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