My father once passed along a bit of advice he’d picked up during his lifetime: “Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want to see on tomorrow’s front page.” This has been much more helpful than my grandmother’s advice — “When in doubt, don’t” — as I can’t imagine anything worth doing that doesn’t fill most people with a bit of doubt. (Will I be effective in this new job? Is investing my time and energy in this relationship a good idea?) But the thrust behind both pieces of advice is similar: Think twice before painting yourself in a negative light. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of farm groups are doing with the recent slew of“ag-gag” bills.
The bills vary state by state, but in general they work to discourage the filming and release of another Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) undercover video highlighting animal abuse on a farm or in a processing plant.Legislation of this sort, proponents argue, simply mandates reporting to authorities any abuses seen. These people and groups prefer to call the bills “See Something, Say Something”legislation, arguing that this is, after all, in the animals’ best interest.
Everybody’s wrong. No one should abuse livestock (unless they want to be on the front page tomorrow — and thusly shamed — for having done so), but attempting to quash the exposure of this behavior and then saying you’re motivated out of animal welfare concerns is an invitation for HSUS and other groups to sow more public distrust of your organization.
Here’s a piece of advice I’ve picked up during my lifetime: “The best defense is a good offense.” Putting credits in the public’s trust bank — through telling your story over social media, holding farm tours and answering tough questions — is the only way you’ll get people to reserve judgment (or extend forgiveness) when accusations this sort are aired, via HSUS or otherwise.