The blogosphere was busy following last Tuesday night’s “Disturbing Reality of Dairy Land” broadcast by ABC News.
As of Monday afternoon, 172 user comments were recorded on an ABC News Web site. The comments were pretty much divided among pro-dairy and anti-dairy factions.
Here is what one person named “Elizabeth” had to say:
“We are not condoning the few cases of mistreatment of cows that happen around the country. Our comments are simply trying to bring the truth to light about the majority of dairy farms. Rather than letting a biased media outlet (that obviously cropped their interviews) make the story sound the way they want it to. We are simply pointing out that this is not the norm in the dairy industry. You are exactly right in the fact that we as farmers do need to stand up and educate consumers more. But why must we have to battle a news organization that should be reporting a factual news story... I know for a fact that many organizations in the dairy industry were in communication with ABC and the reporter for months prior to the airing of this special. They ignored what they had to say and only aired what they thought would arouse more viewer shock.”
Last week’s portrayal by ABC News has saddened many people and caused others to re-examine the images that we are sending to consumers.
The ABC News report showed video clips from the “Happy Cows Come From California” commercials. Then, with the images of cows on lush green pasture still in their minds, viewers were shown the gray exterior of a New York dairy in the midst of winter. The cows there didn’t seem happy — at least that’s the impression from the various shots showing tail-docking, dehorning and even an animal getting hit on the head with a wrench.
On Sunday, I attended a NMC (formerly National Mastitis Council) symposium on trends affecting the demand for milk. It included animal-welfare authorities like Wes Jamison and Candice Croney. I came away with these impressions:
Get rid of the anthropomorphism. In other words, don’t ascribe human characteristics to cows, like the “Happy Cows Come From California” commercials do. Anthropomorphism simply encourages people to think of farm animals as pets.
Be honest with consumers. Show them reality — and there is plenty of good reality to show them.
Many consumers still think the typical dairy is a small mom-and-pop operation with 30 to 40 cows. When they see larger operations on the news, it creates a certain amount of confusion in their minds. Maybe it would be best to introduce consumers to reality — and inoculate them from the news programs — by showing them modern well-run dairy operations that take good care of their animals.
“Your consumers view the treatment of farm animals through a ‘pet prism,’” Jamison told the NMC gathering. Through his own research as professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, Jamison has found that many consumers decide whether an animal should be treated a certain way based on how they would treat their pets.
“There has been a tectonic shift in the animal-human relationship, in the way we interact with animals in this culture,” he said. That relationship has shifted from seeing animals as commodities and cuisine to seeing them as companions and partners, he added.
This has created a “perfect storm” that has been exploited by the animal-rights groups.
The dairy industry must appeal to this emotion by showing, first and foremost, that we CARE for the animals. The messaging should be simple. Consumers don’t want to wade through the science; they just want to know that farmers CARE. — Tom Quaife, editor