What’s the biggest contemporary problem for livestock producers?
That’s easy—if, like me, you’re an outsider looking in, that is.
The No. 1 problem is that even the most articulate producers spend way too much time talking to each other, or to scientists, veterinarians, policymakers and members of the trade media. The majority of those professionals have an understanding of the dynamic and the economics of livestock production; many, in fact, are more than equipped to engage in protracted, technical discussions about inside-the-industry issues that when “translated” to a lay audience are ripe for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
Take the case of one Jeremy Ranck, a 30-year-old Pennsylvania hog farmer and subject of an insightful profile in the Des Moines Register as World Pork Expo gets underway in Iowa’s capital this weekend.
“Any farm, that’s your life, that’s your passion,” Ranck was quoted as saying. “We do everything we can to have the best production in crops, the best production in hogs. It is very frustrating when there are activist groups and social media blitzes of blatant lies.”
That quote could probably have come from any of thousands of producers across the country, and indeed in its essence, Ranck’s observation informs a whole lot of conversation among attendees at virtually any industry trade show or conference I’ve ever attended.
That’s the problem: When producers try to state what they believe to be the obvious advantages of modern production, consumers come away with a far different interpretation—they buy the lies.
Just don’t do it
Nowhere is that phenomenon more evident than in debates over the use of antibiotics.
For more than a decade now, consumer groups and industry critics have joined forces with an activist segment of the scientific community to decry what they deem the “overuse” of antibiotics in animal agriculture, blaming it (and the producers who have embraced such inputs) as the culprit in the rising incidence of antibiotic-resistant microbial pathogens that are plaguing human medicine.
Here’s the problem: The concepts of dosage, specificity and prophylaxis escape 99.99% of the public when they happen upon media coverage of the antibiotics issue. To most people, the activist mantra—an anti-Nike slogan that boils down to “Just stop it”—makes perfect sense.
People fail to recognize that if one of their children develops an infection, they’re demanding that their doctor prescribe antibiotics—the connection with veterinary medicine never occurs to them.