How to Protect Your Farm From Activist Attacks

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AFIMAC Global security experts Jim Rovers and Sophie Cranley work with businesses in all parts of the food supply chain, from farms and processing plants to restaurants and grocery stores, to help mitigate their business risks. Rovers, an attorney who grew up on his father’s farm, says his team has built a toolbox of techniques to help farmers respond when activists show up at the farm. Here’s a snapshot of their advice they give to farmers:

1. Teach consumers context

“I was a city boy before I moved to a farm. When you have a pet die in the city, you go to the vet and you get it cremated,” Rovers says. “The farm I grew up on was 350 sow farrow-to-finish. There was a dead animal every day. I remember it was really unsettling for me: ‘Oh, my God, what's happening here?’

As Rovers grew up on the farm, his understanding deepened and he was able to provide context for his friends who didn’t have experience on farms. 

“I had a friend come over and he says, “That's really cruel that that mother pig is in a farrow box, right?’ And my father explained, ‘There's 10 pigs there. And if she's not in that farrow crate, she's likely going to lay on and kill the majority of them.’

“The one thing you’ve got to do is educate, educate, educate—grassroots campaigns, kids in the schools—because a lot of people who live in cities, they never get up to a farm anymore. All they get fed is what they what they see on the internet,” Rovers says. 

2. Speak up against PETA and other activist messaging

Historically, Rovers says farmers have stayed silent in the face of activist messaging. He recommends a proactive approach that includes debunking and educating. 

An example: It’s not unusual for groups to use a graphic picture that doesn’t represent the care and protocols that happen on farms. A common misconception: that there aren’t standards for raising food animals, and there are no checks on the system. Not true, says Rovers, and we need to teach how farms operate within protocols and industry standards and with routine, high-quality veterinary care. 

“My parents sold their weaner pigs through a coop. And members of the coop were in our barns every week checking, are they clean? Where's your feed stored? How is it stored? They looked at everything,” he says. “The product that ends up on the shelf goes through a lot of rigorous inspection, checking and improvement to get there.” 

3. When a mistake happens, own it

The industry has a role to speak out when an incident occurs and set the right messaging, Rovers says.  

“Anytime there is an incident that's wrong, say what it is. ‘We've uncovered an incident. It's wrong. Here are the steps that we've taken to correct it. Here's what we're doing as an industry,’” he says. 

Most important is to avoid the inclination to hide or bury the incident. 

Security expert Sophie Cranley says consumers are more likely to accept a lapse if they think the industry is addressing the gap instead of hiding the incident. 

“Once it gets oxygen, it's like a fire you can't put it out,” she says. 

4. Set policies that protect your business

“If you go to any manufacturing facility, anywhere in North America, most of them have a policy related to the use of cell phones, photographic equipment—and that relates to employees, vendors, customers, contractors,” Rovers says. “And when you show up, you have a locker, and your cell phone goes in that locker. You're not allowed to have a phone out. And there’s a simple message at any one of those facilities. If you see something, say something.” 

Rovers recommends a similar structure for farms that creates policies to prevent bad behavior and encourage reporting. 

“Put some policies in place from an HR perspective. Write confidentiality agreements. You want to create a process where if an employee sees something that's incorrect, it's reportable. And there are no repercussions for reporting things that are inappropriate, he says. 

To hear more advice from Jim Rovers and Sophie Cranley, listen to the full podcast interview here: 

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Also check out these related articles:

Episode 2: Overhe(a)rd: ASF 101, Protect the Farm from Activists and Bacon Trucks

Q&A: How to Handle a Crisis on Your Dairy

Episode 1: Overhe(a)rd: Fair Oaks Farms, Meat the Millennial and Shrinking Farms

 
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