“Milk is full of pus, blood, artificial hormones and antibiotics.”
“Dairy cows are viciously raped while restrained in a rape rack.”
“Dairy cows suffer all sorts of abuse, milked constantly while housed in their own excrement until they are so worn out they are sent to slaughter at four years of age, a fraction of their natural lifespan.”
If you follow social media at all, chances are you have read these types of statements. Like you, I was shocked and horrified to hear the lies and inaccurate information being broadcast about the dairy industry. I started to speak out about this, trying to provide the truth about our industry and our farms by posting rebuttals to these types of statements and began a farm Facebook page sharing the realities of dairy farming. People began to thank me for providing the truth, admitting they were not that this type of propaganda was not the truth. This made me realize that as dairy farmers, we need to have our voices heard. While a dairy farmer’s first response will most likely be outrage and fury at these lies, we must keep in mind that statements like these stem from a disconnection from and lack of knowledge about animal agriculture. Sadly, the majority of information about animal agriculture found on the internet comes from animal rights groups. Not to be confused with animal welfare groups which aim to improve standards of care for companion and farm animals, animal rights groups have this agenda: the cessation of all animal farming. These groups present this type of information to the masses who have no idea that many of these “facts” are inaccurate, misconstrued, biased or even outright lies. Animal rights groups prey on the knowledge that the average Canadian citizen is so vastly disconnected with agriculture that they have no idea that some or all of the information presented does not at all convey an accurate picture of our family farms.
This brings us to the question: What can we as dairy farmers do to provide our consumers with the correct information?
Educate, educate, educate. Our stories and the truths about dairy farming need to be told. There are multitudes of ways in which you can educate and inform the consumer about how you run your farm and treat the animals under your care. You can open your farm doors to the public to show them how dairy farmers treat their cows with respect, compassion, and care every single day of the year. Or if social media is your niche, you can post pictures and stories about your farm, cows, crops, and family run farm on Facebook, Twitter or a personal blog. Try approaching a customer purchasing milk or milk products in a grocery store and thank them for supporting our industry, possibly opening up valuable dialogue and providing that consumer with confidence in the product they are purchasing. Regardless of your means of conveying information, each method will begin a conversation about agriculture, bringing new opportunities for farmers to tell their stories.
When advocating for the dairy industry (or “ag”vocating as it is commonly called in the agriculture community), it may be wise to remember these suggestions:
Be aware and prepared: Be aware that some will not listen and will not hear what you have to say. Be especially aware that some of those who choose not to include animal products in their diet will do and say anything to discredit your facts. Unless you are prepared for a long debate about nutrition and ethics, some of those individuals and their responses are perhaps best left alone. Be prepared for hostility, antagonism, and disbelief from those who have been conditioned to unquestioningly believe the animal rights’ dogma. But also be prepared for sincere gratitude when a consumer realizes that the lies they have been told by these extremists are not the truth, and that the bucolic farms of their imagination do in fact still exist.
Be polite and courteous: Our first reactions may be anger and resentment when presented with false and misleading facts about farming, but we need to swallow this anger and respond in a respectful and civil manner. Outrage and annoyance will not win any support, but polite, well thought out responses will engender respect and will give credence to your statements.
Be transparent: Explain or show the consumer our common farming practices. Open your barn doors for tours. Some provinces have lists of farms that are open for tours; consider adding your farm to this list. Answer questions about your farm and farm procedures honestly, and point out the reasoning behind them. Describe calf care. Explain AI procedures. Show examples of older cows in your herd. Talk about of Canadian Quality Milk program and the Pro Action initiative, and explain how this guarantees milk’s safety and quality. Show the consumer that you are open and above board on all aspects of farm life, and they will no longer feel that we have anything to hide.
Be involved: If you are active on social media, consider posting pictures and stories about life on a dairy farm. Share pictures of your cows, calves, barns, parlours or robots, crops, and explain what each picture shows. Remember that what seems self-explanatory to a farmer may be a mystery to a consumer and will likely need some sort of description. Contact your local dairy groups to volunteer your farm for tours or open house days. Visit dairy Facebook or Twitter pages and courteously defend the integrity of the dairy industry by presenting the facts. (100% Canadian Milk on Facebook is a good place to start.) Some of these pages have many anti-milk industry sentiments posted. Polite and intelligent pro-dairy responses from those involved in producing that milk are invaluable.
I firmly believe that the future of dairy farming in Canada and around the world depends on farmers speaking up. We need to show where people are wrong or misinformed about dairy farming. Our industry’s continued growth and success relies on consumers who are confident in the milk products they purchase. And that’s definitely some serious food for thought.