Learning to ride the discussion horse

Time to get in the conversation. (Photo: TIAER and Bill Bethel, Flickr Creative Commons)

The field of animal agriculture can be a particularly controversial one. The ones who get to hold the reins of our industry’s discussion horse are the ones with the loudest emotions are the deepest pockets: namely, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). These organizations have the manpower, the time, and most importantly, the cash flow to cast their unrealistic and wildly over-dramatized propaganda against animal agriculture.

This is old news for those of us involved in agriculture. We resent these organizations for telling our story for us. We detest the inaccuracies of their testimonies of what happen on our farms. It twists our guts to watch Internet reels of their recycled footage of mistreatment on farms,  many instances which they have been found guilty of staging themselves. It hurts our heads and hearts that these groups defame and slander us without even getting to know why we are farmers and the passion we have for our work.

Several years ago, farmers and/or their significant others discovered the power of the blog. This was their way to fight back against the PETA propaganda. When these blogs really got started, I was so inspired by them. I loved how these people could open up about their livelihoods, share their triumphs and sorrows, and just be real about life on farms big and small.

As I became immersed in my college education however, notifications about these bloggers on my Facebook and Twitter pages began to annoy me. It was the same old post every time – “be an ‘agvocator,'” “I received a cease and desist letter from PETA today,” “doesn’t HSUS realize ______?” It seemed these bloggers were only talking to people like themselves: an audience that agreed with them.

Further, I aspired to be a scientist. Shouldn’t scientists be unbiased, objective, not involved with political affairs? Science is about fact, not emotion.

Perhaps this used to be true. However, not everyone is a scientist. Moreso, the work we do isn’t ultimately meant to effect others scientists, it’s meant to effect the general public. And whether we like it or not, Internet shares are the bit in the discussion horse’s mouth. We must learn how to ride.

Thanks to the Internet, our societal ideas are being re-molded at an unfathomable pace. And lucky for us – we have two hands! Many of us may be new to the craft, our hands unsteady and perhaps even unwilling to get debris underneath our fingernails. But if we don’t participate, someone else will carve our niche for us – a niche that we may find doesn’t suit us, or even one in which we don’t fit.