Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
Ag professor: Area farmers need to build trust with public
By Nancy Allen
California agriculture officials waited too long to address a ballot measure that was ultimately successful in outlawing the ways certain animals are confined, said an animal behavior professor from The Ohio State University.
Candace Croney spoke on Tuesday to about 350 people in Celina, most of them farmers, to discuss how to stop the same legislation from coming to Ohio. She studies animal behavior, cognition and welfare, human-animal interactions, bioethics, and contemporary and controversial issues in animal agriculture.
"They waited too long and were too complacent in reacting," Croney said. "And then when they did, they showed pictures of cows standing along the road like the cows in the happy cows commercial and then HSUS said, 'you're liars, you farmers, that's not how cows are raised, we'll show you how they're really raised.' "
Croney noted that most livestock and poultry is now raised in enclosed buildings where animals are out of sight to protect animals from adverse weather, predators and diseases. Many farms also have signs that warn of trespassing because they don't want anyone bringing diseases on to their properties that could sicken their animals.
The public sees this and may develop false perceptions that farmers are trying to hide something, she said.
"You need to rebuild trust and confidence," she said. "Make an ethical case for animal agriculture, tell your story with integrity and use accurate pictures of modern livestock farming."
Croney said farmers need to explain why they raise their animals the way they do. Animal rights groups say gestation crates for pregnant sows are cruel because they limit their movement while farmers say they improve worker safety, keep sows from injuring themselves or others and keep sows from accidentally sitting on and crushing their babies, she said.
She said the industry needs more self-regulation and oversight to critique practices and identify and address bad actions by some farmers. This includes educating, supervising and empowering workers who care for animals day in and day out. Other alternatives for housing animals also should be explored.
Livestock and agriculture commodity groups have united in recent months to fight a proposed ballot initiative that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has said it would bring to Ohio voters. The HSUS seeks to ban battery cages for chickens, gestation crates for sows and crates for veal.
Sandy Kuhn, executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition, said ag leaders have a lot of work to do, noting that a focus group made up of Ohioans was asked how they would vote on the same ballot measure that was passed in California. Fifty-three percent said they would vote yes.