Hollywood called out the American dairy industry on Feb. 9 when Joaquin Phoenix used his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards to condemn milk production. For years, animal rights activists have illegally gained access to dairy and beef operations to gather incriminating videos of animal abuse, which are heavily edited to show the most egregious offenses.
Have there been videos of actual abuse? Yes. Is it wrong and unethical to abuse animals? Yes. Can industry leaders and operators do better? There is always room to improve. This is no reason to destroy an entire industry, however.
What collateral damage is waiting for the typical American family whose community relies on the dairy industry? How far will activists be willing to go after these incendiary comments on live TV? Are we still in the pre-crisis stage or is this the moment we know the crisis has occurred?
The video showing animal abuse from June 2019 at Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana is one example how the actions of one or two rogue employees can damage the entire industry. As a whole, no operator wants his or her livestock harmed. American agriculture cares about good stewardship of animals, despite what Hollywood says.
The fallout for rural America results in the closing of family businesses, hospitals and schools relying on farming dollars to support the livelihood in those towns. American agriculture and the dairy or beef industry are not dirty words.
Every citizen should be concerned with how agriculture is portrayed on the big screen. Every operation must be concerned with proper animal husbandry and safety for their employees and livestock.
If you have a crisis plan for responding to an upcoming infiltration of animal rights activists, now is the time to brush off the dust and familiarize yourself and your managers. Waiting for the crisis to happen before you plan is the worst time to attempt to create one.
The more resources you expend in the pre-crisis stage, the better outcomes you will gain when a crisis presents itself. Safety of your employees and animals must become part of your operation’s culture to survive what is to come.
Marcus Ashlock is founder and principal consultant with Ashlock Group Ag Consulting and his doctoral dissertation was on “Agroterrorism in the Pre-Crisis Stage.” Ashlock can be reached through his website at ashlockgroup.com.