Monday, March 18, 2013

The new transparency...  

In my Iowa visit this weekend, I listened to a speaker from US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance about ways to improve "messaging" and ag's public image. Curiously, she did not use the term "listen" once. In fairness, she talked about "conversations" and "acknowledging consumer concerns" but the bulk of here presentation was about what to say that will get the desired response.

The other strange thing was she stressed more transparency about our work, but never addressed this issue.
Now in a pushback led by the meat and poultry industries, state legislators across the country are introducing laws making it harder for animal welfare advocates to investigate cruelty and food safety cases.
Some bills make it illegal to take photographs at a farming operation. Others make it a crime for someone such as an animal welfare advocate to lie on an application to get a job at a plant.
Bills pending in California, Nebraska and Tennessee require that anyone collecting evidence of abuse turn it over to law enforcement within 24 to 48 hours — which advocates say does not allow enough time to document illegal activity under federal humane handling and food safety laws.
"We believe that folks in the agriculture community and folks from some of the humane organizations share the same concerns about animal cruelty," said Mike Zimmerman, chief of staff for Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, whose bill was unveiled this week. "If there's abuse taking place, there is no sense in letting it continue so you can make a video."
Patterson's bill, sponsored by the California Cattlemen's Association, would make failing to turn over video of abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours an infraction punishable by a fine.
Critics say the bills are an effort to deny consumers the ability to know how their food is produced.
"The meat industry's mantra is always that these are isolated cases, but the purpose of these bills is to prevent any pattern of abuse from being documented," said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, which conducted the California and Vermont investigations.
In Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania it would be a crime to make videos at agricultural operations.
How far from transparency can you get? There is no way to put a positive spin on what is essentially a gag effort. This is a major blunder, IMHO. It does two things we don't want to happen.
  1. It associates the meat industry with the ability to manipulate legislators. This is not good for either one.
  2. It raises the heroic image and market value of new videos. The industry is kidding themselves if they think they can stay ahead of video surveillance technology. Now committed activists will become even braver and more martyr-like in the eyes of their colleagues by capturing clandestine footage.
A maximum security meat industry encourages anti-meat mythology to breed in the popular mind simply by its existence. "Why is it needed unless there are things to hide?" is an easy inference to draw. Less proof of bad action will be needed now to convince the public the meat industry is doing bad things as a matter of course.

One final point. As individual rights (thanks to the courage of Rand Paul and other libertarians) gain traction as an issue on the right, this turns a normally friendly or indifferent section of the public into more skeptical observers. Some consumers will be reminded of such information control techniques when ordering dinner, I'll wager.

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