CP editorial: Images out of context push public opinion of agriculture

“Countless birds crammed into filthy, windowless sheds and forced to live for weeks in their own waste and toxic ammonia fumes ….” This appears in a statement from the group Mercy for Animals following an undercover investigation of a Tyson farm. Unfortunately, those descriptions provide the picture that many people have, not only of the poultry industry, but of every farm in America. However, despite the negative reputation farmers have gained over the past few years, they are still rising to meet the challenges of feeding the growing population,  predicted to reach nine billion by 2050.

With news stories and social media posts focused on antibiotic resistance, genetically modified organisms, and artificial insemination, the act of farming is quickly becoming more complex and harder for the general population to understand.

Some consumer groups have conducted undercover investigations over the past few years with the goal of bringing to light mistreatment of animals and scare tactics used by big ag companies to bully farmers into using their products. Unfortunately, not all of these groups are truthful about the information they send to media outlets regarding their findings during these undercover operations.

Many of these reports and videos omit information that would put actions into context and instead show only the worst examples of a few farmers’ actions. Once these half-truths are published, the majority of farmers, who are ethical and hard working, are left to deal with the aftermath.

On Feb. 1, 2017, the Hormel Food Co. launched a full-scale investigation of a video released by the Los Angles-based Mercy for Animals group that contained several animal abuse allegations against The Maschhoffs’ hog farms in Nebraska.

With a strict, zero tolerance, animal care policy, the president of the corporation, Bradley Wolter was quick to address the video depicting the allegedly abused pigs. He stated that any allegations would be taken seriously and addressed quickly. After two full-scale investigations were conducted, one by Maschhoffs’ itself and the other by Maschhoffs’ owners Hormel Food Company, the claims were found to have no merit.

In 2008, an investigation was launched on a video provided to the news media from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). An investigation by the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) debunked every claim made in the animal cruelty video, but their report was issued too late to stop the negative images from having an impact. The video had already aired on several news outlets and had caused a public uproar.

One of the images that struck a nerve was that of a farmer kicking the head of cow that was stuck between an alley way and a gate. The investigation by the NMLB found that the cow shown in the video was at a high risk of death if allowed to continue to thrash around with its neck wedged between the ally way and gate. The farmer, at a press for time to save the animal, and with no other workers or alternative action available, kicked the cow in the head until it took a step back. At that time, he ceased, and started hitting the animal with his cap until the cow had moved to safety. Even though that incident, along with all the others in the video, had been proved untruthful or out of context, by the time the New Mexico Livestock Board received the video, opinions had been formed.

Being from a small farming community myself, it is hard to see the perspective of anti-agriculture organizations. Seeing firsthand the amount of time, care, and money put into farms back home, it saddens me to think that others believe everything conducted on a farm is cruel and harmful. As proven in the HSUS video with the dairy cow being jammed between an alley way and a gate, some drastic situations require immediate action that is not always going to be viewed as caring; however, it is lifesaving. Although some actions are not the prettiest, it does not mean that a farmer cares any less about the animal.

With the media trying to create the biggest story and anti-agriculture organizations trying their hardest to show the worst days and parts of farms, it is no wonder that what is shown is often far from the truth. Hopefully, with time, agriculture advocates can spread a better knowledge of the industry and help the general public gain a better understanding of what goes on during the day-to-day life of farmers on their farms. Until that point, it is important to do your own research on these types of stories before sharing them with an uninformed public.