As the saying goes, it’s hard to soar with the eagles when you strut with the turkeys. This has become a real issue with agriculture and how it works with the activist groups aligned against us.
Too often, the ag industry has negotiated with groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) to avoid ballot initiatives that those states may not have won and/or couldn’t afford. But groups like HSUS will just be back again, only with bigger war chests and more leverage, to win the war by attrition.
Of course, arguing against over-regulation has validity, but business somehow has managed to lose the moral high ground in consumers’ eyes when it comes to dealing with activist groups. After all, such groups are for animal welfare, the environment or food safety.
It becomes difficult for business to argue that it wants those things, too, and that activists’ proposals often result in not improving the situation but just raising costs and harming producers. We struggle to openly talk about these groups’ goal, which is the ultimate demise of modern agriculture.
We know we love the land and the animals, and we know we desire to produce a wholesome safe product, yet we somehow always find ourselves on the defensive. Still, we have experienced some successes with certain environmental groups who have come to understand that we protect open space, provide habitat, and are a much better alternative to development.
We’ve also worked with HSUS and others to avoid crippling legislation, but we also can’t be so naïve as to not understand their ultimate intentions. Nor can we fail to recognize that we must change and adapt and that we have made mistakes from time to time.
Yet, we rarely enter these negotiations from a position of strength. The inevitable result is that every time we appear to adopt their positions or admit guilt, we cede these groups more moral authority for their ultimate positions. Everything they do, including their partnerships with our industry, is designed to capture the moral high ground from our industry.
But the moral high ground is something we truly earn every day and the consumer should understand that. Thus, the challenge becomes how can we work with these groups without creating a death of a thousand cuts? If the issues are really about the environment, animal welfare, etc., we should be seen as the leaders and not as the followers, because it is what we protect and what we do every day.