The notion that we can sometimes be our own worst enemies is certainly true for those employed in modern agriculture. The divisions we're creating with our different attitudes and philosophies — and broadcasting publicly — are making us all vulnerable to attack.
In the bovine-related industry alone, these divisions pit beef producer against dairy producer, dairy producer against veal producer and veal producer against beef producer. They pit those who feed the animal against those who process it, against those who raise it from a calf. The divisions pit producers in one state against those in another, neighbor against neighbor, customer against supplier.
Our common enemies probably can't begin to contain their glee.
Our “comrades” at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are among those who have made the most of this public display of disunity. While you'd be wrong to call this group “mainstream,” they're chipping away at the edges of our society, creating converts on one issue or another and raising money by the bucketful.
While they certainly have it in for all of animal agriculture, they are most fiercely going after the smallest group — the veal industry — in order to chip away at the whole. There is no doubt they are having an impact.
The industry has been fighting back. For example, the Cattlemen's Beef Board, through the $1-per-head checkoff, has continually funded factual responses to attacks. The checkoff-funded Veal Issues Management Team aggressively responds when rumors or mistruths are spread.
Should beef producers — the largest segment of animal agriculture — be concerned about what PETA accomplishes against the veal industry? Yes. Because every victory against the veal industry that PETA and its ilk enjoys will make them stronger in their attacks against their true targets — the people who raise any kind of animals in the 21st century.
It's not about animal welfare
Make no mistake: The disagreement with PETA isn't about compassion or animal welfare. People in agriculture have more compassion for animals in their little fingers than all the PETA activists combined have in their hearts. And they have more knowledge about and concern for animal welfare than all PETA members put together. We live it every day.
PETA wants to end animal agriculture, period. And they have the funds to carry out their fight.
If our industry has an advantage it's that truth is on our side. Even so, the number of troops we have to carry the message is dwindling every year. Today, just 2% of Americans are employed raising the crops and animals that feed the rest of the population.
The longer we remain committed to waging internal fights and pointing fingers, the longer our true adversaries will have to chip away at what we do and how we do it.
Walt Kelly, the writer of the comic strip “Pogo,” is famous for his line, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” He also wrote the less-recognized proclamation, “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”
Our opportunities to hold on to consumer support and demand will certainly be insurmountable as long as we continue to focus inward on disagreements, rather than outward on our customers and their agricultural knowledge.
I'm proud of my business, as I'm sure you're proud of yours. Let's share that pride with consumers so we in agriculture can continue to provide safe, wholesome, nutritious and delicious animal-based products.
Frank Trapp is a Watertown, WI, veal producer and president of the American Veal Association. For more on veal industry issues management efforts, contact Veal Issues Management, 1500 Fulling Mill Road, Middletown, PA 17057.