Art of activism

Jun 21, 2013

Last week we spent the day at the Colorado Cattlemen’s and the Colorado Livestock Association’s annual convention.


There were about 500 folks there but there should have been more. I realize these meetings take a lot of time and money but it’s important to participate in your industrys business. You just might learn something.

One thing I learned is that animal agriculture activists come in all shapes and sizes and can camouflage themselves very well. You might be visiting with a guy who has all the right credentials and shares some of the same opinions, but he just might turn out to be the wolf in boots and a cowboy hat.

That was the case in one of our deeper sessions captioned, “Creating a Business Culture for Societal Expectations.” One of our two presenters was Dr. Chris Ashworth, a dairy consultant for Elanco Animal Health who also runs a few Angus cows in Arkansas. And the other was a local man, Dr. Tom Parks, who is a veterinarian, runs a few cows in Yuma, CO, and sells grass-fed beef. He is one of Ag Secretary Vilsack’s recent appointees to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and is also chairman of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Agricultural Advisory Council for Colorado.

The beef and cattle industries have been a popular target for activists with negative messages. If you listened to all of them, you’d think animal agriculture was the bane of our existence on this earth. Apparently, cows are responsible for everything that is bad on this earth.

Mr. Parks was very transparent about his views on animal agriculture, but it was clear that he was towing the line for HSUS, Farmers Union and, I suspect, R-CALF is in there somewhere.

During the session, Mr. Parks was constantly referring to food policy during this small debate and that the government needs to set more standards and rules for food producers, and require more labeling. According to him, people want to know everything they can about their food. He frames the issue as if there is a huge information gap about food, and he also sells grass-fed beef, which I’m sure gives him a limited perspective about what information the public wants about their food. But then again, we’ve had cases in the beef business where transparency failed us. Take Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) that Beef Products Inc. and Cargill produce. The product is 100 percent beef but still got a bad rap from media and consumers and I would say no one relied on the facts.

Where do you draw the labeling line when you add 100 percent ground beef to 100 percent LFTB which is also 100 percent beef? How would you label it 100 percent ground beef with 100 percent ground beef added to increase the lean content of this product?

When you stop and think about it, trying to create a business culture for societal expectations is a can of worms. Just trying to define the term is a bit challenging. One thing for sure is that society should expect that its food is safe. Is food safety a 100 percent sure deal? No. Any biological product can never be completely safe because the biological decay is inevitable at some point.

Should consumers be privy to every aspect of meat production? In some cases, yes, but in others, no. There are parts of the meat production system that just aren’t very pretty.

Mr. Parks was certainly the artful dodger of questions. Many in the crowd wanted more information about HSUS and its efforts to change animal agriculture and were curious as to why Mr. Parks was supporting an organization that, for the most part, wants to eliminate animal agriculture. Everyone knew HSUS is a lobbying organization with little of its funding going to animal shelters. Most of what HSUS has accomplished in animal agriculture has been done through legislation and the courts. This should really show it isn’t deserving of its non-profit, tax-free status the IRS has allowed. But, then again, the IRS appears to have been dishing those tax havens out on the basis of social engineering.

The lesson I learned during this discussion is agriculture’s future will be managed by people like Mr. Parks, simply because he takes the time to participate in the process. Many of us may not agree with his point of view, but if agriculture chooses not to engage people like Mr. Parks, agriculture will be in trouble. I respect the man for showing up, because he knew he would be the only dissenter in the room. — PETE CROW