By: Levi McPhillips
To my fellow producers:
I am young. Well, that is what my father tries to remind me every time I begin worrying about the futre. I am nineteen years old, and I must admit that I have much to learn and experience. I am not old enough to confidently say what I want out of life. I have not seen much, and it takes only one college chemistry lecture to remind me that I don’t know much. However, I am old enough to know that the world as we know it is changing.
I am old enough to remember when my family raised hogs outside. With modern facilities, raising hogs outside has become a thing of the past, and for good reason. There is no doubt that my grandfather would be speechless if he saw the size and technology of modern farms.
This summer was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn about all of the facets of swine production. I did an internship with a large swine producer. New experiences were around every corner as I explored boar/stud operations, modern farrowing and reproduction in sow farms, finishing operations, nutrition on a research farm, and milling. I gained new perspective on the rewards and challenges of modern swine production. I learned more in ten weeks than I did in an entire year of college. Experience teaches quicker than any lecture hall.
After my experience it was easy to see how the swine industry has changed and changed for the better. However, events in recent months have made me less optimistic about the future of the swine industry. Animal activist groups have successfully convinced several of the major U.S. food distributors to force their pork suppliers to phase out gestation stalls within the next decade. I believe that this could be a change for the worse not only for pork producers but for the food industry and society as a whole.
It would be easy for pork producers to become bitter towards organizations such as these activist groups. However, the pork producers I know do not do what’s easy; that is why they raise hogs. We would be foolish to blame this on the animal activist groups. This entire situation is a result of a lack of foresight, public relations, and transparency on our part. I am in no way condoning the deliberate misrepresentation of our industry by the activist groups. However, I do believe that we are partly to blame for the recent happenings. Consumers have preconceived notions about what a hog farm should look like, and they have not been exposed to modern practices that are better for the pigs and better for humans. In the last sixty years our public relations have declined along with the number of people exposed to agriculture, and that needs to change.
It is time for pork producers to take action. First, we must gain transparency in everything that we do. We must make integrity our focus. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is watching, and we must have a mentality that there is always someone watching and waiting for us to do something unethical. We must perfect our animal welfare policies and be consistently considerate of the health and safety of every animal. After becoming proud of our practices we must show the public what we do on a daily basis. They need to see producers in their element; one way we can do that is through social media. Facebook and Youtube have been used by the animal activist groups to spread propaganda. These social media tools can also be used to our advantage. It is much easier than you think to post video or pictures to the internet for all to see. Many of the latest cell phones have cameras that can be used to post information to agriculture illiterate people all over the globe. We must show the world that we have nothing to hide. We are not fighting animal activist groups; we are simply telling the truth. Many of us have raised hogs for decades, and there is no one better qualified than hog farmers to educate the American public about modern pork production.
It is vitally important for us to have integrity in everything we do and then publicize our practices to the world. These are not steps that we should take; these are steps that we must take. The future of the pork industry and the future of our way of life depend on it. It should be our pleasure to show everyone that we love what we do. People who consume our pork are our employers; we work for them. Let’s give them products and education they deserve.
I am young, yet I am old enough to see the big changes coming our way. If every hog producer takes the responsibility of sharing his story there will be changes for the better. We can maintain our consumer base, thus securing the future of the industry. Then we can keep on doing what we do best, raising safe, nutritious, and healthy pork for everyone to enjoy.