WOOSTER, Ohio – During a recent presentation to cattle producers, Kevin Murphy, founder and owner of Food-Chain Communications LLC urged attendees of the Feeding Quality Forum to be proactive in representing their role in the food industry.
“There is a time for urgency, and the time is right now,” he said. “We’ve got to change the way we look at food issues, the way we respond to those issues and how we do it with the proper language. And we’ve got to do it right now.”
Murphy discussed the “food morality” movement and what it means to production agriculture. “Every single day you can pick up a newspaper or magazine that talks about how horrible modern agriculture is and the sins of the industrial agriculture model,” he said. “Now, we see activists moving toward denouncing what goes on in food through the prism of morality, religion and ethics.”
Industry critics no longer include the obvious groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States. Nowadays, it’s the people those organizations try to influence, he noted, including: university professors, news reporters, religious organizations and civic groups.
“Food is undeniably the most political issue on the planet,” he said, “and I feel like agriculture is completely ill-equipped and unprepared for anybody to ask a question about their ethics,” he said. “We have a tendency in agriculture to look at food as a physical, tangible, packaged product. In reality today, a lot of issues that are presented about food are not really about food – they’re about the issues that cascade around it.”
Similar to how anti-agriculture activists utilize emotional appeal to further their cause, Murphy recommends the following approaches to appeal to consumers’ moral questions:
1. Re-discover the 21st century moral farmer. “Society is now several generations removed from farming, but people still “yearn for a connection to the people who produce their food.”
2. Beware of the double standard. We must be able to morally and ethically differentiate the value of a human life and an animal’s with no exception, Murphy said.
3. Shed the guilt. “Agriculturalists are always on defense, feeling guilty and apologizing for what we do,” Murphy said.
4. Don’t rely on a public relations campaign. Murphy pointed out that each segment of the agriculture industry – livestock species, fresh produce, grain or others – has its own public-relations campaign, but the industry lacks a unified, grassroots voice.
The Feeding Quality Forum was sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, Land O’ Lakes Purina Feed LLC, Certified Angus Beef LLC and Feedlot magazine.