I did an interview last week with a reporter who asked, “Why does your farm participate in 3rd party animal welfare audits?”
My answer: I ask that my customers trust me to be a good farmer, but I open my farm to auditing so that they can verify that I practice what I preach.
No matter how good a job you do on your farm, an audit is a stressful time.
- Hundreds of pages of documents are checked to make sure that records accurately demonstrate daily animal care practices.
- Hours are spent checking the farm’s facilities (feed and feed mixing areas, cattle pens, water tanks, and corrals) to ensure that animals have good living conditions.
- Cattle handling is observed to ensure that good welfare exists while animals are interacting with their human caregivers.
- Caregivers are asked questions about farm protocols on many different issues relative to animal care to ensure that those folks who provide daily care for the animals are well trained and educated.
I wear several “hats” at my feed yard. I am the owner and boss lady in addition to being one of the laborers who provide daily cattle care. I tend to greet audit day with mixed feelings. The boss lady realizes how important the audit is, but the farm hand struggles to accept outsiders interfering in the daily workings of life on the farm.
It is hard to have someone from the outside critique everything that you do – there is also no way to have an audit without disrupting the daily schedule of the farm. The combination of these things makes audit day on the farm long and stressful. Additionally, because I love my farm so much, opening it up to the judgement of an auditor creates a feeling of personal vulnerability. I feel it in my heart, and I know that my crew does as well.
Two weeks ago the feed yard had its first 2015 audit. I came home that night with a myriad of emotions fluttering through my head, the greatest being anger. Not anger toward the audit itself, but anger toward an ever growing vocal subset of the population who distrusts and dislikes American farmers like me. Tired from the long day, all I could think about was “Why do I bother to go to the extra work of an audit to verify my farm care when nobody trusts me anyway”.
As an active advocate for agriculture, I am painfully aware of the distrust that exists toward modern farmers. An ever growing group of elitist philosophers breed this cynicism by employing an effective blend of zealotry and scare tactics. No matter how much I care or how hard I work to responsibly grow beef – these people ensure that I carry the label of the evil factory farmer. I open the newspaper or bring up the internet and find dozens of derogatory statements about how farms like mine abuse our animals, the environment and ultimately the people that we feed.
Put yourself in my boots for a moment.
- I work long hours on the farm.
- I come home at night to write blog posts and share pictures of how I grow beef.
- I patiently answer questions from reporters and customers.
- I open my farm to both audits and tours.
And, at the end of the day, I am still belittled by the people that I have dedicated my life to feed.
So, I ask the important question:
What is it going to take for Americans to trust farmers and the practices that they use to grow food?
I believe in Trust but Verify, but verification is simply a burdensome chore if trust is unattainable.