By Ami Sawran BVSc MRCVS
I’m sure many in agricultural industries have seen a more chaotic social media timeline of late. This is probably as a result of #Februdairy. This initiative came about as a means of promoting the dairy industry and all of the hard work involved in creating dairy produce that many take for granted. While it has done great things in terms of exposing and promoting very good practice, and opened channels of communications between farmers, vets, scientists and consumers, it has also stirred up a lot of anti-animal agriculture sentiment.
The internet is a brilliant resource, but also an extremely frustrating place to be, especially when faced with false claims or doctored images intended to smear the industry that we work in. One such example depicts a calf restrained in a crush with a disbudding iron held to a horn bud. The text tells of how this baby animal is about to be shot in the head because he is worthless to the dairy industry. Unfortunately, people are influenced by this, especially if they don’t have the incentive to look further into the validity of this sort of claim. Hence, there’s a lot of anti-dairy propaganda springing up and a LOT of anti-ag Twitter accounts!
We’ve all got a lot on our plates, whether we’re farmers, vets or industry workers dedicated to production animal health and welfare, but it seems we now have another task that Februdairy has forced upon us, and that is public education.
The aim of Februdairy has never been to ‘convert’ those who do not consume dairy or meat, and that’s not the route we should take. Nor should we be baiting vegans – it doesn’t help our cause to antagonise them by repeating “But Bacon!” ad nauseam. There are those who do not believe animal welfare can be upheld at all if the end destination is slaughter – and there’s no real arguing with those who believe this. They do not want animal agriculture to exist, and that’s very much the end of it. But it is worth engaging in discussions with curious members of the public who have never been afforded an education in to where their food comes from.
So many have been embroiled in quite bitter debates online. I’ve found this hugely disheartening, especially as one who considers animal welfare extremely important, and one who sees her clients trying hard to uphold a good standard of living for their stock.
I would like the anti-ag brigade to know that those involved in food production through animal agriculture do care, and that there are welfare specific reasons behind our practices on farms. I wish they knew how much care went in to rearing animals for food, and that more people understood that there are fellow humans that are reliant on the industry, not just as consumers, but as people who need jobs to feed their own families. There is, sadly, no subject in the curriculum that will convey this message to children in schools, so it falls to us to fight the myriad misinformation and fear that surrounds our industry.
How do we do that? By first ensuring that our practice is above reproach. If someone asks us why we perform a certain task, then take some time to explain why – if we cannot come up with a good reason, then is it perhaps a practice that we can evaluate? Can scrutiny of welfare on farms in the current climate encourage better practice? We can counter the propaganda if we are proud of how we rear and treat our animals. Of course, we know that many already uphold an exemplary state of welfare and husbandry – this should be celebrated.
It is disappointing that countering fake news is now another point on a long list of things that we have to do; I know I’d sooner spend my time studying how to improve animal husbandry and welfare than field cries of ‘murderer’ on the internet. I’m sure farmers would sooner tend to their stock than refute horrific ‘articles’ full of doctored pictures and lies. Yet here we are, having it hinder our morale and our ability to do a good job. Because no matter how hard we work, it will never be good enough for people who are blinded by propaganda. But – I would like to encourage anyone on the fence about animal agriculture, or questioning our methods, to ask questions, visit open farms, and consider the accuracy of the information that is made available to them.
I feel many would be better off for having first-hand experience of what happens on farms. I’m sure it’s not as bad as they have been led to believe, but if they are still not in support of animal agriculture after having been educated, then that’s fair enough. Transparency is the key to better informed decisions. If they don’t want to set foot on a farm, and don’t want to engage in a reasoned and civilised talk, then there’s little point in wasting your precious Twitter word count on them. It’s sad, because reasoned discussion is vital to progress, but it’s only going to adversely impact your mental health and waste your time. However if someone is asking questions borne of genuine curiosity, then I hope that we can all respond with truth and kindness. That is the sort of discussion that will truly foster progress.
Ami Sawran BVSc MRCVS
Originally from Durham, Ami graduated from Liverpool University in 2011 before undertaking a farm animal internship in production animal health and welfare at the Royal Veterinary College alongside Westpoint. Afterwards, she moved to London to begin her PhD on investigating cattle lameness, as well as locuming for the RSPCA. She has worked with several branches of Westpoint.
Now based in Witham, Ami is keen to continue post-graduate education alongside practical work, so she is working towards her certificate in advanced veterinary practice. As well as undertaking all aspects of commercial farm work, her main veterinary interests lies in production animal welfare and smallholding. She’s most at home taking care of the particular needs of hobby and open farms, and smallholdings.
Outside of work, Ami reads, snowboards and competes in obstacle course races all over the world. When she isn’t training herself, she likes to spend time training her sidekick; Pets as Therapy and all-round wonder-dog, Remy.
You can follow Ami on Twitter @ami_vet