Take a bite from our ethics

This semester I am taking a media law and ethics class, as well as an ethical leadership class. Little did I know when scheduling last spring that these two would compliment one another so well. In the past few weeks, we have reviewed the structure of ethical decision-making, how they are perceived by the public, media and law and what our ethical job may be as either citizens or journalists. It has prompted some thoughts in my mind about the correlation in agriculture and ethics.

In recent news, we see many negative stories, horrific imagery and shrewd explanations of viewpoints and events. Some things shared may be ethical or unethical. In relation to the agriculture industry, there has been increasing conversation about:

  • Livestock production methods and housing
  • Crop production — organic, GMOs or other
  • Food locality
  • Corporate or “Big Ag” (whatever that means)
  • Animal welfare and activist groups

If you study the theoretical meaning behind ethics, it is “the analysis, evaluation and promotion of correct conduct and/or good character, according to the best available standards.” Layman’s terms: 
what people perceive as “good” evolves over time based on society beliefs.

I raise cattle for beef.
We raise our cattle for freezer beef,
plain and simple.
Boer goats
Ginger and Cinnamon–two goats
from my farm.

In the agriculture industry, we are judged by our ethics. Farmers are supported as being honest, caring, responsible laborers for the land and life. However, most general public do not support “farming” based on the bullets above and others. 

As agriculturalists, we often times argue, “we are providing for a growing world”, “without farmers, there is no food” and “we are open to share our agriculture story with you”. All of this is true. However, many don’t understand the ethics behind our statements. 

Farmers and ranchers are more open than ever to share their businesses with everyday people. Our (myself included as a farmer) methods of outreach have evolved over time. More people want to understand or learn about food production. This is where the disconnect and ethical situations come in. 

On my farm, we care for the health and welfare of our cattle and goats. It is to our benefit to raise them in a clean, safe environment so that they can be healthy, grow and serve their purpose — go to market. Our ethics as individuals and farmers motivate us to do just that and other farmers and ranchers do the same.

PETA activist event
Photo provided by: Salon.com 

However, ethics in journalism can sometimes spin those views in a negative way. Biosecurity and farm safety play a role in keeping some agriculture businesses to ourselves. We paint a bullseye on ourselves because of misinterpretations. That is where our “nemeses” come in. 

Animal activist groups tug on the emotional threads of humans. They pinpoint the pieces we leave untold or in many cases, not shown. Then, it is spun into danger, mistreatments and fears. Read through this article about a recent publicity stunts by PETAOne excerpt I find compelling from this story is:

“When an organization like PETA, with a worthy cause, uses sex – or the threat of small penises, god forbid – to get you to pay attention, it implies that the cruelty on its own isn’t enough to make anyone care.”

Were some of those advertising actions ethical? I don’t think so. However, the First Amendment allows groups like PETA or HSUS to share their feelings and campaigns however they like. It is up to the audience to decode their reasoning.

Is that ethical to try and persuade someone based on fear or what THEY believe is right? We all have different perspectives and that causes a disconnect of ethical beliefs. But, would it be so bad for these activist groups or news mediums to take a bite from our ethical leadership?

I have never seen and don’t image I will ever see an agriculturalist use scare tactics to target a competitor or nemesis of the industry. It is our duty to treat others in and outside of our industry with respect. We follow the Golden Rule.

Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.
The Golden Rule.

My friend shared this article with me about influence–specifically the influence agriculturalists have on their communities, states and world. How come we are not better recognized for the services we provide 365 days a year, 24 hours a day? 

This is a question I have no answer. Perhaps one day, we will have leaders recognized for sustaining and changing the world. Until then, I know how agriculturalists will continue to be influencers without recognition. It’s with our ethics.

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