Owen RobertsWith all the red tape and busy work farmers already face, who wants more? No one, I’m sure. Not even people who kind of like paperwork.

But I’m hoping an effort underway to have farmers create an animal care code of conduct will be seen by most as more than a nuisance.

In Ontario, an organization called Farm and Food Care is being proactive in urging farmers to adopting such codes.

It says an animal care code of conduct exists to protect the safety and welfare of workers and animals. It’s meant to acknowledge animal welfare is important everyday on the farm, and to provide a transparent understanding of what is and what is not acceptable conduct.

“A code of conduct is not a secret,” says the organization. “It should represent your company’s values and expectations of itself and its employees, and you should be ready to share it publicly on a sign or on your website.”

Click here for the Farm and Food Care template!

Farm and Food Care says the code can be a direct discussion point during the hiring and training process, before any new hires work with animals….and those that won’t sign the code of conduct shouldn’t be hired. It can be introduced or periodically re-introduced to employees as a renewed commitment to the importance of doing the right thing every day.

Let’s iterate: this is not a code of silence. It’s a code of conduct.

In fact, farmers who have one should be shouting about it from the rooftops. Talking broadly about your code of conduct could engage a lot of people in a discussion about what you do and why you do it.

And really, it’s important to do so every chance you get, along with whatever else it takes to keep the public on your side. Animal agriculture’s enemies are getting increasingly aggressive and slick. Inside and outside of agriculture, there’s a sense of increasing sophistication among animal rights groups – especially those who envision a world where everyone becomes vegan — undermining the traditional trust farmers have enjoyed with the public.

More and more, these groups are working behind the scenes to get on the agendas of decision makers and policy makers. They’re even appearing in the public eye as a measured voice. I saw a here-to-help editorial in my local daily newspaper this week, discussing pet care during hot weather. The author? Someone from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)! It’s among the most extreme animal rights group, yet there it was, putting on a moderate face to try to win over that vast majority of people who don’t support civil disobedience.

And look at what’s happened with shock abuse videos. I suspect a lot of people don’t care who blows the whistle on farm animal offenders. If it’s an animal rights group, they’ll score points. It doesn’t matter that such abuse cases are minimal compared to the good welfare practices that dominate livestock production — it’s like food safety, when a single case of food poisoning brings the whole system under suspicion, even though millions of meals are prepared and served every day that are perfectly safe.

For animal rights groups, it’s persistence rather than victory, although you see scurrilous claims about the latter increasingly popping up. That said, farmers need to treat all this very seriously if they’re going to win arguments about their right to farm, and maintain the freedom and flexibility they need from the public to produce safe, wholesome food. Such freedom depends on a deeper understanding by consumers – and from the same decision makers and policy makers being pressured by animal rightists — about what farmers do, and why they do it.

Codes of animal acre conduct will not eliminate the kind of abuse seen on undercover shock videos. But they’ll help conscientious farmers show everyone – including their employees and the public – their livestock is always top of mind.

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