It’s encouraging that Don McCabe, recently elected president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said in his 2015 outlook address Friday that the federation’s advocacy role has never been more important.
The same goes for beef producers. Their new national beef strategy, released earlier this week, includes a mandate to increase the number of future leaders that are able to speak and advocate on behalf Canada’s beef industry. Martin Unrau, co-chair of the National Beef Strategic Planning Group, says “the need for [the beef] industry to push itself is now.”
Still with advocacy, the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture competition, presented annually at the Royal Winter Fair, features a full slate of pro-farm young people expressing their passion for the sector. They too are advocates, and will hopefully be standing up for agriculture throughout their careers.
Now, all efforts related in some way to advocacy don’t necessarily involve stepping up to the microphone, or (my personal favourite) picking up the phone and calling a reporter. Case in point: the drive towards farmers’ codes of conduct. Activism didn’t prompt these codes, but in adopting them, farmers have yet another good, pro-active story to tell about the way they manage livestock.
And tell them, they should.
It’s vital to not be intimidated by bullies, e-trolls and others who have their own self-interests at heart. Admittedly, it’s risky, and it can expose you to some harsh criticism — as those involved in the #farm365 campaign have discovered – or worse. I don’t know many journalists who haven’t been subject to some kind of intimidation, economic, physical or psychological, for taking a position.
All this really hit home to me Friday, when I was asked on behalf of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists to write an institutional response to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in France.
Freedom of expression through the media is fundamental to democracy. That freedom is shaken by the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which remind us of how democracy is under constant threat in our world today, in war-torn nations and peaceful societies alike.
Freedom is also compromised when activists advance their causes through scurrilous activities, intimidation and bullying. They want to limit our freedom of choice when it comes to food. I say that’s not their right.
But they’re making headway. Look at A&W’s hormones-and-steroids campaign, which suggests anything other than that company’s beef is sub par, if not downright dangerous. It still goes on.
And then there’s the anti-meat publicity hounds. They engage in stunts like setting fast food (burgers and fries) aside for months or even years, then loudly marveling at how little this food’s structure has changed — presumably because of preservatives, but it’s really because of a lack of moisture.
No one in agriculture is an island. Restrictive laws activists want for modern agriculture will make farming as hard for organic growers as it is for conventional growers.
We all have some Charlie Hebdo in us, and we need to exercise it – say what’s wrong when oppression threatens our democratic rights, be unwilling to accept extremism in whatever form, and stand up for the kind of free world we want to live in.