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0107 PD: PD Commentary

Published on 10 January 2007

Enlightening the darkened corners

If it weren’t for four hijacked planes and 19 heinous men, this issue’s theme probably wouldn’t be an annual discussion. We’d probably discuss biosecurity every two or three years.

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Before terrorists proved five years ago they were willing to massacre innocent people to voice their opinions, biosecurity was known under many different names, including risk management, disease control, visitor protocols, etc.

Now these themes have been consolidated under one name. It’s similar to what happened after 9/11 when the government consolidated federal agencies to create the Department of Homeland Security. The issues are the same, but now they’re labeled under a more ominous name.

In this edition of the magazine, we’ve included our discussion with Danelle Bickett-Weddle (see page 26) about biosecurity. She’s spent a career describing farm security and continues to research how to keep farms safe. I found it interesting that in our hour-long discussion, she brought up the word terrorism once.

I like her approach to biosecurity – manage disease risk not for a once-in-a-lifetime event but for everyday protection. In other words, the same protection measures for diseases, such as Johne’s, will help protect against terrorism or intentional harm. This makes planning for the unknown easier to swallow for dairy producers because it’s tied to something they know – the challenges and realities of daily production.

Realizing how to tie security to profitability is what Jerry Gonterman’s clients have done (see story on page 24). Those dairy producers installed security systems to protect the perimeter and interior of their dairies from crime and sabotage. But they’re also using the same system to monitor how closely their farms’ protocols and safety measures are followed in the parlor, calving pen and maintenance shop.

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I’m convinced improvements in biosecurity, if well-planned, can increase profitability. And I hope this issue sheds some light on a topic that some have forecasted as an approaching thunderstorm for dairy producers. Also, we need more enlightening discussion about how milk is produced and the safety of the end products it composes.

I’ve been intrigued while reading about today’s consumers and their misunderstandings about milk and milk labeling. Go searching the Internet for blogs about milk. You’ll find most are chatting about lactose intolerance and the “advantages” of organic or rBST-free milk.

But that’s human nature. I think a quote from Henry Hurt, an investigative journalist, could be used to describes today’s milk marketing. He said secrecy spawns suspicion, confusion, fear and massive speculation.

“People kept in the dark fill in the blanks not with their best hopes – but their worst fears,” he said.

Things would be different if consumers were buying a gallon of rBST-free milk knowing it is nutritionally the same as the gallons of milk without a special label that sit next to it in the dairy case.

But too many consumers are kept in the dark about milk production practices, and they’re filling in the gaps with their fears. They’re buying out of fear.

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But even skilled marketers can only sell fear for so long. Some would say voters weren’t scared of terrorism this last election and that’s why Congress looks different this year.

In the end, the enemies of fear are truth and trust. Consumers need to know when they’re buying something that’s specially labeled, they’re buying a production process, not a significant nutrient difference. Dairy producers can and should tell consumers that.

I’m convinced that just as time has turned fear of terrorism into biosecurity advantages, it will also reveal the truth behind incomplete milk marketing campaigns. PD

PD Editor Walt Cooley,

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