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Checkoff Watch: Consumers care about animal care

Published on 24 February 2015

It’s a simple, indisputable truth: The moment your customers stop trusting you is the moment they stop buying from you. This is true if your business is cars or clothing, meat or milk. Look at what the distrust in baby formula did to the Chinese dairy industry just a few years ago … and what happens when improperly processed cheese sickens children.

Trust in dairy and the milk you produce has taken on a new component: how you treat your cows. Unfortunately, a few bad actors have put all farmers in the harsh glare of public and media scrutiny, and that threatens your freedom to operate your dairy.

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Animal care is not a made-up issue but a real concern for consumers, most notably “millennials,” the loosely defined wave of tens of millions of young adults who soon will have more buying power than anyone else and who are entering parenthood.

Did you know that nearly half of these millennials believe you abuse your cows – and that belief turns them against milk? With that mindset, what will their kids do?

Millennials are generations removed from the farm, and they often rely on information from sources that can be wrong about what happens on your farm. This translates into the choices they make at grocery stores and restaurants, which includes choosing dairy alternatives. This is why co-ops, processors and retailers are putting increased pressure on farms to adopt and communicate responsible production practices – including animal care.

The farmer leadership of the dairy checkoff is working with the entire industry to get everyone to tell the true story of how most farmers treat their cows and produce milk.

This fall, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) made its Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) initiative mandatory among member cooperatives, which accounts for 80 percent of the nation’s milk. The dairy checkoff is a major funder of FARM, which provides farmer-designed tools to demonstrate you are doing the right thing.

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Likewise, the dairy checkoff-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has established a full-time Animal Care Committee chaired by NMPF CEO Jim Mulhern. More than a dozen CEOs and chairmen of large dairy companies will guide steps with oversight from dairy farmers.

FARM and the Animal Care Committee are just two pieces of the checkoff-led industry-wide consumer confidence effort, which proactively protects and promotes your freedom to operate by communicating the value of not only what you do but how you do it.

We do some of this through www.dairygood.org where farmers and others tell the true stories of life on dairy farms and the good that comes from a lifetime of milk.

Will there be bad apples in the barrel? As in any other business or occupation, yes. As an industry, we need to be singular in our resolve that when the wrong things happen on a farm, appropriate, decisive action is taken.

Similarly, when an isolated incident occurs, whether by accident or by someone who wants to create mischief, the industry, united, needs to make sure the farm makes the necessary changes.

Best we regulate ourselves than to invite regulation by others who don’t understand the realities of farming. Over time, we will keep the conversation about animal care going and let you know what the Animal Care Committee and the checkoff are doing.

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A united industry, reinforced by your true stories and through reliable third parties that you care for your cows, the environment and your community, and produce the world’s most perfect food for an ever-growing population, is the best way to ensure you’ll have an ongoing market.

If your cows could talk, they would tell a very good story. Until they can, all of us need to tell that story for them. PD

Your dairy checkoff in action: The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy producers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.

Test your answer

According to research, how much of the millennial population believes dairy farmers mistreat their cows?

ANSWER: Nearly half of millennials – those roughly between the ages of 18 and 33 – assume that dairy farmers abuse their cows, and that badly colors their feelings about milk.

Local spotlight

Throughout the year, your state and regional promotion organizations work with dairy farm families and others to show consumers and the media exactly what happens on the farm. Here are highlights:

Idaho

The United Dairymen of Idaho brought several TV and print reporters to a large dairy operation where they could see everything at work and talk freely with the young dairyman in charge. This led to a number of positive stories. The staff also is offering more “Ask a Farmer” and “Ask a Dietician” events online to help consumers get answers about milk quality, animal care and other issues.

Woman feeding calf

Ohio/West Virginia

Each year, ADA Mideast hosts a group of popular food bloggers on a road trip to follow milk’s journey from farm to processor to table. The tour includes a hands-on visit to a small and large dairy farm to get an inside look at the dedication and care that goes into producing dairy foods. Following the tour, they write blogs highlighting their experience. Over the last three years, ADA Mideast has taken more than 25 bloggers on the tour who collectively reach 1.5 million followers.

Kentucky

Mothers with questions about how milk is produced were invited to see for themselves on a tour of LeCows Dairy Farm in Paducah, Kentucky. Lesa Elliott Clark and Ellie Gore Waggoner volunteer for a program called CommonGround and they want to help other women make food choices based on facts, not fear. Children bottle-fed a calf while moms got straight answers to their questions about dairy products and animal care.

Sports dieticians

Tennessee

Southeast United Dairy Industry Association (SUDIA) staff invited 13 sports dietitians to a media training session at the Tennessee Titans stadium and a tour of the Hatcher Family Dairy in College Grove, Tennessee. These avid bloggers appear frequently on local television and radio. Said one: “The cows were treated like family, and the quality of care and attention to safety surpassed all of my expectations. My visit to the dairy farm has impacted every presentation I give to consumers now.”

Sports dietitians toured the Hatcher Family Dairy in College Grove, Tenn.

Josie Kelsay

Indiana

American Dairy Association Indiana hosted three Great American Milk Drive events at farm open houses. The drive allows the public to make a donation that food bank customers will use to purchase fluid milk. During the tour, people learned about how dairy farmers care for their cows, the history of each family farm and the nutritional importance of dairy. Visitors could donate a gallon of milk.

PHOTOS
TOP: A food blogger learns more about farms and food by getting up-close and personal with a calf.

MIDDLE:Sports dietitians toured the Hatcher Family Dairy in College Grove, Tenn.

BOTTOM: Her face on a milk carton? No, that’s Josie Kelsay dressed to help raise funds for the Great American Milk Drive at her family’s dairy in Whiteland, Ind.

On the web

  • DairyGood
    Visit this site to find the many ways the dairy checkoff is building and reinforcing consumer trust in you and your products.
  • FARM
    Go here to learn more about the “Farmers Assuring Responsible Management” program.
  • Milk Life
    Visit this site to make a milk donation or learn more about the Great American Milk Drive.

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