Colorado Farm Show expert: Communication between farmers, consumers key when discussing antibiotics in livestock
It’s more important now than ever before for farmers to tell their stories to the broader public.
That was the message Kellie Enns, an associate professor of ag education at Colorado State University, delivered to a group of about 35 farmers gathered Jan. 26 for a discussion about the Veterinary Feed Directive at the Colorado Farm Show at Island Grove Regional Park in Greeley, Colo.
“It’s about open communication rather than right versus wrong,” she said.
Enns was part of the Colorado Farm Show’s Education Day event that focused on antibiotic use in livestock. This discussion came in the wake of the Jan. 1 implementation of the feed directive. The Food and Drug Administration rule — designed primarily to combat growing immunity of bacteria to antibiotics — changes the way farmers access certain drugs and use them in their livestock.
Before, animals could be treated with antibiotics as a preventative measure, when needed, and to promote growth. Now farmers must get the antibiotics from a veterinarian and can only use them to treat specific illnesses in their livestock. Many farmers say they find the feed directive needless and onerous.
As part of the discussion, presenters showed three videos that offered an array of facts, half-truths and myths about antibiotic use in livestock. Enns, and many of the farmers in attendance, said the feed directive offers an example of the way misunderstandings can have big consequences. And presenters said farmers must learn to do more than simply share the facts of their case to the wider world. They must pay attention to the way the facts are discussed.
“You want to keep that conversation going,” said Mark Kokes, a retired agriculture teacher who works with Colorado Young Farmers.
One reason it’s so important to bridge the communication gap, they said, is because farmers represent only about 2 percent of the population. That leaves a lot of room for misconception and misunderstandings.
“We need to change the way we approach the other 98 percent,” Kokes said.
One of the examples of the way misconceptions spread came in a media report shared during the presentation stating farmers feed their cows through holes cut into their sides. That might seem outlandish, but researchers actually do cut those holes in the sides of some cattle, Enns said. It’s not to feed them. It’s used to research the digestive system.
Enns said it’s important for farmers not to assume they know every aspect of a discussion. That keeps the communication going.
Kokes and Enns said farmers must work to find common ground with those with whom they hope to share their message. For example, the main goal of the feed directive is to keep food safe for all. That’s something everyone can embrace, they said.
The farmers who participated in the discussion agreed farmers want to produce the best food they can — for their families and the public. Farmers want their animals to be healthy and a good product for the consumers. They’re not going to sell food they think will be bad for members of the public.
“We have common values, and that’s a great starting point (for conversation),” Enns said. ❖
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