Tune in just about any talk program or open the editorial page of any newspaper and you will see name calling, personal assassination, denigration, bullying, and false accusations all in the name of conversation. It is a fact that what passes for public discourse in the US today has become more virulent, negative, and downright nasty. While I personally find this kind of speech disgusting, there are many — especially those who practice it — who find it acceptable. A member of the print media recently testified before a hearing that “caustic discourse is part of our heritage and is necessary to produce good public policy.” He was using this to defend the practice of publishing accusations about farmers without any verifiable proof. Yet there are certain groups who are exempt from this caustic discourse, unfortunately farmers are not in that group.
When it comes to issues like race, sexual orientation, gender, non-Christian religions, and certain nationalities, caustic discourse if off limits. Political correctness rules the words and phrases used. Certain words and phrases have proven to be the downfall of public officials, media superstars, and even corporate executives. The line between name calling and hate speech is a fine one and varies greatly depending on who is being called what and by whom. This situation has come about due in part to the fact that certain groups have demanded certain words and invectives not be used when referring to them. They have banded together to express their outrage and offense and have demanded they be treated with more respect and civil language. Sadly, the agricultural community is not among this group.
Thus, just about anyone can say just about anything about farmers, farming, and agriculture without fear of recrimination. Take, for example, the term “factory farm.” Coined by radical activist groups, it was designed to describe modern agriculture in a negative light. It has been used so often by these groups that it has found its way into everyday usage, even by the non-biased media. If you have more than 4 buildings on your farm and you are not an organic farmer, then sooner or latest someone is going to call your farm a factory farm. I find this term offensive and consider it an invective whenever it is used.
“Mad cow,” “pink slime,” and “swine flu” are all terms cooked up by activists or the media seeking to degrade or over-sensationalize an agricultural issue. These all invoke negative images in the minds of consumers that are far from the truth and have become labels the media and radical activists can apply to anything and anyone they want to vilify. Farm groups have asked public officials and the media not to use these terms; but, for the most part, these requests have fallen on deaf ears. So, maybe it is time we start yelling.
If you are tired of being called names, then get mad and start demanding they stop. When your local newspaper runs a story and uses the term “factory farm,” call the editor and tell him you are personally offended by the term and demand he stop using it. The same goes for other media you encounter. Don’t get sidetracked by arguing about the subject of the article or report, just stick to your point: this term is offensive. You may want to offer them a suggested replacement such as “modern farming operation.” One call won’t work; there must be dozens or hundreds of calls. This will have to be repeated each and every time the phrase is used.
Recently, the Indiana Broadcasters Association sent out a letter to its member stations and used the term “factory farm.” I responded with a strongly worded letter expressing my outrage and personal offense that this term was used by an organization of which I am a member. In that note, I pointed out that farmers are heavy users of broadcast media and that farm related advertising bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to radio the television stations in the state. I told them their farmer audiences would be greatly offended by the negative, pejorative correspondence.
It is time that agriculture stop asking for respect and courtesy and start demanding it. We should not demand that people agree with what we do or how we do it, but we should demand they treat us with respect and civility. Don’t waste your time with the nutcase activist groups, they are hopeless. But instead concentrate on the media, public officials, businesses, and organizations. If you voted for them, buy from them, or use their services, you have a right to demand respect. This includes you social media users. When someone on Facebook or Twitter uses a derogatory term related to farmers or agriculture, call them on it. If they continue, report them as spam.
If we get mad, we can make a difference. When Oprah told people to stop eating beef, the Texas cattlemen took her to court. They lost, but Oprah has not done another show on beef. Remember when the Labor Department wanted to take kids off the farm? Angry farm families turned Washington upside down. If enough of us get mad enough and get serious enough, we can make a difference. We will not get HSUS to serve steak at their Christmas party, but perhaps we can make it politically incorrect to use a derogatory term when referring to farmers and their farms.
By Gary Truitt