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Fighting back against the activist threat

It's time for a new game plan and new approaches are emerging

Posted: March 6, 2014

Just over three years ago one example of a different kind of approach to dealing with animal activists was launched in Canada. The initiative is called the Ag & Food Exchange (AFX).

One reason it's different is its structure and focus. It is a fee-based privately run, specialized information and consultation bureau developed with initial financial support from government and now operates on support from the livestock and food industry. Its focus is strictly on activist activities and related issues.

The second difference is what it does. Paul Hodgman of AFX describes it as both a "411 service" for general information and a "911 service" for emergencies. While there are other private and public initiatives and service companies offering these kinds of communications services, Hodgman is convinced the approach is a useful model for the industry regardless of who provides the services.

Current resources

The AFX 411 service develops knowledge, resources and preparedness against future industry issues and activist campaigns. Here are a couple of specific examples of resources.

A sample employee animal handling agreement. This simple document outlines in straightforward terms the employer's commitment to employees and vice versa.

It is designed to build strong teamwork and assist in scanning potential employees who may have ulterior motives in joining the production team. It also outlines the consequences on employment if obligations are not lived up to, and sets the stage for potential legal action if that occurs.

"This is just good business management protocol that establishes a good working relationship from the start," says Hodgman. "It provides channels for employees to bring forward concerns to management in a timely and useful manner and lays out their obligation to report any animal abuse to management.

"This process also helps employers and their industry more effectively prepare for underground activist efforts to target the livestock industry."

Is your barn camera ready? Producers have been told they shouldn't do anything these days they wouldn't be able to explain if it showed up on the six o'clock news.

But what does that mean in terms of actually managing livestock?

This resource explains how producers have to think how other people would see their barns and animal environments, then be proactive about how they deal with that, says Hodgman. "That means anyone from a teenage relative from the city to family friends. Everyone has smartphones these days, can take a picture and post it to social media. Instantly it is available to the world."

Crisis preparedness

The 911 center portion of the Exchange is a disaster response service providing human resource support, consultative advice, strategic positioning and messaging to be prepared for issues and to deal with crisis situations when they develop.

"Not many people have had the experience of being in the middle of a serious crisis, when a media feeding frenzy hit," says Hodgman. "When that happens you need a plan, strategic advice and a team of people both internal and external to properly address the issue at hand."

Food chain engagement

Part of this effort is food chain engagement at the retail and food service level, says Hodgman.

He's optimistic the food chain will not treat this as a marketing opportunity. "The industry understands it is not a competitive issue," he says. "The discussion is starting and the industry is starting to appreciate the need to understand what changes are needed and how to do make those changes without putting everybody out of business."


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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