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(Mikkel Pates/Agweek)

Abuse must be addressed on more than one level

I have zero tolerance for any type of abuse. Domestic abuse. Child abuse. Elderly abuse. Drug abuse. Alcohol abuse. Animal abuse. Our society has become conditioned to hearing about it. You might have experienced abuse of some sort firsthand.

In the past, when animal abuse videos were released, I would watch them and immediately react via social media. Now, I no longer publicly react.

Recently, when abuse videos from the nation's largest dairy farm surfaced, I was asked privately by a family member about my thoughts and reactions. After our conversation, I decided to share more here in my column. It's important we have a dialogue about defining moments that can improve agriculture as a whole.

We aren't hiding anything and don't need to stay quiet. We also don't want to react and bring more attention to activists seeking to destroy our industry, livelihoods and way of life.

Animal abuse by a few employees on one farm doesn't define all of animal agriculture, just as child abuse by a parent or caregiver doesn't define how everyone treats children.

Yes, that's an outlandish statement, but I've heard that assumption from non-ag friends. One animal abuser prompts an assumption that others are doing the same. I know firsthand from visiting farms and ranches across North America that couldn't be further from the truth.

Like a lot of farms and ranches, Fair Oaks entrusts the care of their animals to hired employees to spread out the workload. From the outside looking in, they have done everything right in my mind. Fair Oaks is a big company but they're transparent. They host tours, festivals and events for a reported 600,000 visitors a year. They set a high standard and model in agriculture.

The creation of Fair Life milk, which includes Fair Oaks and 29 other dairy farms, reaches consumers who might otherwise not drink milk with an ultra-filtered, lactose-free option. Reports of grocery and convenience stores pulling the milk from shelves due to animal welfare standards not being met hurt me as an agriculturist. What a waste! The milk is ready to consume. Let people buy it and drink it. It seems like such a first-world, knee-jerk reaction.

Yes, mistakes and errors were made, but there's no need to create more food waste and impact all 30 dairy farms contributing to Fair Life milk nor negatively impact the dairy and animal agriculture industries.

Three of the four employees in the video were reported to supervisors for animal abuse and fired. The fourth employee was fired when the undercover videos were released. A witness has now come forward staying an activist group employee recording the video encouraged the abuse.

Animal abuse can happen on any size farm, just like abuse of humans is not limited to a certain population or socioeconomic group. Therefore, we all have to pause and learn from the ordeal. My takeaways include:

1. Don't share the abuse videos. You're feeding the animal rights activists who might call themselves "advocates" but truthfully their goal is to end animal agriculture. In social media, add water to the fire, not gasoline.

2. If you care for animals, share about your animal welfare practices. Be open to listening and answering questions from those who are genuinely interested in learning about animal agriculture practices. Don't let the activists be the norm in the news and headlines. Get to know your local media so they reach out to you when they have questions or need a story source.

3. Take your time when hiring employees to find those individuals who will care for the animals as you would and meet industry expectations. Implement more safety practices and precautions than you once thought were necessary.

4. Keep buying the food products you love to support the farmers, ranchers and industry that supply the most abundant food choices in the world. Animal abuse videos are terrible and remind us of the need for continued monitoring and change, but I'll keep drinking milk and buying Fair Life milk for my lactose-intolerant daughter.

More of the story and charges will continue to be released and reported. It's imperative for all of us in agriculture to observe and learn from the reaction.