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Reframe Animal Rights Debate, Producers Told

Livestock producers under attack from animal welfare activists should fight fire with fire by appealing to people’s emotions, says a food industry communications strategist.

Activists focus on feelings to get people angry about alleged animal abuse. So farmers should counter with emotional arguments based on consumers’ self-interest, Dan Murphy said.

Murphy, an American meat industry journalist and commentator, was the lead-off speaker at the recent annual Manitoba Swine Seminar.

He said producers should redefine the dialogue with consumers to include three basic emotional issues that people care deeply about: sustainability, stewardship and security.

Everyone agrees on a gut level about the need to conserve resources, protect the environment and enhance national security. So the more industry tailors its message to these priorities, the more people will receive favourably, said Murphy.

He said act ivists of ten focus on feelings and dismiss the facts. So it’s pointless to respond to irrational claims about animal abuse with cold logic and science because that doesn’t impress people stirred up over wellbeing, he told his audience.

“That scenario is a guaranteed loss for agriculture.”

Instead, producers should respond with a message that resonates: agriculture is a positive contributor to food safety and resource preservation, Murphy said.

In short, producers should reframe the debate in ways that extend beyond farm animals, he said.

Later Murphy, author of the recent book The Meat of the Matter, said consumers feel positively about an industry that positions itself as a guardian of the public good.

So agr iculture needs to show people it’s a public protector because it uses sustainable, responsible practices, he said.

“I think it’s absolutely possible to turn the debate around,” he said. “I think the industry has a golden opportunity to really create a positive position for itself.”

The trick is to reframe the discussion to talk about the big issues affecting everybody, Murphy said.

“If you find ways to position yourself as an environmentalist, as someone who is promoting animal welfare, as someone engaged in increasing the idea of sustainability, then you’re tapping into larger social, psychological trends that are already happening for a whole variety of other reasons,” he said.

“Industry just needs to get on top of that wave.”

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