PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST ANIMAL ACTIVISTS

Before an undercover activist strikes: be smart and do the right thing. The best public relations are to be responsible and to not let it happen in the first place. Over the past decade, livestock and poultry farms across the United States have been under siege by animal rights groups who use the shooting and release of undercover video to advance their agenda of ending the consumption of meat, milk and eggs. These groups have resorted to getting undercover workers hired at local farms, where they then work for extended periods of time, engaging with on-farm workers and shooting undercover video. It perpetuates the challenge we face each day -- ensuring our consumer believes in how we farm, in how we produce food, and that we are firmly committed to responsible care of our animals. It doesn't matter who put the video out, what matters is, is the visual image our consumers are left with at the end of the video tape. The best we can hope for is to manage and mitigate the worst of it and work hard to maintain consumer trust in today's farming practices.

Suggestions for farmers and the farm community about being extra-vigilant and more:

1. Do the right thing. Make sure your farm is exceeding all expectations for animal care, cleanliness and environmental responsibility. Let's not be our own worst enemy.

2. Watch your back and your neighbor's back. Pay attention to strange vehicles, and try and get license numbers off any suspicious vehicles. Engage local law enforcement if needed.

3. Hire the right people. Do background checks, reference checks and ask for actual Social Security cards and other hiring documentation. Seek counsel from an employment lawyer if needed. Put new hires on probation and watch them closely. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. And if a potential hire is suspicious, share that information with other farmers.

4. Empower your farm workers. Let them know of their importance as a team member in protecting your farm. Ask your workers how new people are performing. And let them know you expect them to immediately report any strange behaviors or if they suspect any undercover activity.

5. Set codes of conduct for animal care. If you don't have them, establish animal care standards and train your employees on those standards. Require ANY farm worker that handles animals to sign a written Code of Conduct. This is important both for animal care protocol and to verify all employees understand their shared obligation.

6. Stay active and in touch with your industry leadership. There is so much happening in livestock and poultry farming right now, you can't afford to NOT be engaged. Likewise, share any information you gather in your local community about any of these activities.

7. Maintain strict security procedures on your farms. Now more than ever, keep your doors locked and be mindful of what's happening inside and outside your operations. Don't let your absence or a false sense of security be your downfall.

8. Alert your local law enforcement. Let them know there have been a number of issues on farms across the country, and ask them to do a few extra "drive-bys" at your farm. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Hinda Mitchell provides counsel in issues management, crisis communications, image and reputation, media relations and strategic planning to farmers, agriculture groups and other food system organizations. She directs activities in the Columbus, Ohio office of CMA, a leading national communications firm headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, specializing in agriculture and food system clients. She can be reached at Hinda@cmakc.com or 816-556-3142.