MDNB helps dairy industry tell its side of story
Some people who don’t seek out all the facts tend to believe the first thing they hear, says Steve Edwards, a large-animal veterinarian. “If no one says otherwise, it becomes the truth in their minds,” he says.“That’s why we need to be telling dairy’s story — and preferably first. We need to be telling our story of milk production in a positive fashion, and not reactive and defensive.”
Edwards is part of a network of veterinarians, human health professionals and dairy producers who make up the Michigan Dairy News Bureau, which was the brainchild of the board of directors for United Dairy Industry of Michigan. The bureau is designed to serve as the center for science-based information about Michigan dairy farming, including cow care, environmental and sustainability practices, and dairy food safety.
• Bureau designed to be both proactive and reactive to tell dairy’s story.
• Focus on cow care, dairy food safety, and environmental, sustainability practices.
• Vets, health professionals and farmers unite to support the dairy industry.
A 22-year veteran of veterinary medicine, Edwards is one of 17 vets who have volunteered to be spokespeople for the industry, being reactive to media with a proactive outreach.
The MDNB also has 10 health professionals and 12 family farms with 17 farm owners trained in media relations. “They are spread out all over the state, and we’ve got people in every major media market,” says Staci Garcia, UDIM director of industry and public communications.
At the effort’s center is a website featuring the 12 farm families, with photos, farm histories, and video interviews discussing cow comfort, veterinarian care, antibiotic use, protection of the environment and large-vs.-small dairies. There are also dairy facts, resources and links, and a pressroom for more questions and photos.
In a video clip of Edwards, who services Montcalm County and portions of surrounding counties, he tells a story of being called out on a cold, blustery winter night with his young son tagging along to watch as he diagnosed and treated a cow with milk fever, underlining both the urgency in animal care and the family atmosphere encompassing the dairy industry.
“A dairy farmer is a private businessman,” Edwards says. “They will not do something that will be a detriment to profitability; to neglect or abuse animals is counterproductive. And the rumor about antibiotics in milk is just ignorant to the many tests milk is subjected to before it reaches the consumer. We need to overturn that conception that has been hammered into consumers’ heads by animal activists.”
MDNB has two extensive videos on its site titled “Cow, People and Land,” and a new 20-minute video titled, “The Journey of Milk From Cow to You.”
“We interviewed producers, retailers, health professionals, large-animal vets and those at the milk plant to show that milk is one of the most extensively tested, regulated foods,” Garcia says. “Our goal is to get these videos in the hands of producers and have them out showing it and speaking to the community to help consumers better understand milk.”
Dairy farmers’ connections in the community through organizations, such as chambers of commerce, school boards, township commissions and churches, provides an opportunity to show the videos and to tell dairy’s story, Garcia says. “But producers also need to be looking down the road and talking with their neighbors. You’d be surprised how many don’t understand how milk is produced.”
Animal rights activists have put a certain urgency on the movement. “We want consumers to know their local dairy farmer by face and name, and know they care about animal safety and comfort and are good stewards of the land,” she adds.
Speaking out with one voice is critical, Garcia notes. “Dissension in the industry confuses consumers. It’s not to anyone’s benefit to say a certain milk is better than others. Our message needs to be that all milk [sold in stores] is pasteurized, tested and 100% safe.”
Edwards says he’s hoping the Greenville Middle School in his hometown will show, “The Journey of Milk From Cow To You” video.
“I recently heard teachers showed ‘Food Inc.’ in class,” he says. “So, I really think they need to hear and see our story. If they’re not willing to show the video, I’d be happy to come talk to the class.”
This article published in the February, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.