I’m a livestock producer. I’m getting used to frequent attacks by animal rights and other anti-agriculture groups. I still cringe each time they strike, and I fight back however and whenever it’s appropriate, but I have to admit it’s getting easier to respond. They keep spewing the same myths, regurgitating the same falsehoods, so my replies are ready, no research required. I’ve got experience, passion, facts, and good, solid science on my side.

However, I have to say that twice last week I was caught off guard. First of all, there was the USDA newsletter promoting “Meatless Mondays”. I had really never anticipated an attack from the department responsible for promoting all facets of agriculture. But I got on the phone and called my reps in Washington, helped to rattle some cages. Quickly, there was a retraction from USDA.

Then again, on Saturday morning I was thrown another curveball. At about 4:30 I was listening to WGN radio out of Chicago. Like many midwestern farmers, I have WGN on a lot, they give frequent weather and market updates. I was anticipating the “Morning Show” with popular ag broadcasters Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong that airs at 5:00 AM on Saturdays. I always tune in for that and listen while I’m getting ready for the farmers market. What I was hearing at 4:30 was apparently a taped broadcast of a Bill Leff show from earlier this month. Bill’s the overnight host, a former comic who seems like kind of a goof-ball. I don’t listen to him much, but when I do it’s usually a pleasant enough show. Bill was interviewing Lily Raff McCaulou, a woman living in Oregon who had written a book about hunting, “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner“. She’s a journalist, an urbanite who also has background in the TV and movie industry and moved from New York City west to Oregon. She apparently fell in love with the outdoors, took up hunting and has now written a book extolling the virtues of the hobby.

Ms. McCaulou explained how she feels closer to nature and a part of the ecosystem when hunting. Fine, I thought, I’m not a hunter myself, but I have nothing against those who choose to do so. As long as it’s done legally, with the proper licenses, and safety precautions in mind, of course. Problem was, she didn’t stop there. The author went on to state that hunting is ethical, as opposed to farming and ranching, which is not. That’s what initially got my attention. It was another first; a hunter opposing production agriculture. She stated that hunting casts a “light environmental footprint” but farming causes erosion, and “all kinds of pollution”. Hmmm, similar to the typical animal rights message, but with a new spin. She also went on some about how hunted animals are free to move around and live good lives, unlike farm animals, and the general “misery of factory farming”. This was where Bill Leff chimed in with his thoughts about how livestock is “inhumanely treated”. Up until that point, I was hoping that Bill might wake up and question the legitimacy of some of these erroneous statements, but he was much too busy setting himself up for pithy one-liners.

I wasn’t expecting to hear HSUS/PETA-style fictitious nonsense from a hunter. Hunting is OK; why blast agriculture? Her talk of the negative “environmental issues associated with farming” wasn’t only aimed at livestock producers, she made sure to include “farms growing vegetables or greens”. When she stated that it is hunters who are a “part of the food chain” with a vested interest in animals, and they are the ones who understand that a life was actually taken to supply them with food, I’ll admit I got mad. Farmers and ranchers know this, too. In fact, I believe that we respect this fact more than anyone else. This is not our hobby, not a way to spend the occasional weekend, it’s our livelihood! We care for our animals each and every day, and are grateful for what they provide us. If all of the hunted animals in the woods become ill or die, the hunter can simply go home without filling his or her tag, and stop off at the grocery store for food on the way. If the animals in a farmer or rancher’s care become ill or die, the farmer or rancher’s family and employees go hungry. And eventually, the grocery store shelves become bare.

Ms. McCaulou threw a few jabs at bird watchers and hikers too, saying that they, in addition to farmers, don’t contribute to conservation. Her view is that hunters pay for conservation because they purchase licenses and tags, and ammo has extra taxes associated with it. I would have to argue that farmers are land owners who pay property taxes which are used to fund conservation programs. Aside from that, there is no one with a more vested interest in land conservation than the farmer or rancher. We are stewards of the land and practice conservation every day. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. The survival of our businesses and way of life depend on it.

And to you Bill Leff, I would suggest that you need to spend some time with your colleagues, Orion and Max. Or better yet, hop a train or drive an hour and a half west to where I am. I’d be happy to take you to visit farms where you can see what’s really happening out here.

Whether it comes from animal rights activists, the USDA, or hunters, it’s time we farmers speak up for ourselves and stop the spread of this fiction. Before it’s too late.