USDA under secretary: Tell the truth about agriculture

Ted McKinney, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, said it is more important now than ever for the farming and food sector to tell its story, because there are plenty of adversaries who are spreading false information.

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Ted McKinney, USDA under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, addresses the crowd at the 2018 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit. | Roy Graber
Ted McKinney, USDA under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, addresses the crowd at the 2018 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit. | Roy Graber

Ted McKinney, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, said it is more important now than ever for the farming and food sector to tell its story, because there are plenty of adversaries who are spreading false information.

McKinney addressed the attendees of the 2018 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit on May 3 in Arlington, Virginia.

McKinney praised the alliance for the work it does to bridge the communication gap between the agriculture sector and a public that is unfamiliar with the industry.

The USDA official specifically spoke of his disdain for “very nefarious” activists who enter agricultural operations under false pretenses and shoot undercover videos to convey a message of animal abuse or neglect.

“To plant somebody in disguise as someone on a farm, sometimes to create mishaps and then blow it up like this is a representation of the entire American farming industry, that is beyond … dishonest,” said McKinney.

McKinney ‘betting on agriculture’

While McKinney was critical the sketchy behavior from some opponents of the agriculture industry, he said he felt those in the industry can do better.

“We, too, have to change. Those of us that know and love agriculture (must understand) practices are changing. Consumers are demanding different things,” he said.

“Animal welfare standards are an important consideration. I’m not troubled that you all can meet that. I think you can. We’re in for a real tussle, but I am betting on agriculture.”

Tell your story

As misinformation about animal agriculture spreads, the industry needs to do more to set the record straight, according to McKinney. This should be done on a proactive basis.

“I hope all of you are finding your own way to talk to people about what really is the truth about agriculture,” said McKinney.

As a former employee of Elanco Animal Health, McKinney recalled his days with the company when he was challenged to “go out and make a difference.”

He told of how he got to know the meat market manager at his local Kroger supermarket, and how the two struck up conversations.

Initially, the two talked about the use of antibiotics in pork production. Another conversation followed about hormone use. Those talks led to other discussions, and McKinney provided the meat market manager with other educational materials.

Not long after that, a news story concerning animal antibiotic use came out, and that story wasn’t necessarily accurate.

“Guess who he called,” McKinney asked. “He called me. He didn’t call the environmental health and responsibility person at Kroger.”

McKinney was able to help clear up confusion about that particular topic, and showed that as an example about how open communication is a great way for the industry to gain the public’s trust.

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