Avoid propaganda and talk to the public

Writers Posted 07/08/14
I suggest that anyone who keeps sheep, with access to a computer, visits the web-link below, reads the article, entitled “A wool jumper is just as cruel as a mink coat” published online by “The Independent” and, in particular, watches the embedded video clip.

I suggest that anyone who keeps sheep, with access to a computer, visits the web-link below, reads the article, entitled “A wool jumper is just as cruel as a mink coat” published online by “The Independent” and, in particular, watches the embedded video clip.

Then, just take a little while to reflect on what you have read and seen. As a UK sheep producer is this in tune with your own experiences? I suspect not. My first thoughts were why would a national newspaper publish such a blatant piece of animal rights propaganda?

But then the author does admit to being an animal rights campaigner and is probably a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who supplied the video clips (follow the links). Visit the PETA website and their agenda is stated quite emphatically. “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way” – so we know where they are coming from. My second thoughts were what an audacious attempt to tarnish the reputation of the entire sheep industry on the strength of a couple of heavily edited video clips. But this is part of their propaganda. They have a cause to promote and no matter how wrong we think they might be they have, in a democratic country, a right, to do so. And the video clips do tell a tale – a tale that is totally unacceptable to all right minded sheep keepers. The most disturbing thing about the video clip from the United States (follow the link for a clip from Australia) is the appalling lack of any regard for sheep welfare, although I suspect that some of the individuals featured in the clips would show a similar disregard for some members of their own society, such as black or native Americans.

This is certainly not behavior that would be tolerated by most shearers or sheep farmers around the world, certainly not in the UK. We know that shearing is not without its risks, to shearer or sheep. That’s life, nothing is risk free, but it doesn’t mean that we stop doing it. I would hope that we all treat our sheep with compassion (and that doesn’t mean sentimentality): rough handling is always unacceptable and, in reality, often slows down work rates.

This is certainly not behavior that would be tolerated by most shearers or sheep farmers around the world, certainly not in the UK

I found this link via “Twitter,” and what I found almost as alarming as the article and clips were some of the retweets to the original piece. There were responses such as “Idiots this is what makes animal rights groups look so stupid”(sic) and “what do you expect from an ignorant townie? They don’t realise sheep need sheared to keep them healthy, no profit shearing” (sic).

To the former I would ask, to whom do they look stupid? Is it sheep producers, who are able to take an informed view, or the general public? And who is this aimed at – not us, or certainly not us as sheep producers, but at consumers. And to the latter, what do you mean by “ignorant townie”? “Ignorant” as in uneducated or “ignorant” uninformed? If it is the latter then there are many issues on which we are all not fully informed, but does this mean that we are all ignorant?

Propaganda is designed to promote a cause and will, at worst, be based on lies and at best on half truths. It is not, by definition, going to present a balanced view and you cannot counter propaganda simply by calling people “idiots” or “ignorant.” Nor can it be counteracted with more propaganda. All too frequently in this sort of situation people polarise, with opposing factions retreating to extreme views and shouting at each other, if only metaphorically, which is counter productive.

What is needed is meaningful dialogue – probably not with PETA, which almost certainly has such entrenched views that any dialogue would rapidly descend to circular argument, which leads nowhere.

What we as an industry need is dialogue with our customers, those people being targeted by PETA propaganda. This is not as difficult as many people might think. They are not “ignorant townies”: they may be uninformed, but, generally they are keen to find out more about our industry and they are after all our customers. We need them and they need us, something often not fully appreciated by either party. I have for many years been involved in shearing demonstrations and experience shows that members of the public, almost without exception, enjoy watching sheep shearing, appreciate the skills involved and are keen to ask questions. They provide an ideal opportunity to set right some of the misconceptions that people may hold. But it need not be as formal as that. Any opportunity to engage with one or more of our customers – it may just be a passing conversation with a few walkers or in the pub – is an opportunity to present our own case, so why not do it?


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