Recently I read this quote by the Dalai Lama: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But when you listen, you may learn something new.”

How profound! I have said many, many times that we must listen and try to understand others’ viewpoints and concerns before we can communicate why we farm and ranch the way we do. We must try to understand where people are getting their information, and what this information portrays farming to be. Only then can we understand how people process information and what they think about farming.

Others’ opinions are greatly influenced by outside sources. I’ve learned how crucial it is to find out to whom consumers are listening. In my experience, people with the strongest convictions on any certain subject are the ones who listen to rhetoric that feeds on emotions. The more their emotional heart strings are pulled, the tighter they hold onto their opinions!

That’s why it’s so important to consider the source… Did it The Des Moines Register? (Mainstream media doesn’t always cover both sides of the story nor does it necessarily get the facts straight!) If research is cited, who paid for it? Did the information come from a special interest group? If a consumer is concerned about food safety, did he or she consult with a dietician or a doctor? Or did the consumer get his or her information from the “experts,” who set up the new school lunch program? Perhaps the consumer first consult google, which is always right. Right?

All of these sources of information glean their information somewhere. For example, information may be from radical organizations with an agenda such as Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This “non-profit organization” claims to care for animals, but it’s more about raising money to end animal agriculture. The more a person gets to know about HSUS, the better understanding they have the organizations true interest.

It’s also important to follow the money to find out how it may influence opinion. Newspapers want large circulations to keep their advertising sales strong. As a result, editors may be listening to a group here in Iowa like the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. I often see opinions in our state’s biggest paper from this group. Ironically, ICCI supports regulations to “protect” small farmers. As a small farmer, regulations make it more difficult for me to farm.

Regulations also have been a catalyst in farm consolidation. One example is the COOL law, or the Country of Origin Labeling. This law prevented me from sourcing my pigs from the best place I could find, which just happened to be in Canada. I had to turn to sources of pigs that were inferior, which puts me at a disadvantage because larger farmers raise their own pigs.

As you can see, not all sources of information are true experts on a subject matter. Even bonafide experts’ information may be biased by an ulterior motive or influenced by politics. Cargill’s announcement to eliminate all gestation stalls wasn’t about being better caretakers of pregnant sows. It was an image ploy to help keep their position in the market place.

Everyone has some kind of bias, I know. The way you were raised and your experiences all lead to the decisions you make and the advice you give. However, my experience has taught me there is a lot of information out there about farming. I’m all for letting consumers buy what they want, and I support food choice.

When a certain group tries to tell that another groups its products are wrong, or worse yet, they try to get regulations passed that limit choices, then I speak up. We all should!