The nation's biggest media outlets have focused on hog farmers in recent weeks as the COVID-19 crisis continued to upend the nation's food supply, from farm to fork.
In much of the recent mainstream news coverage, pork producers have been treated with the empathy and respect they deserve amid extraordinary, difficult and constantly changing circumstances.
Our hearts broke for Doc Hoehm and his family as they spoke to CNN about the grievous decisions at hand, and what the network acknowledged as a "terrible dilemma" faced by too many. The Wall Street Journal adeptly explained the "deep emotional and financial toll" of the crisis, especially at the farm level.
NPR spent time with farmer Andrea Hoehn of Minnesota, who said with simple honesty: "We raise animals to feed people. It's our circle of life. But when you raise them and they don't feed anyone … God did not create us to do this."
The New York Times gave considerable space to outline the many actions that farmers are taking to prevent "wrenching" last-resort decisions. FOX News has provided context and background to help the public understand why government aid is needed to support pork producers.
It is now clear that aggressive actions are necessary to save family farms and the rural communities they support, just as we as a society have done and will continue doing for banks, airlines, restaurant chains and countless other businesses.
Pork producers contribute much more than jobs, taxes and economic impact — our farm families are the heartbeat of rural communities across the nation.
And now, hog farmers are closely watching our members of Congress to see how and when they will act.
So are corn growers and soybean producers, small-town mayors, county commissioners, school superintendents, principals, teachers, fire chiefs, sheriffs, parks and recreation directors, grocers, bankers, car and equipment dealers and so many others whose communities and livelihoods depend on the health of the farm economy in general, and the success of pork producers in particular.
Pork producers nationwide have identified critical and immediate necessities that only Congress can address: direct payments for livestock farmers who have suffered from the pandemic's sweeping blows to market values; compensation for livestock that will not be processed due to virus-related bottlenecks in the supply chain; and more funding for animal health laboratories and staff, which are playing a critical role in this human health catastrophe.
Sadly, but also necessary: money and other support to provide mental health assistance for farmers. The financial and emotional toll of what is happening is …. Well, the truth is, words are inadequate to fully describe how great the toll is. Mental health aid is needed.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have already supported those immediate necessities in the latest, aptly named HEROES Act. Our U.S. Senators would be wise to ensure those livestock agriculture provisions are also included as they draft their own legislation to deliver much-needed relief.
These ongoing, positive efforts stand in stark contrast to other efforts out on the margins, beyond the mainstream media, where the zealots and fanatics aim to stoke fear and spread misinformation and distortion. We won't dwell on all that here, other than to remind you that there is a well-financed network of paid activists, lawyers and others who want to dismantle modern livestock agriculture.
They are working overtime, seeking to exploit this moment of crisis to advance their own agenda — and grow their bank accounts. Logically, if these groups had their way, food would be harder to find, would cost much more, and even more people would go hungry. Attacks on a food system that is feeding millions safely and affordably are remarkably misguided.
Jason Lusk, a food and agricultural economist at Purdue University, recently explored elements of this perspective, writing about the harsh reality of so-called "solutions" that might sound good but would not resolve what is, in the end, a sudden, unusual and, yes, painful crisis.
The mainstream media's recent coverage portrayed pork producers with empathy and understanding when it has been needed. Hog farmers should know the general public is supportive as well. And this isn't a hunch.
The National Pork Board has been surveying consumers nationally, and in leading pork-producing states, on topics around the coronavirus crisis. The results have shown that, by very wide margins, consumers continue to have trust and confidence in pork products, employee safety and animal well-being.
This is a credit to so many hog farmers — as well as to public health experts, veterinarians and other government officials — who have worked together in challenging circumstances to address the crisis while sharing factual, honest information.
In these uncertain times, farmers are pushing forward and working hard. As Pat McGonegle, CEO of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, put it, "We're losing money, but we're still going to do everything we can to make sure the pigs head to the food channel. That's just in our DNA."
Indeed, America's hog farmers are doing everything to ensure the safety of America's food supply. We need Congress to take actions as well — in deeds, not just words.