Animal rights activists protesting© Ray Tang/REX/Shutterstock

A couple of weeks ago I woke to read that 750 piglets and sows had been killed in a Wiltshire barn fire.

My heart breaks for the family who have seen their livelihood go up in flames as well as the animals who must have suffered unbearably.

The cause is still unknown, but if intentional, this unspeakable act of cruelty is beyond comprehension.

A minority of the comments on social media, though, were not so sympathetic, with people suggesting that the animals were due to be slaughtered anyway, and if the pigs had been free range the tragedy would not have happened.

Others made tasteless jokes about the waste of bacon.


Such comments show a worrying disconnect between farmers and the public they feed, which the animal rights brigade continues to capitalise on.

Liz-HainesLiz Haines and her husband Nick milk 320 spring-calving cows in a contract-farming arrangement in north Shropshire.

Farmers Weekly has reported on pig farmers being targeted already this year with Animal Aid carrying out an undercover investigation following expansion plans at a pig unit in Yorkshire and the National Pig Association claiming it dealt with a peak of 15 exposé in a fortnight.

Intensive dairy and broiler units have also faced action, and it seems that no area of livestock production is immune from the threat.

What does this mean for the future of livestock farmers?

Despite the apparent renaissance of British food, there are still far too many misconceptions circulating about how our food is produced.

So many people I speak to seem to think that we pump our cows full of hormones and antibiotics which are transferred into the milk, and one friend actually asked me if we milk the bulls.

Surely a key part of growing our industry is marketing ourselves, our values and standards to the public Liz Haines

My Facebook feed brings up links to films, such as Cowspiracy, which claim the beef industry is the leading cause of climate change, posters greet you in motorway service station toilets declaring that all male chicks are killed at birth in the egg industry

Even The Sun has run stories in the past with Compassion in World Farming, which imply that most male dairy calves are killed at birth and 70% of dairy cows have mastitis.

‘The truth’

Farmers know that the truth is completely different – the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in the world, and we are rightly proud of them.

But when supermarkets can import cheaper products from other countries which don’t have the same stringent regulations, and worse still label them up to look like they have come from British Farms, it is no wonder that consumers are left feeling confused.

In his column on 29 July, David Alvis suggested that Brexit provides a golden opportunity to promote the “buy British” message, and I completely agree.

But who should take responsibility for spreading the word?

In February, AHDB chairman Peter Kendall rejected calls to launch a farmer-funded advertising campaign urging people to buy British food, claiming the levy body’s role is to provide farmers with the tools to grow their industry,“not make [them] feel good about themselves when they watch TV in the evening”.


Surely a key part of growing our industry is marketing ourselves, our values and standards to the public.

As individual farmers, we are best placed to tell the story of the work we do, and fight the misinformation which too often abounds in discussions about food production.

Social media provides a free and easy way to connect with people from all walks of life.

Whether it’s tweeting a photo, posting a video, or writing a blog, the power is in our hands to spread the truth about our fantastic industry.

Perhaps some AHDB funding would be well spent on developing our skills in this area.