CHRISTIANA, PA. — For Jeremy Ranck, tending to his family’s 2,500 swine has become a full-time job in the truest sense, marked by 5:30 a.m. wake-ups and workweeks that can top 70 hours. Despite the back-breaking labor, hours of paperwork and razor-thin margins, keeping quiet always seemed like part of the job.
Now, Ranck, the 30-year-old Pennsylvania hog farmer, shares a message being echoed by many of his fellow swine producers throughout the industry: We’re tired of being dogged by unfair criticism heaped on our industry, and we’re fighting back.
“Any farm, that’s your life, that’s your passion, that’s what you do day in and day out. And we do everything we can to have the best production in crops, best production in hogs,” said Ranck, who farms with his dad, Jim, 57 miles west of Philadelphia. “It is very frustrating when there are these activist groups and social media blitzes of blatant lies. That’s out of our control per se, but we’re getting more control just by ramping up as an industry more positive news.”
Pork producers — which comprise more than 68,000 U.S. operations and sell nearly $56 billion in pork to consumers annually — admit they have not done a good enough job reaching out to the public to shed the secretive cloak that has covered the sector for decades. That has left them more susceptible to attacks that have become harder to defend with blogs and Twitter.
Instead of speaking out themselves, pork producers have conceded they have been defined by critics. The move to improve the industry’s image is expected to be among the topics pork producers and exhibitors discuss as part of the World Pork Expo that begins Wednesday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Increasingly, consumer advocacy groups have been outspoken about what they view as the industry’s flaws: an overuse of antibiotics to promote animal growth and the raising of pigs in dark and unsanitary conditions. Critics are skeptical as to whether producers, despite their claims, have followed through on promises to reduce antibiotic use and improve the care of animals.