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Pork producer shares how his farm dealt with undercover video

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 07/09/2012 3:09 PM

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DES MOINES — Lynn Becker never thought he'd be in the position of defending his pork operation from animal abuse accusations contained in an undercover video.

"But I am standing in front of you as living proof that it can happen," Becker told the audience during a National Pork Board seminar at the recent World Pork Expo. The seminar covered what farmers need to do if confronted with an undercover video.

Becker, is an owner and manager of LB Pork Inc. of Fairmont, Minn., a fifth-generation family-owned swine and crop operation. The Becker family and the Thome family of Adams, Minn., in 2008 purchased MowMar LLP, a 6,000 sow farm at Bayard, Iowa.

The sale came just 28 days before People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a 3-minute video displaying inappropriate actions and language by employees toward animals.

"We were completely shocked as was the rest of the world," Becker said. "Nearly all the filming was done prior to our ownership. We were absentee owners at the time."

Becker said the video, the first of its kind to have a big impact, included things that "are not tolerable, stuff we have to make sure is not happening in our operations."

The event took a tremendous toll in resources to defend his operation and also impacted his farm and family.

When PETA released the video, it also launched a member email campaign.

"Within 24 hours I had 1,000 emails," Becker said.

Becker received calls from as far away as Norway. He still receives emails, and his wife, Julie, kept a sampling of letters from 14 states and Germany. The video was aimed at Hormel, but affected the entire industry, Becker said.

Hormel received nearly 30,000 calls, emails and letters. There were more than 11.6 million media impressions from more than 200 published articles referencing PETA and Hormel.

"What really set it off was when PETA knew that they had a direct line to Hormel as us as a supplier," Becker said. "None of the pigs previously from the unit had gone to Hormel. Hormel was very supportive and worked with us through the ordeal."

Becker called the manager and other owners, the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council, his attorney, banker and packer. All said they were there to help.

"I can't thank and praise National Pork Board assistant vice president of communications Cindy Cunningham enough," Becker said. "She led a coordinated effort organizing conference calls and developing a strategy to respond to PETA and the media."

The response needed to be immediate with just minutes to hit news wire deadlines.

"You need a dedicated spokesperson," Becker said. "Use today's tools to get your story out."

Becker's management team met with PETA and developed steps they would follow and have done so.

"Create that positive barn culture," Becker said. "The ethical principles of the We Care Program, Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport Quality Assurance are industry leading food safety and animal well being education programs."

Prior leadership roles and community involvement were vital in getting through the crisis. The Beckers were well known and respected in their community, state and industry.

"Investigate anything that might even remotely be perceived as poor animal treatment," Becker said. "Proper animal care has to be number one every day."