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Using Twitter to advocate for British livestock farming
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Abstract

This month, farmer Joe Stanley describes why he uses Twitter, and why he thinks vets should too

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What can help your approach

  • Setting up a Twitter account is quick, easy and free. Many farmers, farming-related groups and journals are highly active on Twitter, and it’s a great place to keep up with the hot topics that might lead to useful discussions on-farm. You can ‘follow’ absolutely anyone and don’t ever have to tweet yourself if you don’t want to.

  • Your practice may have a social media policy. If so, check whether and how this applies to personal accounts. If in doubt, the RCVS has useful social media guidance in section 28 of the supporting guidance to the code of conduct.

  • Ask your clients for their Twitter handles and consider both following them and asking who else they’d recommend following. However, you should take care to ensure you’re only following people who provide you with information that’s interesting and relevant.

‘Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.’ As somebody who was sceptical of social media, this was the best summary of Twitter I’d seen. However, since joining Twitter in 2017, I have found it invaluable as a source of information, as a means to communicate directly with consumers and as a place to engage with policymakers and regulators.

Twitter is a great place to see stories or research papers that might not be covered in the mainstream media and to get information (but maybe not always the facts) on current issues. It is also an important means of disseminating what I do as a farmer to a public often egregiously ill-informed about food and farming.

I recently shot a two-minute video in my cattle shed in response to the BBC documentary ‘Meat: a threat to our planet?’. Although not primetime BBC1, my video showing the reality of a UK beef herd garnered 75,000 views and hundreds of positive responses from around the world.

Twitter has also been a great means of engaging with policymakers. I’ve had constructive conversations with MPs, ministers, civil servants and journalists, which have, in many cases, led to real-world meetings or the opportunity to appear in the national media and make the case for British agriculture.

I believe it’s hugely important for farmers to be active on social media to accurately depict what we do

British agriculture has such a positive story to tell, and I believe it’s hugely important for farmers to be active on social media to accurately depict what we do. Understandably, many farmers are cautious about posting details of their businesses online – especially those with livestock, who are concerned about the possible backlash from vegan activists. But, when it comes to online abuse, a tap of the ‘block’ button gives instant peace of mind, and, while the dangers of real-world incursions are more concerning, the incidence of this in the UK has, in reality, been low.

I would also encourage vets to be more vocal on Twitter and bring their expertise in the agri-food sector to bear. There are a lot of positives we can shout about – from our high, internationally recognised animal welfare standards to our recent large scale reductions in the on-farm use of antibiotics. These are successes with vets at their core, and about which they should rightly be proud.

However, there are still battles to fight around issues such as biosecurity and bovine TB. Here, the voices of respected professional vets are often sadly lacking, and the airwaves are too often ceded to those with no real understanding of the issues.

As a farmer, I would also value more input from vets in this informal, online medium to help me understand the challenges affecting them as valued members of the agri-food sector, and how we might better work together towards our common goal of ever-improving animal health and welfare.

With a fresh government looking at a five-year term, future policy will soon be decided for a generation. It has, therefore, never been more important for vets and farmers to stand up and take some responsibility for our future. At the centre of good, sustainable policy must be a solid core of facts and evidence, and, in our crazy modern world, social media is one way to get that information out to where it needs to be.

Do you want to get involved?

If you know a client who might be interested in writing for us, please contact us at vet.clientview@bmj.com. Any contributions will be assessed by the column’s veterinary coordinator, Zoe Belshaw.

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