While a myriad of unforeseen causes can put your operation in the public eye, none are more challenging than those driven by activists who relish an opportunity to exploit a real or perceived weakness.

Cindy Cunningham of the National Pork Board warns not to underestimate their abilities. She reels off a list of 11 animal welfare/rights groups who receive annual donations ranging from $1.5 million to $130 million. Some are international. All are set to spend large sums of money on highly visible, emotional causes that encourage the continued flow of dollars to their coffers.

Their efforts are far from knee-jerk. Rather, they are strategic in their approaches and passionate about their causes, which can range from housing to antibiotic use to environmental concerns and more.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) boasts more than 10 million members and constituents nationwide, and vows to protect all animals through legislation, litigation, investigation, education, advocacy and field work. They reap special benefit from perceived, though not actual, ties to local animal shelters.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) claims to be the largest animal rights organization in the world and lists a similar set of objectives and tactics to HSUS. However, they go beyond simple animal protection to a goal of eliminating animal use for food, clothing, research and entertainment. Size doesn't matter.

The Humane Farming Association (HFA), with a relatively miniscule annual activist budget of $2.4 million, was behind the recent and damaging HBO documentary, “Death on a Factory Farm.” HFA's stated goal is to protect farm animals, the public and the environment.

For these and similar groups, the end can easily justify the means. Tactics can be multitiered and are commonly tied to broader campaigns. For example, if anti-confinement state legislation is being pursued, it increases the likelihood that livestock operations in that state will be the targets of publicity-generating incidents. Activists are masters at using emotion, choosing terms such as “industrialized animal factories” and “factory farms” to portray even family livestock and poultry operations. Science is routinely ignored, getting lip service, at best.

“It's not just a pork issue,” Cunningham points out. “It's an animal agriculture issue. Every time an incident occurs, it affects the entire industry. We all need to strive to do things right, and we need to work together. Our industry will not be held hostage by these groups.”