The window through which one sees animal welfare can vary greatly depending upon the angle taken.
The windows of cattlemen and bovine veterinarians, for instance, tend to be based on their experiences, training and knowledge level of production practices, while the windows of activists and the public are more likely based on perception.
In addressing those attending the 48th annual conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners in New Orleans, La., Dr. David Daley of California State University-Chico told the veterinary community that it can help narrow the overall view by doing the best job possible in not only communicating effectively with the public but also in helping on the farm with mismanagement and mistreatment situations they may encounter.
For the most part, the industry is doing the right thing but if something can be done better, get involved for those are often times the situations that are used to drive ballot initiatives aimed at restricting how producers operate.
“We all know that when issues move to the ballot box we lose,” said Daley.
In providing tips on to better communicate about animal agriculture, Daley said it is important to recognize that while science may provide the answers it does not solve ethical questions the public may have. Quite honestly, the public doesn’t trust scientists, he said, noting that they often times believe scientists can be bought or their results spun.
“At the public policy level, science still has value, but in the public arena, it is no longer held in high regard,” said Daley.
Likewise, the use of economics as justification for certain production practices is a weak argument that agriculture often uses to counter questions that are thrown its way. To say that, “we treat our animals well as if we didn’t, we won’t make money,” sends the wrong message and certainly isn’t convincing to the public that we as an industry truly cares about our animals, said Daley.
While tempting, don’t step up to defend agricultural practices that you know little about, and defend only those that are defendable. “We as an industry lose credibility when we try to defend everything or things we don’t know about,” said Daley.
Agriculture’s inability or unwillingness to listen is another concern expressed by Daley. He noted that no value comes from attacking everyone who disagrees on an issue. It is much more effective to listen and not be so quick to judge others that disagree or think differently. “Good people can look at the same issues differently,” Daley said, noting that doesn’t mean one is wrong and one is right.
Recognize that the lunatic fringe is not the general public, and in fact, aren’t all that worthy of engaging. Daley noted that there are indeed extremists on both sides of the animal welfare discussion. Those within agriculture that a claim social elite status as food producers or generation-old producers who don’t want anyone telling them what to do because they know all, are indeed extremists in their own right.
Another practice that no one benefits from is that of criticizing and mocking non-conventional production systems. The truth of the matter is there is room for different methods of production and the market needs to be what determines their success, said Daley. We need to stop the bickering and name calling and let the market forces work, he said.
Interestingly, Daley made note of a survey conducted of California cattle producers that found 65% of the 200 surveyed indicated that they believe animals have rights, not in the sense that they be allowed to vote, etc., but that they have the right to proper care and welfare.
Production practices within agriculture continue to evolve, and that’s a good thing, but while we often talk about them we don’t always communicate about them as well as we should and that is something we all need to do a better job of, Daley said.