How can we meet community expectations if we don’t know what they are

Following up on my post The real story about Animal Abuse I am in this space at the moment because I am on two industry peak body committees whose role is to set policy to help achieve the best outcomes for farm animal well-being in this country.   

Yogurt is made from happy heathly cows

The federal government Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is currently in the process of working with stakeholders to develop Australian Standards and Guidelines for Welfare of Livestock

In this case the stakeholders are

  • government and non-government organisations
  • veterinary and community groups
  • animal industries
  • animal welfare groups, and
  • farmers and stock handlers

The development process has recently undergone an independent review by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) and they have released their findings which can be found here

The Business Plan for the development of Australian Standards and Guidelines for
Welfare of Livestock states the following as the objective of the Standards and Guidelines:

… the national livestock welfare standards, with complementary
guidelines, provide welfare outcomes that meet community and
international expectations and reflect Australia’s position as a leader in
modern, sustainable and scientifically-based welfare practice
.

This objective includes a requirement for the Standards and Guidelines to meet
community expectations and what the review has found is there is currently a relatively low understanding, or agreement, on what these expectations are.

This gap according to PwC is apparently contributing greatly to the problems of conflicts within the process. Without a strong statement of objective, each party involved in the process has their own benchmark of what the Standards should be seeking to achieve – a common complaint from Animal Welfare organisations is that the Standards are not sufficiently ambitious and do not ‘raise the bar’. Conversely, industry supports the establishment of processes which reflect practicalities of agricultural business.

According to PwC and I couldn’t agree more that what is needed is greater articulation and consideration of the broader community expectations in this area, which are likely to be something of a balance between these two polarised viewpoints.

PwC go on to say this identified gap in understanding of community expectations should be addressed through focused social science research. Outcomes from this research can then be balanced with industry input and scientific knowledge on animal welfare matters.

Hooray to that I say.  For too long government and the food supply chain, that is farmers right through to retailers have been second guessing consumer images and perceptions of modern farming practices and getting bogged down by lunatic fringe highly vocal agenda driven campaigns

I am pleased to report Dr Heather Bray see previous post and the team at Adelaide University had received funding through the Australian Research Council to do this absolutely pivotal social research.

This ARC Linkage project LP 130100419 aims to

Porject Aims

and has the following specific objectives   

Objectives

with the following outcomes

Research from Translation

Some of the previous ARC Discovery Projects have used focus groups to explore consumer understandings of ‘food ethics’ and they found for example that categories (such as organic) are defined in various ways, if values are taken as key drivers of purchasing patterns.

So although ‘organic’ for example has a scientific definition, some consumers associate it primarily with nutrition, some with purity/natural products, some with sustainability, and some with elitism.

Hence as the research teams have found it is critical not just to ask what they think, but why they think that (associated values)

At an industry level I would also like to applaud the Sheep Meat Council and Meat and Livestock Australia for developing A producer’s guide to sheep husbandry practices which provides information from a range of research and on-farm experience that will enhance animal welfare and potentially improve production outcomes.

As NSW RSPCA Chief Inspector David O’Shannessy recently shared 99% of animal welfare issues are caused by ignorance not malice and the key to change is to raise awareness of, and commit to best practice education. Just like the community (over 60% of animal welfare complaints relate to companion dogs and horses) farmers often have wide ranging views on what is acceptable best practice

The Sheep Meat Council and MLA are setting the perfect example for industry by leading the way through education. Its is my understanding that the dairy industry in Western Australia is also heading down a similar path and I am very keen to hear from other livestock industries who are also moving in this direction.

It is pivotal that farmers have these resources available for their use and adaptation, and utilize numbers from credible sources in order to show consumers and animal welfare groups the true side of farming today.

It is also imperative that we communicate our commitment to do it better and better and encourage our farmers to reach out to their networks in local communities – business associates, neighbours, and friends to share our knowledge and set the record straight about our industry, our work, our goals and commitments, our challenges and our successes.

Doesn’t this gorgeous picture of sheep being moved to ‘higher ground” during the NSW flood sum it all up. Farmers do love and care for their animals  

890356-nsw-flooding

Great follow up blog by Milk Maid Marian One Woman’s Kindness is Another’s Cruelty

14 thoughts on “How can we meet community expectations if we don’t know what they are

  1. Lyn, i am very heartened to note your inclusion of a paragraph which noted that for too long the process has been “…getting bogged down by lunatic fringe highly vocal agenda driven campaigns.”

    “Community expectations”, as you call them, regardless of what the issue is, can only form within a framework. So, be it ‘boat people’, a foreign war, or even animal welfare, community perceptions and beliefs are framed according to either their direct experience, or framed according to the information about the issue that they receive via the media. In the case of animal welfare, the community perceptions have been partly framed by the vociferous and obstreperous animal welfare groups, such as Animals Australia, Voiceless, Animal Liberation and others. I say ‘partly framed’ because something quite extraordinary has happened which should, in my opinion, now be considered very carefully by all those perplexing themselves with this issue of ‘community expectations’.

    I direct you to an article that has appeared in the Queensland Country Life –
    http://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/blogs/canberra-comment/live-ex-alps-millstone/2672203.aspx?storypage=0

    That article demonstrates that the recent federal election saw rural electorates punish those parliamentarians who threw their weight behind the live export ban. As the author has noted, until the ALP finds the courage to actually apologise for the grief, the heartache and an horrific animal welfare outcome caused by the ban, they may as well give up on reclaiming any rural support. Similarly, the Animal Justice party stood candidates based on a platform that also included ending live exports. Their vote was abysmal.

    The lesson is, that the community has had enough of these extremist animal welfare views. For too long they have attempted to frame community expectations through the use and manipulation of the media. the pity of it is, there will always be the gullible who will accept, at face value, the nonsense these groups peddle. Thankfully, however, mainstream community thinking does not.

    Therefore, I must ask with some dismay, why is it that at the levels of government where these animal welfare standards are discussed, is it still held that some of these animal welfare groups are still included? The community rejects their views. Unless increased productivity is the goal of revising and refining animal welfare guidelines as they pertain to farming, then the community is not interested. The community realises that the repository of real animal welfare expertise is the rural sector itself. Farmers are the experts and the beneficiaries of good animal welfare practices.

    As the NSW RSPCA Chief Inspector intimated, there is a large animal welfare problem within urban environments, yet the vocal animal welfare groups are always silent on the issue. There is also an Australia wide animal welfare problem associated with the wild dog problem, yet the vocal animal welfare groups are silent on it. There focus is always on animal utilisation for food. They do indeed have an ‘agenda’. Now however, the community has spoken with its democratic voice and rejected that agenda. Those who are in government would do well to realise that these vociferous animal welfare groups are not wanted at the table where animal welfare guidelines and legislation are being discussed.

    • Hi John.
      It is most heartening indeed to see the community putting their votes where their values lie. Very interesting piece by Colin Bettles

      I was very interested in what Joel Fitzgibbon had to say

      Labor’s Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon acknowledged the live cattle ban, or “pause” as he calls it, did cost his party votes this election, not just in the bush.

      He said the issue continued to permeate a negative judgment, not only in the beef cattle industry but other sectors of the economy.

      Mr Fitzgibbon said other groups were concerned that if Labor could ban the live cattle trade to Indonesia in such an unnerving way – without consulting our trading partners or industry groups and despite departmental warnings of a domestic animal welfare crisis and economic disaster – that type of political sabotage could also occur in their sector.

      In reference to locking the door to radical animal welfare groups to me Heather’s research (and others like her) will send the strongest message and put the ‘vociferous animal welfare groups’ in the place they belong rather than preventing them come to the table.

      Lynne

  2. Lyn, with regard to Heather’s research, whatever it may be,you responded with –
    “…will send the strongest message and put the ‘vociferous animal welfare groups’ in the place they belong rather than preventing them come to the table.”

    That’s a somewhat ambiguous statement. It says the vociferous animal welfare groups will be put “in the place they belong” and then it says “rather than preventing them come to the table”. Does that mean they will still be able to ‘come to the table’, despite being put where they belong? The inference is they belong at the table!

    Let me again refer you to the article by Colin Bettles, referred to above – all those MPs who threw their weight behind the live export ban were severely punished at the polls.
    There is another point to consider. It is that the so called Animal Justice Party stood candidates in the federal election with a platform that included shutting down live exports, targeting wool-using companies and they go as far as wanting to give animals constitutional protection, Voter support was appalling – less than one percent on first preferences.

    I submit to you that Australians right across the political spectrum have unequivocally rejected what these extremist groups stand for. Those who sit on boards and committees deciding on animal welfare codes of practice would do well to remember this.

  3. An awful lot of people do have a problem with them being “at the table”. They are the enemy of farming. They want all animal utilisation phased out. Their world view is totally at odds with ours. Why on earth would you want them at the table discussing animal welfare when philosophically they are against all forms of animal utilisation? It defies all logic and common sense.

  4. I likewise have an issue with Animals Australia or any other animal rights organisation or individual having a seat at the table. Given their agenda to remove all animal products from our day to day lives allied to the incredible damage they have and continue to do to our primary producers on the basis of misinformation and in many cases downright lies, it astounds me that any sector of the agricultural industries or anyone within them would support a “place at the table” for them.
    How many times do we need to see the way they interact with those industry groups willing to engage with them. Despite being given independent verified fact upon fact if those facts do not suit their world view they either dismiss them out of hand or try to change the conversation.

    While positive stories from the ag sectors are vital as is better education for main stream middle Australia attempting to get a reasoned position from an ARA is as close to impossible as I have ever seen. They should and must be held to account for their actions and given no further credibility by even the semblance of lip service.

  5. With all respect Lynne, how is AA et al being given a seat at the table at all representitive of the wider community or a stakeholder? Statistically vegans form a miniscule part of our communities and as has been mentioned above in other comments, this was reflected in their weak voting power.

    To me a stakeholder must have a legitimate interest in the subject issue…..a …… legitimate …… interest…… The only stake that AA et al have is an ideological one, being veganism. It is axiomatic that animal welfare is not a priority for the vegan activist as this infers that rearing livestock is an ethically sustainable position, one only has to look to the concluding sentence on every piece of campaign material rolled out by them to clearly see where their interest lies: “go cruelty free and make the ultimate cotribution to animals, go meat free..” (or something similar). So by including AA et al at the table you have already legitimised this position before the panel has even been opened for discussion. A huge mistake. You cannot invite someone to contribute to a project, knowing what their stance is, then tell them they are irrelevant. It’s too late by that point and now progress on the issue/project at hand is glacially slow and that organization is tenaciously pursuing its negative agenda at your expense.

    As for Heather’s research, I’m sure those in the community with moderate views will appreciate it but ARAs will simply dismiss it as “industry funded” “conflict of interest” “conspiracy by the cruel meat industry” etc etc etc. I’m sure you’ve seen their social media profiles, transparency, peer review, objectivity & responsible statistical analysis are concepts which are willingly flushed down the loo in favor of confirmation bias, emotional manipulation and slander. I appreciate your enthusiasm for the research, Im interested to see it too but it will sadly not make the slightest dent in the prejudices of the entrenched ARA.

    No amount of research will “put them in their place”. Rendering them irrelevant from the AW debate definitely will though. Encouraging them to sit on relevant boards is completely contrary to that. It’s extremely dangerous and it sets a precedent for them to pressure boards elsewhere to do likewise. You’ve given them the power to spin their web wider.

    I don’t expect a reply, you’re probably very busy. Just know that their goal is to gain legitimacy. Industry should in turn highlight their irrelevance.

    • Hi Russell

      I empathise with you but firstly I just want to clarify I haven’t given anyone a seat at the table. I don’t get to chose who is invited to the party and who isn’t. These groups have a right to heard just like the rest of the world and some very wealthy well meaning people give them big buckets of funds to do just that. Lets not forget what happened with the ‘bags’ Yes the bags got stopped but the donations to AA more than quadrupled which allowed them to run adds during prime time TV.

      Heather’s social science research is NOT funded by industry and what it will do is give us a all a clearer understanding of what the wider community thinks about animal welfare and why they think that way. We can then put this information on the table and stop second guessing. Lets not forget 86% of Australians live in cities or within 80km of the eastern seaboard, votes in the bush do not necessarily represent the views of the rest of the population. I hope they do and Heather and her team will be able to verify this

      Just to reiterate my comments from the blog as per PwC review

      According to PwC and I couldn’t agree more that what is needed is greater articulation and consideration of the broader community expectations in this area, which are likely to be something of a balance between these two polarised viewpoints.

      PwC go on to say this identified gap in understanding of community expectations should be addressed through focused social science research. Outcomes from this research can then be balanced with industry input and scientific knowledge on animal welfare matters.

      Yes you are very right when you say the extremist animal welfare groups are not going to change the way they think. Nor are they going to go away but I believe not inviting them to the party could just possibly make a difficult situation impossible.

      I think this quote from this article in the Conversation found here http://theconversation.com/to-change-anti-science-activists-minds-go-beyond-science-18519?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+25+September+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+25+September+2013+CID_4ab2238cc0198d2c62f033b037a81c9a&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=To%20change%20anti-science%20activists%20minds%20go%20beyond%20science sums it up pretty well

      Righteous indignation, even if unintended, does not persuade well. Expect it to meet a resistance, if not an active opposition, that is proportional to your own passion.

      To imagine anything else reveals a lack of familiarity with the complexities and power of human values, fears, and traditions

      From my perspective unless we have a clear understanding of what those 18 million plus people on the eastern seaboard really think we can’t make knowledge based decisions/recommendations on behalf of everyone

      I believe this is one of those times when you keep your friends close and your enemies even closer and then we have a real chance of the getting the best outcomes for the majority

      • Thanks for the thorough reply Lynne.

        Just to clarify, I was using the impersonal to address the issue when I said “you” regarding who gives a place to ARAs on such boards of consultation. This doesn’t however mean to suggest that you have to accept those decisions or respect the opinions of these ARAs who undermine your years of hard work, sacrifice, dedication and success in your field by way of slander and flawed ethical sigma all while paling in comparison to the seasoned expertise of a veteran agriculturalist. Don’t roll out the carpet for such nonsense.

        Re Heather’s research: I understand it is not industry funded, my point is (as you seem to agree) that they will not snap out of dogmatic views in the face of Independant research. Of it is contrary to their views, they will not hesitate to burden her research with conspiracies of industry collusion and bias. We all know how far those kinds of allegations can travel. Just look at the UN long shadow report. Despite one of its authors agreeing with Dr Mitloehner’s findings of flawed methodology, activists still propagate the myth that it was not sound scientific reasoning that found the flaw but unrelated funding from a cattle group (fully disclosed to the public on his UC Davis profile) that motivated him to critique the findings. More than five years on and Animals Australia, PeTA, Voiceless et al all still use the Long Shadow report to great effect in their campaigns. It’s an easy win for ARAs and peer review & the objective efforts of good scientists (like Heather) are doomed to obscurity because people look to these groups as legitimate sources for education on their food. You can see where I’m going with this; Legitimacy is gained by letting them further into consultation processes with industry. Thus society loses the benefit of good science and livestock Ag is subject to scientific myth taken as fact by its market of consumers.

        To avoid any further tedium I defer my reply to that of another commenter, John, who has done a thorough job of expressing my sentiments already.

        I really do hold a lot of concern for the dairy industry. It is suffering horrendously on a lot of fronts. As we’ve seen, an industry can be damaged badly overnight by ARAs. Try to imagine an effort like Ban Live Export coming down on you after an exposé on a few bad cases of bobby calves. Misrepresentation comes easily to these unscrupulous types & legitimacy is all that stops the initial shock & awe when they launch a huge campaign on the public.

        Your choice, let them build precedents to cite when their legitimacy is questioned on these campaigns, or expel them now and deny them the chance based on their known la k of qualification and dogmatic extremism, saving your industry a lot of potential heart ache.

        All the best, Lynne.

        Russ.

  6. Animals Australia or any other ARA org don’t do any animal welfare, their agenda is to go vegan. They should be exposed as such.
    Animal Agriculture has the knowledge and passion to educate the consumer and general public about Ag industries. Let’s take control.
    Animal Ag Industries, with these knowledge and passion, needs to close the 5-6 generation gap that has left the farm gate. Educating both consumer and farmers on how to do this is the key.
    ARA’s do not want to work with animal Ag industry’s they want to destroy them.
    http://www.animalsaustralia.org/factsheets/dairy_cows.php I know from my days on social media that people have shown proven facts to Animals Australia that their “fact sheets” about dairy are wrong. Have Animals Australia put up references where they have obtained their facts?

  7. Lyn wrote –
    “I empathise with you but firstly I just want to clarify I haven’t given anyone a seat at the table. I don’t get to chose who is invited to the party and who isn’t.”
    Well Lyn, if you are going to sit at “the table”, are you going to be silent, or voice an opinion? What is your opinion on animal welfare advocates sitting at the table? You for or against? If you feel ’empathy’ for the above writer, are you going to voice that empathy at the table, or be silent? Writing that you get no say in who comes to the table is a cop out.

    Lyn wrote –
    “These groups have a right to heard just like the rest of the world”
    No Lyn, they don’t have a right to be heard. To be heard means to be listened to. You are effectively saying these groups have to be listened to. That’s coercion. What you mean is “these groups have a right to their opinion and to speak it”. Yes, Lyn, they do. The rest of us are under no obligation to listen. Particularly when these groups desire the cessation of farming with animals. I am not going to listen to that. Ever.

    Lyn wrote –
    “some very wealthy well meaning people give them big buckets of funds to do just that.”
    And?
    Let them spend squillions if they want. If they are exposed for what they are and for what they stand for, who is going to listen to them? Provided, of course, listening is not compulsory.

    Lyn wrote –
    “Lets not forget what happened with the ‘bags”
    Let’s remeber the bags were stopped because farmers complained and Coles suddenly realised AA don’t represent mainstream thinking on this issue. Just like the Federal election did.

    Lyn wrote –
    “donations to AA more than quadrupled which allowed them to run adds during prime time TV.”
    So?
    Fools and their money are soon parted, as they say.
    The trick is to show people that AA do not represent the truth on animal welfare issues. In fact, they do no animal welfare. They do not really care about animals, they only care about stopping the utilisation of animals by humans. Isolate them and their views, or else they will still be credible and attract donations. Now it’s over to you – invite them to the table and give them credibility, or stand away from them and question their expertise, value and sincerity.

    Lyn wrote –
    “Heather’s social science research..”
    Here we are a few weeks after the biggest opinion tally system in the country and with it very obvious groups like Animal Justice and AA supporters were thoroughly trounced around the nation and yet you are going to wait for another sample of people to see what they think? I’m gobsmacked. Obviously you will find more credence in Heather’s results than in a national poll.

    Lyn wrote –
    “Lets not forget 86% of Australians live in cities or within 80km of the eastern seaboard”

    Indeed. Disassociated from their food supply. How much expertise on farming systems and animal handling would you expect to find in those cities?

    Lyn wrote –
    “votes in the bush do not necessarily represent the views of the rest of the population”
    What views are you referring to? Animal Welfare, I take it? Why would you expect the views of that 86% of city people, who have nothing to do with farming, or their own food supply, except at the supermarket, to have views the same as voters in the bush? Such an expectation would be just plain dumb ( excuse my bluntness). That expectation is just not even realistic, is it Lyn?

    Lyn wrote –
    “I hope they do and Heather and her team will be able to verify this…”
    So, what are you doing? Sitting at home, fingers and toes crossed that the views of all those people who are totally disassociated from their food supply sources and who merely go along to a supermarket to pick up their supplies, might, I repeat MIGHT have the same views? That’s a very fatalistic outlook on this issue. Because the urban people are disassociated from their food sources, their “views” will always come from those who explain the system to them. Now, will it be animal activists who explain the system from their also disassociated perspective, while farmers sit at home with their fingers crossed, or will it be explained by farmers, who are the real experts, who will push aside the non-experts and announce “we are here”?

    Lyn wrote –
    “I believe not inviting them to the party could just possibly make a difficult situation impossible”
    It’s actually quite the reverse, Lyn.
    After all, how can inviting to the table those whose opinions are based on emotivism, whose views are from a perspective framed by a disassociation from their food sources, and driven by an ideology that is totally at odds with farming animals, make for a good situation? It can’t. It will indeed, make a difficult situation impossible. .

    Lyn wrote –
    “Yes you are very right when you say the extremist animal welfare groups are not going to change the way they think…”
    Sort of proves the point, don’t you think?

    • I don’t have the want or time to discuss every point John has raised, but let me pick a few…
      – It’s the government who decides which groups sit at the table, not the producers. It’s not Lynne’s job to try and police this.
      – You said, “Because the urban people are disassociated from their food sources, their “views” will always come from those who explain the system to them. Now, will it be animal activists who explain the system from their also disassociated perspective, while farmers sit at home with their fingers crossed…” Well, personally, as a farmer who this weekend just drove 300km one way to get to an airport, to fly 1200km one way to get to Sydney, to sit at a table with Lynne and 13 other young farmers who’d travelled many thousands of kilometres to be there, to learn how to tell our stories to urban people, I think you’re taking your frustrations out on the wrong person.
      Lynne IS doing something to combat this issue – she IS out there, telling her story, and providing a platform for so many other young farmers to do the same. We’re out there, in urban schools, “explaining the system to them”…
      We’re taking time out from looking after our families and our properties, traversing great distances and giving up our time to tackle this issue head on. From a personal perspective, I don’t have the slightest care in worrying about what unattainable ideals fringe groups are trying to achieve, because my focus is set clearly on getting in and educating the masses with facts first. With people like Lynne running these sorts are programs which really are making a difference, there’s no way we can fail. And for me, to focus on the likes of AA would be taking energy away from where’s needed, and where it’s going to make the biggest difference in the long run.

      • So well said Bessie and the absolute core of the point!

        Everyone has opinions and opinions are formed from a combination of perception, experience and knowledge. If we want to change the game we have to change perceptions, give people hands on experience and offer them untainted, transparent information. All of which Lynne and her amazing team of YFCs are doing, at the grassroots, with kids, which is where it really counts and makes a real difference!

        Maybe instead of attacking a program that is benefiting our sector you should develop another one to approach it at another angle?

        Because frankly this vendetta against Animal Australia is a waste of breath. The more we rage against them, the more the witnesses, the bystanders who don’t know any better, side with them and the bigger our task of trying to change perceptions becomes.

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