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