Just as in every industry, most people who raise livestock are doing a lot right and Kansas State University animal scientist Lily Edwards believes producers should not be defined by the few "bad apples" when it comes to animal well-being. She does, however, believe that there are some animal management practices that could be improved upon.
Edwards, who spoke on the topic "Animal Well-Being: Bridging the Gap Between Consumers and Producers" at K-State´s Cattlemen´s Day March 5, said there has been a shift in the public´s ethical consideration of animals. The concept of humane treatment of animals has transformed into the concept of "well-being" which not only includes an animal´s physical welfare but also focuses on its quality of life.
Edwards encouraged producers to take every opportunity to educate consumers about what the livestock industry does to promote the well-being of animals, and to consider altering some of their own practices that could impair animal well-being.
She encourages producers to consider a list devised by D.A. Daley, California State University-Chico: How to Lose the Argument on Animal Welfare - Top 10 Reasons.
1) Assuming science will give us all the answers; it only gives us some of the answers. I strongly believe in science but science doesn´t solve ethical questions. Watch the news and it is easy to find "scientists" on both sides of almost every issue. It has become a contest of "my science is better than your science."
2) Using economics as the justification for all of our practices. Although it makes sense to those of us who raise animals for a living, saying "well of course we treat them well or we won´t make money" really hurts our efforts with the public. In other words, if this is all about making money rather than working with animals, we would probably be in another line of work. We need to convince the public that we truly care about animals, not just about dollars. Besides that, it is not always true. You can have extreme conditions that are not good for animals that can be profitable.
3) Assuming that you have to defend all agricultural practices, regardless of what they are. Why? I believe you defend those that are defensible, period. Defending all practices makes no sense and causes you to lose credibility with the public.
4) Assuming we can´t do better at animal welfare. Agriculture is about evolving practices. Why can´t we continue to improve a system that is already good but will continue to change?
5) Attacking everyone who disagrees with you in a negative, critical manner. We get angry very easily and that generally means we are not comfortable with what we are doing, so we have to defend it at the top of our lungs.
6) Not being willing to listen because we are so busy responding.
7) Assuming that the lunatic fringe is the general public. We spend way too much time focusing on lunatics and not working with the public.
8) Being reactive rather than proactive.
9) Assuming that because someone disagrees with you they are stupid, evil or both. Good people can look at the same issue differently.
10) Not working hard enough to build coalitions that include the public (consumers). Most of our coalition efforts are focused on bringing agricultural groups together. There aren´t enough of us, and we don´t represent enough votes.
Daley´s list also includes two bonus points in advising producers what not to do:
11) Criticizing or mocking any animal production system that is not "conventional." There is room in agriculture for lots of different methods of production. Let the market determine their success rather than hoping for them to fail.
12) Trying to lead a parade without seeing if anyone is following. Have you asked producers about this issue? I have surveyed over 200 cattlemen in three locations and 90 percent-plus of them say "animals have the right to be treated humanely and ethically."
An audio interview with Lily Edwards is available on the K-State Research and Extension News Media Services Web site: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news. Go to K-State Radio Network at the bottom of the page and click on Agriculture Today. The interview is available on the March 5 broadcast.