Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Curating a conversation

Leaders speak up on the opportunity for driving innovation that benefits animals while also supporting industry success

Posted: May 29, 2014

The webinar on "Animal Welfare and the Food Industry" featured a range of other insights on everything from risks and opportunities within the supply chain to the role of standards and 'trust marks' to authenticate best practices.

Here is a small collection of examples among numerous highlights.

Breaking down silos

"One of the risks we face is having this conversation in silos. One of the opportunities we have is to break down these silos and have a more, diverse collaborative conversation about what are the issues around animal welfare how should we be addressing them. For the National Farm Animal Care Council, that's part of our whole reason for being, to bring very diverse groups who would not normally talk to each other around a common table to have those, sometimes very uncomfortable, conversations. What can be done? When can it be done? How can it be done? How do we define appropriate animal welfare? We all have different perspectives and values. A collaborative approach can lead us to consensus toward real progress."

– Jackie Wepruk, General Manager of the National Farm Animal Care Council

Bridging past and present

"A complicating factor is that there has been significant change through genetic selection over the last 40 or 50 years. With pigs for example, the animals that were at one time able to be kept fairly easily in groups, like sows, have now got huge appetites. They grow much more quickly. They can be quite aggressive with each other. The whole idea of gestation crates was to be able to keep the animals separate so that each sow could be individually cared for. We know more today and we have the opportunity for improved approaches, but change is not simple. We need to be prepared and to address today's realities."

– Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus, Emeritus Chair in Animal Welfare, Department of Animal and Poultry Science, University of Guelph

Helping to educate consumers

"I agree wholeheartedly there needs to be greater collaboration amongst all these stakeholder groups when we're making these sorts of decisions. One thing I would add to that is the education component. We have already mentioned that education is lacking. Consumers are already confused by the plethora of labels that are out there. They are demanding things in some cases when they don't even know what they're asking for. We can help them better understand what these different welfare approaches really mean. We can perhaps even attach dollar figures to each scenario so they get an idea of what true costs are for providing enhanced welfare approaches."

– Brandy Street, BC SPCA

Road to progress: Collaboration is critical say leaders

Learning from other industries

"There are some interesting parallels with other industries that have been working in the sustainability space, where we've seen pre-competitive opportunities being I think the most exciting opportunities. One example is in the apparel industry where shoe companies have worked together to support toxin-free products, even though they are beating the heck out of each other in the marketplace. I think there are enormous opportunities for pre-competitive discussions . . ."

"The idea today was about curating a conversation to help get people thinking in this way. We didn't want to be too directive or prescriptive in how we approach this, but rather bring people together and let this happen organically. Certainly there are some hot button issues in animal welfare and we want to encourage a more diverse group of stakeholders to contribute to the conversation."

– Steven Fish, Executive Director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (Event moderator)

Leading in welfare means sharing

"Through efforts such as the Codes and certification programs, we've raised the level of welfare practices and we've standardized it. And whether you're big or small, the industry is forcing everyone to come to that level. Then there's the question of, who is going to go lead and push further? Is a better resourced company better able to do this? I think that is the reality. For example, we as one company have led with the conversion to group housing of sows. Our first barn conversion last year, which is quite a small operation, cost well over $1 million.

Rory McAlpine, Maple Leaf Foods

"But the point is we accept our responsibility and understand our leadership role. We're a bigger player. We're a market leader. We understand we owe it to our industry colleagues to lead and to share the learning. This approach can work as long as we address these efforts as being at the root non-competitive and in the best interests of our industry, of consumers and of the animals. Then through sharing and a non-competitive approach we have the opportunity to collaborate to reduce costs and best manage the issue."

– Rory McAlpine, Vice President of Industry and Government Relations, Maple Leaf Foods

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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