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Livestock Care Conference 2015 showcases innovative thinking and calls to action

Posted: April 2, 2015

A wealth of fresh insights, ideas and calls to action on farm animal care were showcased at the 2015 Livestock Care Conference, March 26-27 in Calgary, helping to set a new pathway for industry-driven progress.

The conference featuring leading speakers and over 200 participants from across the livestock industry was hosted by Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) and the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA).

Much of the debate on farm animal welfare changes has centered on major infrastructure shifts such as facilities improvements and housing approaches. However arguably the greatest challenge – and also opportunity – facing animal agriculture may lie not in the physical environment but rather in the mindset of producers, says Dr. David Fraser of the University of British Columbia.

He called for the continued "professionalization of animal agriculture" as the most impactful way to effect strong and sustainable welfare advancement. "So much of the quality of farm animal care depends on the knowledge, skill and attentiveness of the producers and staff," says Fraser. "Whether it's food safety, environmental stewardship, or farm animal welfare, what we need is a system that rewards dedication and performance among the people most directly involved in production. This shift has already begun and we are moving in the right direction."

Taking strong ownership of the farm animal welfare issue is critical for agriculture, says Brent Moen, President of Verus Swine Management Services Ltd. "The bottom line is that perception is reality. When there are problems, we need to take ownership, stand up and demand corrective action. As an industry we need to demand 100 percent compliance and become 100 percent responsible. It's about doing the right thing and owning the term animal welfare. Social license is about transparency."

Telling the story of animal agriculture effectively is a key ingredient, says Dr. Cody Creelman of Veterinary Agri-Health Services Ltd., who talked social media opportunities. "The goal is not to fake perfection. Tell our story - the good, the bad, the imperfections. The more real we are the more we can truly connect with people and build good relationships. We all have a story to tell and we need to be the ones telling it. Misinformation is the greatest threat to animal agriculture."

Continued progress is critical to market acceptance, says Jason Krips, ?Deputy Minister at Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. "Our commitment is that our industry continues to be a leader in animal welfare and that consumers around the world know that. Accessing new international markets for our agricultural products is a priority and animal welfare is key to market access."

Producers have a leading role to play, says Dr. Terry Church, ?Manager at Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch Ltd. "There is a large and growing segment of consumers who want to know more about how their food is produced. As a farmer or rancher, they want to look you in the eye and get straight answers that fit what they expect. We need to provide those answers. One of the things I believe we all can do, especially as primary producers, is make a much more concerted effort to get our message out to the consumers."

Livestock sectors made great strides on all of these fronts by working together and it's time to shift into a higher gear through a commitment to continual improvement, says Dr. Angela Greter, Acting Executive Director, Alberta Farm Animal Care. "Think how far we've come. We have many robust animal care programs in place. We have resources available to improve practices. We have Codes of Practice for nearly every species and livestock sector. We have robust research. And we have most importantly dedicated and inspiring people to champion animal welfare. I want everyone in this room to be proud of where we've come from, proud of where we are, and proud of where we're going."

More highlights and reports from the 2015 Livestock Care Conference are featured in a special edition of NewStream Farm Animal Care, available at www.meristem.com and through links at www.afac.ab.ca. These are available for industry and media use with credit to the source. The AFAC website also features conference photos and extensive background and resources on farm animal care progress.