Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


2014 VeriCare Live


Preparedness: Are we ready?

This section last updated: March 1, 2014

Taking charge of the emerging issues including rising activist activity

Courtesy Alberta Pork

"By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail."

"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."

"When disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed."

These often-used quotes offer a lot of wisdom for today's animal agriculture industries. It's a time when myriad risks from disease outbreaks to biosecurity issues have raised the stakes and expectations for responsible management. It's also a period when the level of sophistication required in the battleground of public expectations as well as the threat presented by activist groups have arguably reached at an all-time high.

The Boy Scout motto of "Be prepared" has never been more important for livestock and poultry producers and their industries - particularly as it relates to the issue of animal welfare.

The activist challenge

The threat represented by increasingly vocal and influential activist groups stands out prominently among today's challenges, with a strong feeling emerging that livestock and poultry production is both under siege and vulnerable.

In a general sense, livestock farmers and their industry understand this. They are more aware of the need for transparency, understand that "social license" is necessary for them to continue to operate, and know that specialized communications skills are a critical part of the mix needed to deal with these issues.

But despite its efforts and a substantial financial investment there is a lot of opinion that the industry is losing ground and needs to be far better prepared. So what does that involve?

For many, a big part of the answer is to have solid, formal preparedness strategies in place that are based on models of continual improvement. This is no easy task - it typically requires substantial expertise, resources and consensus building, and arguably most important, buy-in from producers and others on the front line of industry who need to support the strategy.

Winning the battle

There is no shortage of opinions and cautionary tales on why this is needed. For example, there's a strong belief that without better preparedness, industry is often pressured to accept activist demands, creating a slippery slope where the demands continually change and increase, slowly eroding the viability of animal agriculture production.

The "PR battle" is front and centre to the challenge and requires substantial investment as part of an overall more strategically sound and forceful communications effort. But as one influential observer has noted, there may be a high cost to winning this battle but it's much cheaper than the cost of losing.

The Latest – Thinking. Ideas. Developments.

Preparedness: Windows on an evolving world

This section last updated: March 2, 2014

Note: This section is regularly updated with new stories. Check back regularly for the most recent version of this VeriCare Live report.

Big changes in pressure from animal activists

New Chipotle campaign: Three things to know

LCC Spotlight: Fighting back against attacks

Lessons from the W5 feature on Alberta eggs

AMI champions transparency with Glass Walls project

Looking behind the glass walls

What people are saying

Perspectives on progress

This section last updated: March 1, 2014

"We know from our research that we can have a conversation with most Canadians on food. It will be a different discussion than in the past and agriculture needs to find a way to have conversations about things that are uncomfortable. We have traditionally relied on science and economics for these arguments and we need to learn to talk ethics and shared values."
– Paul Hodgman of the Ag & Food Exchange

"Animal advocacy and activist groups are changing the conversation. They are remaking the world in their image. They will keep demanding new changes. And once you change they move the goal posts again. We know where this is going - you can't legitimize them or reason with them. You need to take back control and have an offense strategy."
– Rick Berman, consultant on public affairs and activist issues with Washington D.C.-based Berman and Company

"For far too long the animal rights activists have said if slaughter houses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian and I didn't believe it. It is the meat industry's sincere hope that these videos will help give consumers who want to know more about meat processing the information they seek."
– Janet Riley, senior vice-president of public affairs and professional development with American Meat Institute

"When you get to really serious issues you need teams of people to deal with these and you need the information to make good management decisions. On the negative side, the activist threat is being handled in our agricultural organizations by people who have many other things on their plate in addition to these issues. We need to build teams within the group and outside and to work together across the spectrum and up and down the supply chain. If we can all help each other we take away the number one counter attack for our opposition, which is to divide and conquer."
– Paul Hodgman of the Ag & Food Exchange


Contact Meristem for more information on the initiative and partnering opportunities.