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A Reminder About What is Essential for a Thriving Livestock Sector

19 February 2013

Preparedness is an easier game than predictions according to Meristem after talking with Dr John Kelly, University of Alberta, who had just presented a discussion of the challenges and opportunities of the livestock industry.

Building the bank on trust. Like many attending the Forum, Kennelly feels social license is critical. Consumers will always have questions and concerns. Animal agriculture needs to be on the ball and engaged to manage these expectations. Like political capital, the more trust you have built up that you do things the right way, the more you have to spend and avoid damage when a crisis arises.

"Food safety is getting a lot of press recently for good reason," says Kennelly. "But we need to be prepared on all the important fronts that are critical to a sustainable industry. Consumers are also concerned about food and nutritional security and the environmental footprint of animal agriculture, to name just a couple other issues. And of course people increasingly are interested and want to know that animal well-being is well looked after. They want to buy and consume food in good conscience, knowing that all of this is taken care of. We need to give them that assurance."

They want us to be successful. There will always be concern, he says. But even when criticism is heavy, remember the vast majority of society shares an interest in supporting farming and food systems. "People want to have a thriving animal agriculture sector. It's good for the economy and good for safe, healthy, abundant food choices. In particular, I think people recognize it contributes to nutritional security. Animal protein has tremendous value."

John Kennelly

We have the opportunity. As a scientist, teacher, educator and consumer, Kennelly believes there is excellent potential everyone involved with animal agriculture to continue to find new and improved ways of operating. Animal welfare is a good example where there is a lot of new knowledge emerging to help understand what contributes to animal well-being, which opens opportunities to innovate in practices and production systems to be leaders in an area assigned increasing value by the marketplace.

"Absolutely, we have the opportunity," says Kennelly. "And I think it's always a work in progress. As societal expectations change, the agricultural sector has to be ready to respond. It's absolutely critical to maintaining our social license."

We win by working together. Things like animal welfare shouldn't be a commodity versus commodity competitive issue, he says. The fundamental issues related to sustainability are things the agricultural sector should see as opportunities to share progress and share benefits. "We have that ability to make big strides. But too often the agricultural sector is preoccupied with a particular component of the sector or issues between the different components. I believe the most important challenge we face is to get a coordinated effort so that people across the spectrum actually work together towards a common end, rather than sometimes being a bit at cross-purposes in different elements of the sector.

"We need to continue to aim for a better sense of what is needed for people to pull together in one direction and to address some of the issues that are of concern to the final consumer. It's in our hands and it's a choice we can make to do this together."

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

January 2013

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