Farm Animal Care Takes Centre Stage
Livestock producers in Alberta and across Canada are part of a global evolution in farm animal care. It is emerging front and centre in everything from retail standards and world trade agreements to verified on-farm management approaches.
April 5, 2010- Livestock producers in Alberta and across Canada are part of a global evolution in farm animal care. It is emerging front and centre in everything from retail standards and world trade agreements to verified on-farm management approaches. The good news for Alberta's livestock producers is they are helping lead progress to succeed in this environment.
This was the picture drawn by speakers at the Livestock Care Conference, March 26 in Red Deer, hosted by Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC). The conference drew a record attendance of more than 180 livestock producers, industry representatives, academics, researchers and students.
"Responsible livestock care is important to everyone from producers to consumers to obviously the animals themselves," says Dr. Ed Pajor, professor of animal behavior and welfare at the University of Calgary. "The new level is about showing – not just practicing – responsible care. As a result, we've seen a rapidly growing focus on standards and processes of verification at many levels, both globally and locally. It's not just about the future of animal agriculture, it's happening now."
Europe and others are pushing hard to have animal welfare standards incorporated into international trade agreements. The issue is a major focus of discussion among heavyweight organizations including the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and even the World Bank, which is incorporating animal welfare standards into its terms for supporting agriculture in developing countries.
Adding to this is the new or emerging adoption of standards by virtually all major players at the retailer and processing levels, as well as producer level initiatives such as codes of practice and quality assurance programs.
"Consolidation, globalization, changes in the economic model of agriculture and the increasing profile of animal welfare are resulting in strong movement on this issue on many fronts," says Pajor. "The big thing I see is animal welfare playing an increasing role in market access. We need to pay attention and think about how that is going to impact our initiatives and how we do business."
In North America, livestock industry groups such as AFAC have helped to champion responsible farm animal care and lead discussion of practical, manageable ways to meet increasing demand for verification. Industry certification and quality assurance initiatives at producer, processor and transport levels have also played a leading role.
This progress has proven critical and should be continued, says Pajor. "Standards and verification should not be feared. Done right, they can support better management and efficiency at the production level, strengthen markets, and overall be a 'win-win-win' for producers, retailers and consumers."
Failure to shape the terms of change can leave the livestock industry vulnerable to attacks. Examples include several case studies in the United States, where animal rights groups including the powerful Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have aggressively pressured for legislated changes, using tactics such as massively funded public relations campaigns orchestrated around state ballot initiatives.
Sam Hines of the Michigan Pork Producers Association shared his organization's experience grappling with one recent HSUS challenge that resulted in restrictive legislation. "One of the lessons we learned is to be active in telling your story at all levels and don't wait until you face a challenge," says Hines. "We're investing in that now but we're starting behind the eight ball."
Bruce Vincent, a consultant and logging company owner shared his perspective based on challenges from environmentalists. "We need to lead – not fight – the discussion," he says. "The trap is to adopt a bunker mentality. What we need is a dialogue direct with the public. If we speak openly and honestly and also listen, we can create our future."
Paul Hodgman of Alberta Pork illustrated that challenges can also come from unforeseen crisis such as when H1N1 flu blindsided the province's pork industry last year. The welfare of an infected herd was a top concern. "Protect yourself from the unknown by having crisis management plans in place," advised Hodgman. "A joint command centre involving both industry and government is an absolute 'must' to better deal with a crisis in an effective, timely, proactive and strategic manner."
Other "snapshots" of industry and research progress discussed included Alberta's Livestock Emergency Response program, the Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project, emerging humane euthanasia technologies, early disease detection research, and progress meeting challenges in the horse industry.
More information on the Livestock Care Conference, including additional information on speaker presentations, is available on the AFAC website at www.afac.ab.ca .
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