Someone tweeted about Nestlé's adoption of their new animal welfare standards. It wasn't the original tweet that grabbed my attention - I read the standards and there is nothing crazy in them - it was someone else's reply that got me. There was some back and forth about whether Dairy Farmers of Canada's ProAction Initiative would take care of these new requirements on the dairy side (the answer: yes), and then came the reply: "when do we as farmers stop being the victims of company marketing ploys???"
As a primary producer, it certainly does feel like we are sometimes ganged up on and are the "victims" with all of these companies very publicly stating their stance on how livestock is raised and cared for. What do they possibly know about farming??
Here's the deal. These companies are not victimizing farmers. If we choose to feel that way and pout about it, I guess that's our prerogative, but instead, we should really take a page out of their book.
These companies are brilliant marketers - they know what their consumers want and they play right to them. The interesting thing is that we are all marketing to the SAME audience! Yet we as farmers continue to be defensive and cry foul against any company that publicly states their stance on animal welfare standards.
Read Nestlé's animal welfare standards. The "Five Freedoms" are absolute common sense - any livestock farmer shouldn't be able to argue with these five points. In addition, while I can't speak 100% to the other livestock sectors mentioned, most of what is mentioned under "For Cattle" is already implemented on most dairy farms across the country.
In my opinion (and it is just that - my opinion), we need to take a page out of nestle's book and start our own "marketing ploys." Up until now farmers have not done a great job of marketing our business, practices and industry. We need to open our doors and start showing the consumers what we do on the farm - take that card right out of the hand of companies like Nestle. We need to show the consumers that we take exceptional care of our animals to ensure the safest, highest quality products reach grocery store shelves.
We also need to own practices that the consumer finds less than savoury - dehorning for example. We do it because it is necessary for the safety of both the animals and the people who handle them. We need to EXPLAIN this to the consumer and we need to SHOW them the steps we take to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the animal. No fluffy BS about how we do it as babies because it hurts less...it hurts the same regardless of when it is done, we do it as babies for reasons such as the horn buds are smaller and therefore takes less time for the procedure, there is a much smaller area of the animal affected, the animals are smaller and easier to handle and administer anesthetic to. We need to show our practices, explain why we do them, and explain that we are always on the lookout for better ways to do things. (Thanks to Dr. Tim Blackwell for this reminder!)
Will the consumers still call for changes to our practices? Absolutely. Will we have to change our practices to appease them? Absolutely. As I mentioned before, Nestle's consumers are OUR consumers - Nestle is simply the middleman between the farmers and the consumers - without consumers, there is no market. Other countries around the world have caught on to the idea of pleasing the consumers and have made changes to strengthen that relationship (i.e. EU has banned gestation crates for sow operations). If we don't make an effort to meet the demands of our consumers here in Canada, the Canadian consumers (and the middlemen like Nestle) will go elsewhere for their products.
We love our lifestyle, we love our animals, we love what we do, and we are proud of the fact that we feed the world. We can play the victim if we want, but sooner or later, for the sake of our industry now and in the future, we need to open our eyes, open our barns and start advocating for ourselves - and yes, we may need to make a few changes.