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Expert: Consumer and Production Demands Can Be Met

ATLANTA, January 10, 2011 – Consumer demands for animal care and sustainable livestock production are not the opposing forces they sometimes appear to be, according to Dr. Janice Swanson of the Michigan State University Department of Animal Science. Swanson spoke at a session during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 92nd annual meeting.

Drawing from a long history of animal care concerns that dates back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and tapping into recent consumer research, Swanson shared some principles livestock producers should consider in adopting changes.

In a society led by majority rule, farmers and ranchers, a small segment of the population, are often at a disadvantage in shaping opinion, and ultimately policy. However, armed with an understanding of consumers’ core values about animal care, producers can lead the way in making changes that will not threaten the sustainability of their livelihoods.

Among those consumer values are care about the way animals are treated, from birth to death, and a recognition that animals have emotions and feel pain, according to Swanson. “Consumers evaluate the animal production system according to their ethics, not yours,” Swanson emphasized.

She also pointed out that consumers do not always act according to their stated ideals.

“When you ask people on the fly [about animal care], you get a ‘warm glow’ answer,” she explained. “People feel good talking about animal welfare but they will typically only purchase ‘welfare friendly’ meat and poultry at a discount.”

That doesn’t mean producers should just throw up their hands. In fact, many segments of the animal agriculture industry have been successful in establishing care guidelines that balance consumer concerns with the reality of production. These industry-based programs are valuable for producers because they add to their knowledge base and help explain “what you do, how you do it, why you do it and should you do it.”

Some of the factors individual producers and industries as a whole should consider are: the costs and benefits of implementing change, financially and socially; how long you will need to implement change; whether there are changes you can identify that cost little but have a large impact; and what is the long-term impact of not changing.

“Do what consumers want within reason,” Swanson advised producers. “Continue to create and control your reality through standards and guidelines.”

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Contacts: Tracy Taylor Grondine
(202) 406-3642
tracyg@fb.org
Mace Thornton
(202) 406-3641
macet@fb.org