Why does agriculture choose war over peace

It goes without saying that relationships are the key to success in business.

Customers, suppliers, legislators, consumers, media, influencers, detractors, thought leaders all of these people are important to our businesses and livestock agriculture is a business

RSPCA approved farming logo

According to their website the RSPCA is recognised by consumers as the foremost authority on animal welfare. According to a 2009 RSPCA survey the RSPCA has 84% spontaneous brand awareness and 95% prompted awareness.)

“The overall impression of RSPCA was overwhelmingly positive…with 86% of respondents claiming to be either Positive or Very Positive towards RSPCA.” (RSPCA Survey 2012)

On top of this Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with 63% of households owning at least one pet, and 53% owning a dog or cat.

The RSPCA aren’t the only ones doing surveys on their brand awareness and their survey aligns with independent surveys on brand awareness   

Now as I discovered in July the NSW RSPCA report shows 60% of complaints to the RSPCA are about mistreatment of companion dogs and horses. See post here

Complaints about farm animals are miniscule and the real problem lies with people the RSPCA call animal hoarders. That is people who see themselves as “rescuers” of animals which in the main means people who ‘collect’ animals like cats and dogs and retired greyhounds and trotters in flabbergasting numbers and have no capacity to feed or house them. 

It is also well know that the RSPCA organisation mindset is not the same in all states with agriculture becoming quite concerned to see parts of the RSPCA seemingly aligning themselves with animal activist groups.

What was I was very disappointed to see were the comments at the bottom of the article by Matt Cawood titled   “Make us an ally: RSPCA”

According to the article RSPCA chairperson Lynne Bradshaw believes.

THE agriculture sector should adopt the RSPCA as an ally that can help it short-circuit future community concerns about animal welfare,

The RSPCA is one of Australia’s most powerful brands, Mrs Bradshaw told Fairfax Agricultural Media, and is the face of community aspirations concerning animal welfare.

Standing up against the RSPCA is standing up against the community, she believes. RSPCA engagement in improving agricultural practices, on the other hand, will help the sector address the more sensational attacks of the animal rights movement.

“People who join the organisation have to realise that we aren’t anti-farming. Our charter isn’t against using animals for food and fibre. That’s different to the animal rights groups, who say we shouldn’t be using animals for food,” she said.

“There are people who think that if they join RSPCA, they will change our position. But we take in a cross-section of views, and our policies are based on mainstream thinking and current science. We fund a lot of people working to improve livestock welfare.”

For pretty much all her time with RSPCA, Mrs Bradshaw has been frustrated at agriculture’s reluctance to change production methods that she believes society is finding increasingly unacceptable.

“The majority of people are concerned with the cost of food, but now there’s a real awakening to the plight of animals in intensive farming systems and during transport. More people are asking about that aspect of food production.”

Persisting with systems that antagonise the community is a self-defeating cycle, she argues.

“We’re community-driven, and the community tends to call the shots on what it perceives. The information the community is getting is that animal welfare is a hot topic.”

Media is geared for sensation, and organisations that harness the media recognise this. Every sensational exposure of animal welfare abuse heightens community pressure for better production systems.

“All the work we do behind the scenes with farmers doesn’t get reported,” Mrs Bradshaw said. “It’s the other things that leap out of the box.”

Her hope is that agriculture will recognise these shifts in community attitude, and work with RSPCA to consistently build credibility with the public.

I personally think she makes a lot of valid points

Whether the majority of agriculture sees the RSPCA as adversaries or not we can and should try to have relationships with the people who disagree with us and who agriculture sees as working against agriculture

The strength of agricultural community lies in the strength of the connections that we have with each other and everyone up and down the supply chain . With strong connections, people have the power to make real change. Building these connections takes time; but it is worth it.

The selection of strategic partners with whom we collaborate is now becoming a life or death issue for livestock agriculture

For generations agriculture has built moats between themselves and their detractors. Sadly at times we have often build moats between us and the people who buy what we produce 

Today success lies in building bridges. Bridges allow you to build trust, partnerships and to develop strategic alliances, have conversations and when necessary negotiate

The RSPCA has extended an olive branch to agriculture, dare I say we would be taking a big step backwards not to have the conversation

Well said Matt Cawood  

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