The online Urban Dictionary defines the metaphor of an 800-pound gorilla as “a seemingly unbeatable presence always to be reckoned with; whose experience, influence, and skill threatens to defeat competitors with little effort.”

For the dairy industry, consumer perception about almost everything farmers do is an 800-pound gorilla. But on the topic of animal care and welfare, it has the potential to be much bigger.

In today’s hyper-scrutinized and ever-changing social media world, consumers increasingly want to know — and surveys say overwhelmingly so — the basic circumstances behind how animals produce food or become food. It’s an issue that is real and it isn’t one that is coming some day; it is here now.

How openly and honestly farmers participate in animal welfare discussions is sure to help shape consumer opinions about how cows should be managed. And as often happens, count on dairy product marketers to be the biggest source of pressure to see that those expec­tations are met.

Animal welfare is turning up on dairy conference programs with rapidly growing frequency these days, often asking questions that may be uncomfortable. The first six are the toughest I have heard this year; consumers will no doubt come up with others.

Tough consumer questions

  • Are dairy cattle cared for with compassion?
  • Do they have feelings and/or emotions?
  • Do they feel safe in their environment?
  • Do they feel pain?
  • Do they have lives worth living?
  • Do their lives end humanely?

It would be a mistake to not take these kinds of questions seriously. Plus, here are two others to consider:

  • How would consumers answer those six questions?
  • Are we brave enough to ask consumers for their perceptions?

The biggest question of all may be, how will the dairy industry reply?

Ignoring animal care and welfare questions would be a bad approach, but lying would be worse.

Here’s another question to ask yourself, your family, and your employees: If reincarnation is real, would you want to come back as a dairy cow in the farming world that is “normal” for them now?

If the answer is no, then doesn’t it say that a discussion is needed about how the dairy industry can make a better world for its animals?

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2018
August 6, 2018
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