Change inconvenient but necessary (commentary)

By: Dr. Neville Speer

Originally published on: July 29, 2014 – Feedstuffs FoodLink Blog

CHANGE is difficult. Deep down, we’re all inherently reluctant to embrace any type of shift and tend to regress back to our established habits and behavioral patterns.

Nobody describes that better than Walter Bagehot — who often wrote about the importance of “breaking the cake of custom” — when he said: “One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. It … makes you think that after all, your favorite notions may be wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded.”

That’s why change management is so difficult (and leadership so important) in any type of organizational setting. Implementing transformation always proves to be a challenge that requires sharp focus, determination and resilience to ensure success over the long run.

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Now, consider the uphill surge required for change to occur, not just within a business but across an entire industry. That’s particularly true if it’s not forced upon the industry, as are government regulations, introduction of technology, etc. It’s uncommon and a truly remarkable feat when it does occur — even more so in a highly fragmented and markedly segmented business such as agriculture.

All those thoughts came to mind as I spent a day at the recent Fourth International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium hosted by Iowa State University. Surveying the crowd, there was a comprehensive mix of disciplines in attendance, including academicians, veterinarians, industry professionals and producers.

The meeting itself epitomizes an incredible transformation that has occurred largely during the past 20 years or so.

It’s clear that animal welfare is not an afterthought or side thought held by a few individuals within the business. Rather, the mindset has become well-established, and animal well-being considerations are a routine part of everyday business for the majority of operations.

The Iowa State meeting, coupled with all of the other ongoing efforts within the industry, embodies and confirms a deliberate, systematic commitment by the industry.

The most important part of the broader story, though, was the students in attendance, with research posters highlighting findings from various graduate projects regarding animal welfare, care and comfort. Their interest and training ensures that such efforts have some staying power. The industry’s focus on animal welfare will not only endure but expand even further in the years ahead.

All that adds up to a great story. Change is happening, and improvement is being made.

Unfortunately, challenges remain, primarily because some activist groups would have the public believe otherwise. That’s not surprising; their existence is predicated upon promoting an image of the agriculture industry as inflexible, with provincial ideas. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Animal agriculture needs to get better at communicating with the public and outflanking the activist groups to ensure an accurate representation of what’s really happening in the industry.

Considering that 55% of consumers have become increasingly interested in how humanely animals are raised and handled (based on a fall 2013 “Where Food Comes From” survey), that communication is especially important.

Better practices are vital in substance, but it can’t end there. Animal agriculture also has to tell its own story, and that’s where work remains. It’ll require the same — if not even more — effort to make real breakthroughs with the public.

Then again, Richard Hooker got it right when he said: “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.”

*Dr. Nevil Speer serves as a private industry consultant. He is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and can be reached at nevil.speer@gmail.com.

Volume:86 Issue:31

Note:  Beef Education Consultants welcome Dr. Nevil Speer as a guest blogger this month and would like to thank Feedstuffs Food Link staff for allowing us to repost this blog.  Visit www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com