THE pressures of ideological groups and their views are gradually, but surely, squeezing agriculture from all sides.
In this week’s paper, just looking at the livestock sector, we have competing bodies on the back page offering alternative welfare standards for wool, we also have a report on the Harden town meeting where the pros and cons were debated about a proposed piggery for which the outcome was already determined by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) (pending a potential Land and Environment Court application).
Some of the loudest voices around this development have been from the animal welfare lobby, yet welfare had little, if anything to do with the application process, nor the EPA’s final reasoning to block the development. And then there’s more on the bovine Johne’s/biosecurity issue, the biosecurity plan being one of two new requirements for a Livestock Production Assurance plan – the second addition being an animal welfare plan.
Our industries are slowly but surely complying, an inch at a time, to external pressures. At an initial glance, it might seem we are being proactive, but last week’s message from Meat and Livestock Australia’s managing director, Richard Norton, about the need for the sheep and lamb industry to better sell its message, hits the nail on the head. Being proactive isn’t just about putting in place structures or policy to be seen to be doing the right thing – that is reactive. Being proactive is getting agriculture’s message out there and understood in the first place.
The contrasting alternatives offered by the International Wool Textile Organisation’s Custodians of the Wool Industry declaration and US-based Textile Exchange’s Responsible Wool Standard highlight this point. Together, they have reacted to a perceived need, but in competing for the same space are confusing the issue of mulesing, and yet, rather than sell a message around the important role of mulesing, are reinforcing the negatives.
Conflict around such issues flares up when an ideological position becomes involved. Parallels could be drawn for battery hens, sow crates, or lotfeeding. The problem is that ideology is easy to sell – it is based on emotion. Agriculture’s side of the argument is usually more complex than a simple message, such as “eat free range eggs”, or “mulesing is bad”. Yet, our right to farm is increasingly being held to account by these over simplified, ideological positions.