Consumer perceptions (Proceedings)


Consumer perceptions (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2010

The agricultural community is an extremely small percent of the general population and much of that population lives in densely populated areas of the country. They draw their perceptions of food animal care from their experiences and perceptions about zoos, their own companion animals, and the visual stories presented electronically from opponents of the animal industry. While all other aspects of their urban life has been modified by technological change from the schools to the electronics in their life their perception seems to be that food production should be stuck someplace in the past, we usually refer to as the good old days.

This year the National Milk Producers Federation presented materials for Farmers Assuring Responsible Management; a nationwide, verifiable well-being program about the animal care. A quote from the materials states this; "The program aims to provide a consistent platform for animal well-being, which producers can use to evaluate their on-farm animal care practices." As the veterinarians that serve these dairies we should take note of the program that has been developed. We need to study the guiding principles and guidelines that have been presented so that we are familiar with the semantics that have been chosen, but more important will be our application of these principles and guidelines to the dairies we serve on a regular basis so we can help find the management changes that benefit the care and will match the semantics of the certification process.

The program is in its educational phase which will be followed by an on-farm evaluation every three years. Herds will be selected from this pool of evaluated herds for a 3rd party certification. The full text can be accessed at the website. While this is a voluntary program, participation may be mandated in order to sell milk to some processors that are currently assuming responsibility for implementing this program. While the program is to certify the animal care practices on a dairy; the first questions in the herd evaluation are about the VCPR, SOPs, personnel training and record keeping making our discussion of written treatment protocols, accountability of welfare, drug usage, and management practices, supervision of drug usage, production medicine development, developing the sufficient knowledge needed for the VCPR, and utilization of our fertility programs for supervision of drug usage especially timely.

Areas designated in the manual that will be evaluated are:
     • Management – SOPs, training, and record keeping
     • Newborn calves
     • Nutrition
     • Animal health
     • Environment and facilities
     • Handling, moving, and transportation
     • Special-needs animals
     • Dairy beef

This is too long a list to think that all the risk factors in a management plan could be discussed in a periodic 2nd party evaluation. Our profession has a clear opportunity to prepare our dairies by knowing the language of the evaluation and using the regular supervision of treated animals to locate areas that could be modified and discussing the appropriate action. There is an opportunity or perhaps an obligation to study this program in detail and do a mini evaluation each time we are doing supervision of drug usage on a management group to help find areas that need action. Especially when the cows have demonstrated with their health records there is opportunity to improve the health.

From a practical stand point this diversity of management planning needs to have the kind of repetitive time commitment that matches regular supervision of treated animals and discussions of the management aspects of the herd at a timely basis that we can do as part of the fertility program. As we are doing our work we can accomplish preparation for the certification as a by-product with no additional effort.

The perceptions our consumers have about how animals are managed was also the subject of a recent consumer survey. The consumer awareness of our management practices and their confidence in the food products revealed several interesting points. Consumers trust farmers, but they are not sure modern agriculture is farming. They trust veterinarians but they didn't know that food animal veterinarians existed.

The survey of urban consumers asked them to quantify:
     • Their awareness of how farm animals were raised
     • Their confidence in wholesomeness of food
     • Their confidence in food safety
     • Their confidence in food quality
     • Their knowledge of vaccination and antibiotics usage