Moving Animal Agriculture Forward is Work for Grown-ups

Dr. Angela Baysinger, DVM, MS, – Animal Welfare Lead, North America

Earlier this month, OSI Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, and I
discussed sustainability and animal welfare on the Veterinary and Consumer Affairs
podcast, Caring for Animals and Creating Trust. I have reflected on our conversation, and one
statement from Nicole seems foundational to moving animal agriculture conversations and,
more importantly, actions forward:

“Sustainability is work for grown-ups.”
Let that sink in for a moment. What did Nicole mean by this statement?

One answer can be summed up by a quote from a book I read recently, “There are some
questions that shouldn’t be asked until a person is mature enough to appreciate the answers.”

Many of the topics we discuss and challenges we address in animal agriculture are not “easy.”
We need only to look back at 2020, where we were challenged with welfare issues we could
not have predicted. If we come to the table believing we can “hit the easy button,” we will not
only be mistaken, but we may also do more harm than good. For example, during our podcast
conversation, Nicole and I discussed the effects of company imposed sustainability policies on
the rural communities that farmers and ranchers call home. Or, we may adopt animal housing
policies that seem okay but fail to meet scientific muster.

As many of us know, some plans look good on paper but do not work in the “real world.”
It will be “grown-ups” – those who are prepared to accept complicated answers, who
continuously improve the way we raise and care for animals to produce safe, nutritious,
sustainable proteins.

And, how do we know if we are working with a “grown-up” on animal agriculture issues and

Again, I have two quotes, pieces of advice I believe we can follow.
First from 18th-century philosopher Voltaire, “Judge a man [person] by his [their] questions rather than his [their] answers.”

A grown-up will appreciate the complexity of animal welfare, environmental sustainability, social responsibility, etc., and come to a conversation with questions and a desire to learn more to understand an issue or challenge before providing solutions.

Next, theoretical physicist Richard Feynman exemplifies a “grown-up’s” attitude when he states, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

I believe we are all relieved to turn the page on 2020. As I prepare to continue my animal welfare work in 2021, I look forward to building on the foundation we’ve laid at Merck Animal Health and continuing to move conversations and actions forward with new research, conversations, and ideas. We will celebrate five years of Advancing Animal Welfare Together this year, bringing stakeholders from throughout the supply chain together to have these critical conversations as we all strive for continuous improvement.

I’m especially looking forward to focusing on three foundational areas of animal welfare in 2021:
1) Technology: Investigating the role that technology can play to help livestock farmers and ranchers enhance their stockmanship, handling, and care of their animals
2) One Welfare: Expanding the scientific knowledge around how human and animal health and welfare impact each other.
3) Pain relief: Continuing to look at pain mitigation strategies for surgical procedures in food animals.

As you continue your leadership in 2021, what animal agriculture questions do you have?
What challenges should we explore together?

Be sure to listen to my podcast conversation with Nicole, and let me know your thoughts, questions, and ideas as we continue to advance animal welfare, together, in 2021.