FARMERS must get on top of managing perceptions about animal welfare or face the real danger of losing key markets and destroying the economic viability of livestock businesses.
Charles ‘Chick’ Olsson made the prescient observation at the Rural Press Club in Brisbane on Wednesday, saying animal cruelty – real or perceived – was a death sentence for any brand or organisation in a new world of social consumerism.
“Animal rights organisations have huge marketing budgets and they’re not afraid to use them,” Mr Olsson told the National Ag Day gathering.
“The fund raising revenue is vast at $650 million alone in US, with more in EU and other nations including Australia.
“Unless our ag sector matches their public marketing budgets to defend our farming practices, then we are in real danger of losing key markets and losing actual farming viability.”
Mr Olsson is well known as owner of animal nutrition company Four Season and for his role in developing the pain relief product Tri-Solfen. He is also no stranger to rough and tumble of agripolitics, being a former chair and current director of the Australian Woolgrowers Association and past director of Australian Wool Innovation.
Mr Olsson warned animal rights was much more than a movement, and had become widely accepted thinking in an increasingly urbanised world.
“We have seen this with Labor promising to take this issue to an election and phasing out live exports all together,” he said.
Despite the dire outlook, Mr Olsson said there had been some remarkable leadership from agriculture, naming Meat and Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton, Red Meat Advisory Council chair Don Mackay and CPC chief executive officer Troy Setter.
He particularly singled out Cloncurry beef producer, the late Zanda MacDonald, as someone who had recognised the threat animal rights posed.
“Zanda saw what had happened in the sheep and wool industry, and recognised the mistakes that were made,” Mr Olsson said.
“His leadership has seen a rapid change in real welfare reform with Australian beef, of which we are discussing today because of him.”
Mr McDonald partnered with Medical Ethics, a company partly owned by Mr Olsson, to trial the pain relief product Tri-Solfen, originally developed to treat mulesed sheep.
Now marketed by Bayer, that product has been used on 80 million sheep and cattle in Australia to date.
"Not one country in the world can match this record of improved humane animal treatment. Not one. So why aren’t we telling the world.”
Mr Olsson said advertising campaigns need to be delivered targeting urban consumers.
“If we allow live exports to be shut down we lose 10,000 Australian jobs. It’s that simple,” he said.
“We need to get convince people to turn down the heater and put on a sweater. That’s a campaign ready to go for wool.”
Mr Olsson said agriculture was part of a new cold war.
“It is a war of ideology. Of the right to farm animals against the proposition of stopping farming animals. For us to farm more humanely and achieve higher price points and market security.
“There is no doubt that Australia can lead the farming world in best welfare while meeting all consumer expectations.”