Challenges of animal production in a global world; how scientific societies can contribute to solutions

July 28, 2016

James L. Sartin and Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe
World Association of Animal Production, Rome, Italy and American Society of Animal Science, Champaign, IL USA.

As we look to the future of animal production, the outstanding challenge facing agriculture is feeding the worlds burgeoning population. The projected requirement to feed this population is for at least a 60% increase in food production, of which a substantial portion will be meat products. However, due to the publicity concerning the obesity epidemic, the general public has a difficult time envisioning a need for more food production. In addition, there are many conflicting views concerning animal agriculture. There is a vegan agenda that promotes a concept that animal based products are inherently unhealthy, cause environmental catastrophes, use too much water and are inherently cruel. Animal welfare groups provide a constant barrage of emotional pleas, that range from accusations of animal cruelty to providing propaganda to school age children. In addition, we often hear that agriculture was better in the good old days, before substantial numbers of farms became “industrial farms”. Most of these positions are easily refuted with scientific research and good communication of modern animal agricultural practices. However communication and good science may be insufficient to change public perceptions and influence public policy.

There are hurdles of another character facing animal production. Some that are not easily addressed are cultural or religious belief systems. There is an impact of animal production on land and water use, climate change, ethical concerns, decreased arid land and others, that all must be addressed in a sustainable and responsible manner. In short, the issues that face animal production also provide new scientific challenges to animal scientists. Fundamentally, how do we provide more food in an ethical, humane, and environmentally sustainable manner?

How should we respond to these challenges? Scientific societies, with the assistance of animal scientists, and farmers are the best suited to take the forefront in facing the challenges between ultimate starvation and a healthy population. But, scientific societies face their own problems that impact solutions:
• Decreased Research Funding
• Consolidation of Animal Industries
• Poor Public Perception (of science and agriculture)
• Consolidation of Academic Departments
• Decreased number of students interested in science
• Applied versus Basic Research Debate
• Lack of consumer understanding and support
• Consumer driven VS science driven government policy

All societies have taken on some portions of these issues facing themselves and animal production. This presentation will feature the responses made by the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS). The ASAS decided to convene a strategic planning group in 2008 to try to address how to move forward in the environment that was facing animal agriculture, animal science education and research. The leadership of ASAS decided to face the future with a plan to operate strategically rather than deal with day-to-day operations issues of the society. This required a fundamental change in philosophy and required a certain amount of innovation and risk during an economic downturn. In the years since 2008, seven successive presidents and Boards of Directors of ASAS have worked with the ASAS staff to implement the elements of that plan. And most importantly, the plan was considered a living plan, one that could evolve as conditions changed. The key provisions (summarized for brevity) of the plan were:
• Increase influence in public policy, work for education and research funding for animal sciences, explore new models to partner with industry, government, universities, commodity groups and scientific societies.
• Make known to the larger public, the value, knowledge and contributions of the animal sciences.
• Increase diversity and number of members by recruiting globally.
• Interest in current and future members by providing professional and leadership development opportunities, use new technologies to reach members.
• Invest in cutting edge communications technology to facilitate scientific information exchange, dissemination, and networking for ASAS members.
• Partner and cooperate with other scientific societies, government agencies, to sponsor educational forums, symposia, and activities to address issues in the animal sciences.
• ASAS, its sections and foundation work to insure the Society continues to be vital, healthy, and financially sound.

While these are broad statements befitting a strategic plan, how was this plan implemented and has it achieved it’s goals?

Public Policy. ASAS created a sabbatical program for ASAS scientists to work at United States of America (US) government agencies. This provided ASAS an opportunity to send speakers to the US Environmental Protection Agency, which was considering new legislation to manage animal waste in the US. In addition, ASAS provides a yearly visit of representatives from ASAS leadership to visit US Government agencies (such as FDA, EPA and USDA and others). ASAS developed Grand Challenges for animal science research and distributed the document to government, university and animal industries. This document is a guideline for developing future research priorities.

ASAS, in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Animal Science, the European Federation of Animal Science, and the American Meat Science Association, jointly developed and publish an open access magazine of global animal agriculture, Animal Frontiers. Moreover, ASAS hosts a Snack and Fact in Washington DC to coincide with each issue of Animal Frontiers with a goal to educate those in government about issues in global animal agriculture. This event features scientists speaking on topics associated with the latest issue of Animal Frontiers. Each attendee is provided a copy of the magazine (and the magazine is distributed to government, University and industry offices).

Communications. One of the issues animal production must begin to deal with is the misconceptions and distortions surrounding how society views animal agriculture. With that in mind and the educational basis for the society, ASAS initiated a Junior Animal Scientist program. This membership in the Jr Animal Scientist program is oriented to schoolchildren in the first 4-5 grades as either an individual membership or to classrooms. There is a magazine for each student that is published in 4 issues each year and teaches about animals and agriculture that is both fun as well as educational. In addition, the AnimalSmart website has lesson plans for teaching animal agriculture in the public school system, including using Animal Frontiers and the Journal of Animal Science in teaching. was launched in 2012 as a consumer website to provide information on animal production to the general public and to provide a “Kids Zone” to augment the Junior Animal Scientist program. The site provides up to date scientific information on a host of topics from antibiotic or hormone use in cattle to food safety issues, all oriented to the consumer.

There seems to be a never-ending barrage of news stories that reinforce negative perceptions of modern animal agriculture. One approach to the problem was the development of a system to provide positive inputs to the media about animal agriculture. Journal of Animal Science Interpretive Summaries (provided for industry and others) are prepared and placed on the ASAS website. These interpretive summaries are released to media outlets through Eureka Alerts. In addition to agriculture media, this system places animal science research into the ‘public eye’ in non-agriculture public media. More directly, the ASAS Board of Directors authorized a rapid Board response to developing news events. Examples of Board responses were the Chipotle Superbowl advertisement that attacked family farms, a response to a Peta film indicating shearing was an inhumane process, most recently a response concerning the stories that the WHO had placed processed meat on the carcinogen list, as well as others.

The Society also embraced social media to attract and communicate with students. Information and connections are provided through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for our members and interested persons.

International Programs. ASAS and a number of sister societies have realized that we all face the same issues, whether it be climate change, trade regulations or changing perceptions about animal agriculture. The future development of the animal sciences as well as success at feeding the world demands that we all work together. To that end, there are a number of interactions between Animal Science Societies. For example, EAAP and ASAS have long standing speaker exchanges that have served as a catalyst to enhance global research and education in animal agriculture. Both organizations have engaged in developing that model with our sister societies worldwide to enhance interactions at scientific meetings. It’s potential to improve all of our efforts at feeding the world cannot be over emphasized.

Individual Scientists. Scientific societies cannot work alone. There is a need for individual scientists to become more engaged in education at all ages. For example, individual scientists can go into school systems and talk to classes about animal production, the importance of water resources, about animal disease or physiology or nutrition. Scientists can help educate the public by writing blogs and newspaper articles. Animal scientists should not wait for the news to develop, but should provide the positive news about animal science. In addition, as educators we should work to develop “our story”. The only way to educate the public is to discuss the science, it’s impacts and needs in our day-to-day interactions. Consider turning your work into a simple anecdote. People are more likely to remember a story than a list of facts. Above all else, speak passionately. At its core, the goal of animal science and animal agriculture is to provide safe, efficient, nutrient source to feed the world. If we tell our story and speak passionately on a daily basis, our message will begin to take hold. These are only examples, but think about your personal skills and see where you can make a difference.

It is time to move beyond talking about problems facing animal agriculture and engage in solving the issues before us. There are solutions to the challenges facing global animal agriculture. As animal scientists, acting individually and through our respective scientific societies, we can make a difference in feeding the world.