Ruaraidh Petre is the Executive Director for the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. This organization works to improve the sustainability of the beef value chain through leadership, science, engagement, and collaboration. Petre was part of the “Advancing Animal Well-Being: Together we can make a difference” roundtable discussion at the International Bayer Cattle Symposium in conjunction with the World Buiatrics Congress in Sapporo, Japan. Learn more about Ruaraidh and why cattle well-being is important to him.
Tell us a little about yourself, Ruaraidh.
Growing up in Ireland, I started my career on farms, as a shepherd and stockman and later as a farm manager. I no longer farm, but my work brings me in contact with cattle farmers around the world every day.
Sounds like working with animals is a real passion. What does animal well-being mean to you?
I regard good animal well-being as an ethical requirement in livestock farming; we must treat our livestock with respect and ensure them “five freedoms” throughout their lives in as far as it is possible given that we are dealing with challenges such as climate change, globalization, and human management.
Animal well-being is fundamental to what livestock farmers do. Healthy and well looked after animals are also naturally more productive, and importantly for the farmer, it is rewarding through the pride in a job well done and as a reflection of his or her personal values. No farmer wants to see an animal suffer.
From your perspective, what are some of the key challenges to advancing animal well-being?
Livestock professionals know that good well-being is the basis for good animal health. Having said that, some aspects of animal well-being are cultural and evolve over time. For farmers, demonstrating that adaptation can take time and money. But ultimately, clear benefits in favour of good animal well-being can be demonstrated and this is what helps change perceptions and practices.
My job concerns sustainability, and we have to take account the resources used in livestock farming. We have to equally consider our ethical obligations to livestock, the values we share with our consumers and the need to produce within the environmental constraints of a world with limited resources.
Many consumers today have no or limited connection to agriculture. What are your thoughts on this?
Societies today are becoming more distant from their agricultural roots and we see negative sentiments expressed against farmers or farming practices from time to time. Farming is a way of life for farmers – they are passionate about it, they really care about what they are doing, and they take pride in doing it well.
There is no end point to advancing animal well-being. It’s an ongoing process. And as part of the agriculture community, I believe we need to become better at linking to groups beyond our own agricultural circles, and demonstrating that we share the values of the majority of consumers. And consumers can also contribute by appreciating more the value of good produce. More open dialogue and understanding would be beneficial all around.
You’ve mentioned that livestock farmers are already placing more emphasis on animal well-being. How do you think veterinarians can support farmers to take animal well-being further, also in conversations with the public?
Veterinarians are not nearly as visible as farmers in discussions between consumers and farmers, which can quickly become very polarized. It’s important that veterinarians become involved in multi-stakeholder discussions to help mediate and clarify what consumers and farmers are each trying to communicate. When done effectively, this can help mitigate concerns in many situations, as well as bring about innovations that benefit the animals, farmers and their relationship with consumers.