It’s almost mandatory for columnists to crank out a “What a Year It Was!” column as a finale each time we prepare to flip the calendar. I’ll spare you that obligatory slog through news you’ve already endured and instead offer a single word I believe will occupy a prominent place in both news coverage and industry messaging in 2013.
That singularity parallels trends elsewhere.
For example: In the fitness industry, the word is “intensity.” More and more research—coupled with real-world experience—is showing that the best results in strength training, endurance training and even body shaping all derive from shorter, harder, more intensive workouts. Not everyone’s overjoyed to learn that, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that if your idea of exercise is reading a magazine while you leisurely pedal a stationary cycle machine, you’re not going to get the results you want.
In education, the word is “outcomes.” Rather than such metrics as graduation rates (though important), or new technologies or even teacher credentialing, the primary tool for measuring academic success is how well students perform on core curricula and standardized tests. Again, everybody’s not happy about it, but that’s also a development rapidly reaching consensus.
In food production, I believe the single most important descriptor in both media coverage and industry messaging in 2013 will be “sustainability.” That’s certainly not a new concept, nor are other industry-specific buzzwords; they tend to rise to the top of the list by a process of attrition.
However, in animal agriculture, defining and communicating what sustainability is all about will be ultra-important. Why? Three reasons, in ascending order of importance.
First, there is no clear and universally accepted definition of sustainability, or sustainable. Like “natural,” sustainable is what anyone wants it to be, and unfortunately, production agriculture has too often let activist groups with agendas do the defining.
That needs to change, so that debates over policies and positioning can be conducted on a level playing field.
Second, the issue of animal welfare is an emotional one. From sad-eyed puppies used by animal rights groups to fund-raise for ag-related campaigns—such as eliminating gestation stalls—to doctored videos intended to shock the public, virtually all of such messaging surrounding is driven by the gut reactions people and politicians have to imagery and feelings. Facts rarely enter the discussion.