That was a message from RSPCA chief executive Heather Neil at the Australian Dairy Conference in Melbourne last week. Ms Neil also warned dairy farmers who were setting up a housed total mix ration system to do so carefully.
“If you put pictures in front of consumers, animals outdoors with green grass and it looks pretty, they say those animals must have good welfare,” she said.
“If you show them pictures of them indoors, it’s dark, there’s not much around and they will say that’s not good welfare and those two things are not necessarily true.
“Dairy comes up really highly in people’s perceptions of good welfare and that is not necessarily true.
“You need to be careful relying on the great outdoors pretty picture as your measure of animal welfare. You need to think about the experience of the animal.”
The conference was told consumers did not make purchasing decisions solely on animal welfare, they also considered the environment. But ultimately, price drove buying decisions.
Ms Neil also said labelling was the way to get consumers to value products with better welfare. She discouraged dairy’s use of free range, saying it implied other operators were not free range — even if they were doing the same thing.
Ethics Centre senior adviser Philip Wright told the conference transparency was the key to gaining and managing trust.
“The more transparent you are going to be, even if things go wrong, the better you are going to be in managing trust,” he said.
Nestle corporate affairs manager Margaret Stuart encouraged dairy to “call out bad behaviour” in a bid to get change within the industry.
Ms Stuart also spoke of having to “carry the consequences of what happens on the farm” as the consumer-facing company that buys milk from a processor supplied by dairy farmers.
“Ultimately what a stakeholder sees as cruel, risky or a crisis, is cruel, risky and a crisis not matter how it came about,” she said of the undercover footage obtained from a Wisconsin US dairy farm, which was found guilty of animal cruelty and linked to Nestle.