ACE 2009: Animal Welfare Expert to Cite Communication as Key to Sustainability

posted on December 9, 2008 4:11am

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EAST LANSING, Mich.—Janice Swanson wants people to start talking.
  Swanson, professor and director of animal welfare at Michigan State University (MSU), believes that opening up lines of communication between various issue groups would cause people to gain insight into how their actions may create challenges for others.
  “Citizens who are passionately engaged in a cause are frequently unaware of the impact of single-focus decision making and the unintended consequences,” Swanson said. “We must be prepared to promote studied deliberation of both the issue and all the potential consequences and outcomes. The first step is to actually start talking about it as a collective rather than in separate groups.”
  As a speaker for Agriculture’s Conference on the Environment (ACE) on January 28 in Lansing, Swanson will lead a discussion about the problems that this lack of communication creates and how to move past them in her keynote, “Creating Balanced Approaches in a Single-Issue World: Lessons from Animal Welfare.”
  Swanson will use her decades of research and experience in animal welfare to discuss how that issue could move toward solutions if interest groups started an open conversation and how this type of thinking can be applied to solving other issues. 
  “A challenge for solving the issue of animal welfare is that producers have to comply with an assortment of mandates, and it is entirely possible to be in compliance with one while falling out of compliance on another,” Swanson said. “To solve this, state government will likely have to play a leadership role in promoting processes where groups are convened to lay the issues on the table and have an honest conversation—with ground rules.” 
  In Michigan,  the state’s natural and economic resources are often the focus of conflicting interests between environmental and business groups that rely on those resources to make money.  Swanson said that finding a balance can be tricky, and open communication is the key to success.
  “The state is blessed with incredible beauty and the Great   Lakes.  It is natural for citizens to want to preserve that,”  Swanson said. “However, this sets up the perfect storm for multiple special interest initiatives that can have a profound impact on the state’s food producers if attempts are not made to openly communicate and strike a balance on resource use and preservation.”
  Swanson will also lead an ACE 2009 breakout session titled “Modeling Change of On-Farm Production Standards.”
  Using examples from the move toward cage-free egg production, Swanson will discuss how trust can be built and change can happen in any issue as long as the proper framework is laid first.
  “Change could be bearable or catastrophic, depending on whether the agriculture and food industry has a seat at the table,” Swanson said. “It is securing a seat at the table that should be the issue of concern.”
  ACE 2009 will be held January 28, 2009, at the Lansing Center. Registration is $50 until Jan. 19 and $75 thereafter. Students may register for $20. For more information, visit or phone Jim Van Arkel, 517-241-2232.
  ACE 2009 is supported by the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). The MAEAP was developed by a coalition of farmers, commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation and environmental groups to provide a venue for farmers to become better educated about management options to help protect and enhance the quality of the state’s natural resources. More than 500 Michigan farms have participated in the voluntary verification process in its 10-year history.
  The MAEAP is a collaborative effort of the Michigan Department of Agriculture,  Michigan State University Extension, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Farm Bureau, commodity organizations, conservation groups,  and other state and federal agencies. 
  For more information, visit the MAEAP Web site at

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