Saturday, December 4, 2010

Can"t Sell it at Barnes and Noble

I recently attended an Animal Welfare Symposium at the Ohio State University along with several hundred other people. The Keynote speaker was Dr. Temple Grandin. For those who are unfamiliar, Dr. Grandin is a world recognized specialist in the matters of animal behavior, particularly, cattle (she is from Colorado) but also poultry and swine. She has built her reputation and expertise over a lifetime of dedicated work in the livestock industry. She has been a leader in developing affective methods of livestock handling that reduce stress and injury to people and animals. She has accomplished all this while overcoming the personal challenge of autism. She is a successful writer and has had a movie made documenting her life's work and struggles. She is a person deserving of admiration and respect.

During her keynote address and the question and answer time afterward she repeatedly proclaimed that sow gestation stalls need to be gotten rid of. Her primary defense of that statement was that, "You can't sell them to the public at Barnes and Noble in New York and come out alive."

While I can't argue with the truthfulness of the statement, I would like to unpack it just a little bit.

Earlier in the conference Charlie Arnot, from the Center For Food Integrity, had displayed a pie chart of the Roger's rules of adoption. In this chart we see that a very small percentage of people (2%) are innovators. They are free thinkers that make up their own mind and see things others don't. They are followed by a larger but still small group (16%) called early adopters. This is the group that sorts through the ideas of the innovators and choses the best ones. They are hard to move from their opinion once they settle on an idea. From there we proceed on to everyone else who adopt things at different rates. With this idea of in our mind lets go back to the statement of Dr. Grandin. "You can't sell them to the public at Barnes and Noble in New York and come out alive."

I would propose that Dr. Grandin is a classic "innovator". She realised animal handling needed to change long before anyone else. She determined what that change should look like and set her mind to it like the faces on Mt. Rushmore. If she will change her position now that it is set, I will be very amazed.

The people in line at Barnes and Noble, I would suggest, are more of the early adopter group. At least those that will see to it that you don't come out alive. There are, of course, all manner of people there in line. Controversy and hardship is what sells books and movies and Dr. Grandin can delivery the goods for both of these. So the line at Barnes and Noble represents 2% innovators + 16% early adopters = 18% of the population as far as those who are going to take action is concerned. Given this combustible mix of highly opinionated people I can see why you wouldn't sell gestation stalls and come out alive at Barnes and Noble in New York!

I am not trying to argue with Dr. Grandin's opinion of the needed demise of gestation stalls as a singular housing method. I am trying to point out that her statement about Barnes and Noble needs to be tempered with the idea that the other 82% of the population is trying to sort through these ideas and see which ones to adopt for themselves. If the housing method is banded by government or constitutional action, the 82% have just lost their right to chose. This seems terribly heavy handed and arrogant of the innovator and early adopters among us.

There is a fairly large part of the population, Mr. Arnot's chart suggests +50%, that don't know and don't care. They want safe healthy food that they can afford (period). Why should a few people feel they can take this choice away from the many? I just don't think that is reasonable.

On another note, why does this discussion of animal care come down to death threats so often? The Barnes and Noble comment is not entirely serious......I think? But there you have it. I am not sure. I know that death threats are very real to some of my friends who are attempting to stand up and push back on some of these issues. What is it in this very small group of activist people that makes them think the situation is so dire that they need to threaten people's lives. At some point they must lose their sense of proportion, and go from being innovators and early adopters to being zealots. To me this should inform the 82% that this idea doesn't need their full acceptance and support.

Thank you for your interest and thought.

recordings of the symposium are supposedly available at

I have not yet been able to get this link to download the chart or Dr. Grandin's presentation but I am not the most gifted techy either. I raise pigs for a living.

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