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Pointing people in the direction of simple science

I am looking at my teapot. It is not an ordinary teapot but one which you drain from the bottom as it sits on top of your cup. Simple enough in design but transformational in the tea time world. How often, I wonder, do we skip simple innovation or science to get to the point of — making our point?

Most certainly in the cattle world, there remains a disconnect between who we are, what we do and the importance of livestock in the food chain with some of society. I recall my response to a request for being a guest speaker on a panel for animal rights. My answer was “of course.” I prepared by looking at the evolution of food animals and the societal dependence we have on them, rather than evoke an argument for production practises. So the evolution of beef for example would be from fur to leather to beef (cooking) to crayons.

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With over 500 products derived or created from one beef animal it was a new experience for the audience and the other members of the panel. I circumvented my opinions on trade, gestation stalls, and organic foods and other topics by staying with a simple message. Science and food animals have been combined to bring you the societal privileges of the day. Casting an eye to the pair of women who called me a “murderer” when I walked into the room because I was a farmer, I walked them through the simple act of getting dressed and eating breakfast and how food animals were involved at every juncture. We reviewed the current role food animals play in health care and advanced surgical procedures. It was a strong statement for the science and innovation that is employed to make advances in civilization.

Had I tried to baffle that group with anything other than an honest dialogue at a level that everyone understood, it would have been confrontational. They did not care about performance enhancement or feedlot nutritional formulation — those in the room were predisposed to thinking that was bad and tied to factory farming. To their credit, they did respond to a living example. And when lunch came in I waited until they filled their plates and then gently walked them through the contents. How often have we defended or complicated the message to the consumer by throwing heavy scientific answers at them? Can we keep the science simple, while getting to the point or in my case?

Today, there is evidence that suggests rather than turn on the conversation with detailed answers, folks are tuning out and turning off. Purdue’s director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science, Dr. Candace Croney, has reminded industry that in the area of animal welfare, folks don’t want to know about heavy science or the most recent studies. For issues as sensitive as animal welfare it is important to address the consumers’ concerns by showing how one is leading change. This elicits a different response that throwing a bunch of statistical information from research at the emotionally charged person asking the question. And, she reminds us to keep getting an honest and positive message out.

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I recall a cookbook entitled: How to Boil an Egg (Arkless). (Laugh if you will but my children are still encouraging me to read it and put it into play.) The ticket for the success of this book is in simplicity — just how do you boil an egg? What is the simple science behind the perfect egg? Who can boil an egg? Can you boil more than one egg at a time?

A good example of this dialogue is the McDonald’s website where you can see this simple approach to complex issues put into play with answers that everyone can understand. Let’s take one question as an example. As a background there are quite a few claims on the Internet that McDonald’s hamburgers do not rot because they are laden with chemicals. One person asked why the burgers do not rot. The first reply was from the company that said they actually would rot under the right conditions. The second part of the answer was referred to a scientist (his photo and links included) to explain in simple terms what rot is — water, nutrients, warmth and time. What he did not do is launch into a huge microbes discussion or deny that burgers have never given way to disintegration because under the right conditions items may stay the same for a very long time. To bring the discussion to life he compared the window sill on a bedroom which likely shows no form of mould to that of a bathroom which may show mould because of the conditions. The answer was in terms of simple science.

You and I may know and appreciate that years of science precede before rolling out a new product or a health claim, but questions usually come from a place of core values and beliefs. And behind each complex discovery is the simple question of “why.” Why does the human body need protein? Why is beef a good source of it?

Cattlemen have their own questions too: Why do we need traceability in primary production? Why do we focus on exports? Why do we need research in theme areas? Good questions and the focus for industry must be to allow for the competitive environment for the why and the how — for young innovators often have an answer that is — well — quite simple.

Why a new teapot? It accommodates loose and bagged tea, is clear and easy to clean and came with detailed instructions for perfect tea. The box claimed both simple science and easy engineering. I can buy that.

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