Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a forum on farm animal welfare that was hosted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). A variety of stakeholders were invited to participate from the dairy, beef and egg industries, as well as from the Humane Society of the United States, Whole Foods and the Center for Food Integrity.

When I received the information to attend, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It didn’t appear that there was any sort of agenda at hand, so I anxiously awaited the event.

Each invited party had the opportunity to get up and discuss what its segment of the industry was doing on farm animal welfare, discuss its certification programs and any other information they thought was pertinent on the topic. It was really interesting to hear what each party presented.

That internal light bulb we all have went off when Dave Daley from the California State University of Chico and the California Cattlemen’s Association got up to speak. He said we don’t have to agree to learn from one another, but it is critical to hear different voices to understand where we can agree to disagree.

I think, too many times, we get on our proverbial soapbox and claim that we’re right and the other side is wrong. We demand that the other side listens to us, but we never take the time to listen ourselves. What would happen if we stopped trying to convince the other side that they are wrong, but actually sat down and learned from each other to find the intersections that we could agree upon? Would we find out that we have more in common than we thought and that our differences aren’t that big? We know both sides of the equation are concerned about animal-welfare, so the divide can’t be that big can it?

 Personally, I know it is far easier said than done to sit down and openly listen to what each party has to say, especially when the opposing side says things that make your blood boil. Animal welfare is an issue that farmers take seriously and personally, which makes it even harder to set aside our differences and listen to one-another.

But I know it’s possible.

Case-in-point: After all of the presenters at the CDFA meeting finished, there was time for public comments. One of the attendees got up and identified herself as what you would consider an extreme activist (her definition not mine) and that she could agree with a lot of the view points and information presented. She was glad to have had the opportunity to hear what all sides had to say.

It was so encouraging to hear this person’s viewpoint and realize that if we can find the time to sit down together and have a discussion we can make a difference. With limited resources and budgets that can be challenging, but it is possible.

 And, remember, it’s not just the other side that has to listen – we have to stop and listen, too.