I don’t speak Mandarin and, while not in the lecture theatre at this year’s World's Poultry Congress in Beijing, I ended up trying to speak with more than one local who did not speak English. I am sure you can imagine the confusion. In all cases, we both managed “Bye” and a sympathetic look, but that was the extent of our success in communicating.

Trying to return to my hotel was not the only occasion that brought home the importance of speaking a common language.

Finding common language

I attended a very good presentation on poultry welfare – well researched, interestingly delivered and well-pitched to the audience. The speaker did a great job.

Among his take-home messages was that welfare organizations are now concentrating on animals’ feelings and behaviors as, in many cases, health, performance and stress have been addressed.

Yet, during the post-presentation discussion, the speaker was the object of somewhat of a verbal attack from an attendee who accused poultry scientists of not doing enough to engage with welfare groups and argue the poultry industry’s case.

Understandably, the presenter defended his position, explaining that scientific evidence had repeatedly been presented to welfare groups, but that they did not want to listen.

This reminded me somewhat of my encounters in the streets of Beijing. As the presenter highlighted, welfare groups are speaking from their emotions, while the industry speaks with science – two completely different ways of thinking and expressing what, ultimately, both parties want: the best possible rearing conditions for farmed birds.

If the two sides are not speaking the same language, perhaps understandably, there can be little tangible progress.

Address to impress

This is not to say that science cannot underpin an emotional argument – it certainly should – but a failure to engage on the same terms is unlikely to persuade.

I, like most of the population, am not a scientist, but I think I have a full set of emotions. So, in presenting science-based welfare arguments, is it better to present them in ways that the majority can engage with, or in a way that leaves people cold?

My encounters in the street in Beijing resulted in zero communication that gave me what I needed. The sympathetic smiles that I received at the end of these failed conversations, however, left me feeling that at least people understood my plight, and that is what left an impression on me.