We give up the two-seat convertible for the minivan. We vote for the candidate who looks like a banker. We stop eating food with ketchup and start a lean, high-fiber diet. And we turn off rock ‘n’ roll to find the Patsy Cline record your dad listened to is actually quite soothing.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

Those are changes we make because we feel the need to make them – and they come from within ourselves.

But then there are changes that come from the outside world. These can often be more difficult to accept. The beef industry has its own tide of change. Much of its momentum seems to come from the latter category.

Mike Apley, professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University, has been a key figure helping the industry navigate changes for the use of antimicrobials in livestock.

But when he interprets the way these reforms evolved, he sees a pattern that exists in practically every social movement in history.


Overton WindowApley applies the political theory known as Overton’s Window – named after the late political scientist Joseph Overton – to the use of antibiotics in food animals (see insert box).

As he sees it, opposition to antimicrobial use – whether for growth promotion, prevention and control of pathogens, or treatment for sickness – starts out at Overton’s earliest stage of “unthinkable.”

This is because convention or tradition has promoted those growth uses and has never doubted them.

But the domain of acceptability expands over time – in this example, the idea of restricting growth promotion has gained more traction over time to where it becomes popular. Starting next year, the concept of restricting their use will actually become policy.

What is it that moves the window up or down? It is usually that changing ideas of the mass public. But first, that idea must be introduced, nurtured, defended and advanced so that it sounds less foreign to social convention.

This includes making a case beyond just facts but making an appeal to morality and emotion.

One can see the roots of this theory in many stages of our history. The abolition of slavery was virtually unthinkable in the 18th century when the Constitution was written. A century later, it became federal law.

Today, the model could be applied to any movement in the political arena – domestic surveillance, gay marriage, legalized marijuana, just to name a few. As Apley notes, society’s views on agriculture production are definitely part of the discussion.

Not all ideas ripen into political realities. Some are defeated on facts and with corresponding emotion and rational reason.

But it’s critical for today’s progressive cattlemen to balance change and tradition, and to know when it is worth defending a cause, and when to turn the page.  end mark

David Cooper