Our hard-earned trust remains a priceless asset - Veterinary Practice
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Our hard-earned trust remains a priceless asset

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

I WAS lucky enough to be in Melbourne around the time of the Grand Prix and sitting in the bar at Young and Jackson, adjacent to Federation Square, I overheard two friends discussing a forthcoming Aussie Rules football match where their two teams would be in competition.

One suggested that the game would be a shoe-in for his team but the other demurred with the statement that now his team was no longer allowed to take drugs and that his friend’s team was no longer allowed to throw the match, the outcome was now less certain.

The line was worthy of a stand-up comic but the sentiment was one of profound sadness that, here in Australia of all places where sport and the joy of sporting challenge was the lifeblood of all true Australians, their whole way of life had been sullied by the revelations of cheating and match fixing that had recently emerged.

So very wrong…

To be fair, I had found myself shouting at the television just days earlier, an occurrence that normally drives my wife to nervous laughter, when I learned that the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong was now heading to Hollywood to begin a new career as a film actor.

To me, that had sounded so very wrong but others had recognised that this would be a form of rehab for Armstrong who would need to find a good earner once his sponsorship rights and prize monies had been revoked and reclaimed.

In reality, my outburst of angry denial merely confirms that such outrage is a personal indulgence which may not be shared by others who appear to be more focused on personal success than on maintaining the moral compass of an earlier age but, overall, people recognise the concept of trust and fully understand when trust is undone.

Despite the high-speed nature of this age of self-interest, people are disturbed by cheating and seek the comfort of the proper delivery of their expectations.

Sometimes, meeting such expectations is an impossibility as it was when President Obama came to power for his first term of office. Quite frankly, the nation’s expectations were unrealistic at that moment and had been developed out of years of disappointment and incredulity generated by his predecessor.

Trust not betrayed…

The fact that Obama has recently been returned for a further term may speak more for the lack of a credible alternative than for a celebration of Obama’s leadership but the US electorate were willing to return him to power because they recognised that he hadn’t betrayed their trust.

The previous generation of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic were unable to make the same claim and uncertainty breeds mistrust.

Most recently, the big surprise in the Vatican’s papal conclave was not the appointment of an Argentinian cardinal, the first non-European in a millennium, but the speed with which the cardinals reached their decision.

One wonders to what extent the revelations of depravity and abuse which plague the Catholic church in press coverage around the world were central to the decision they made to appoint a leader to wrestle with such disappointment of a global scale.

While we will never find out, surely the conclave was aware that this was to be the one and only chance for them to get it right, if trust was to be restored. Expectation could not be higher than this in every country, in every congregation, in every member of that and other faiths.

The management of expectation, and the avoidance of dissembling and disarray, is the cornerstone of our individual and collective beliefs whether these are displayed through politics, religion or simply the exercising of our daily lives.

It was not surprising then for us to react with a mixture of incredulity and dismay to the news that our food supply had been contaminated with horsemeat.

What was surprising was to learn that, in general terms, the UK housewife was less bothered about the idea of eating horse, despite our social objection to eating companion animals, than she was about the concept of being misled and let down by the giant brands in whom we trust.

Serial failures…

What began to appear was an unveiling of some decidedly dirty washing where government blamed retailers and retailers blamed the establishment in a gavotte of buck-passing and serial failures.

As the story emerged, it became clear that not only were governmental controls hopelessly inadequate, the observance of a chain of trust was naively negligent in an age where personal gain and self-interest on a criminal scale could, and did, span continents.

Ironically, the UK pet food industry which has, for decades, prided itself that only products fit for human consumption can be used in the manufacture of pet foods, will have behaved far more responsibly than many of its human counterparts.

In the end, it has been the uncertainty about what is actually in our food chain that caused more dismay than the revelation about the horsemeat content in famous retailers’ prepared and frozen foods. Deep down, trust has been lost on a huge scale and there is widespread unease about what else may be lurking in our pies and sausages.

After all, if what we have been told proves to be both untrue and uncontrolled, how big a step would it be for condemned meat to be finding its way back into our food chain? Food safety and a vivid imagination make uncomfortable bedfellows.

The veterinary profession now occupies a rather different place in the nation’s heart than it did 20 years or so ago. It is no longer the single most used source of information about well or sick pets and it is no longer the only place where a wide range of products and services for pets and farm animals can be sourced.

It is, however, still held in respect and affection by countless millions of people because its reputation, despite a few bruises from its everyday contact with the real world, remains intact and is resolutely based on trust.

Such trust to do the right thing for the animals involved, and for their owners and keepers alike, has been hard-earned and, in a world where suspicion and disappointment are commonplace, it remains a priceless asset which we should prize above all others.

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