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African wildlife series – the dung beetle

As you may have guessed by now, I was blessed to have been able to spend some time in the bush during the summer holidays. Bush breaks are my favourite! Usually, I can switch off completely from any work thoughts and just embrace the sights, smells and sounds.

But this time, while observing animal behaviour, I was struck by some food safety culture lessons from the beautiful animals around me, including the giraffe and the elephant.

There was also a much smaller creature which also captured my attention and made me think of food safety culture…. the dung beetle!

Alright, alright…before you all go down that manure road – that is NOT where this story is going.

In watching this little chap, three important lessons came to mind in relation to food safety.

1. They starts small

So, while in the photo, you can see him rolling a monstrous ball and sometimes this even includes his missus, this is not where he starts off. He must start small to form the ball and then he rolls it around to get to the desired size either for feeding or breeding.

2. It might get a bit smelly

Dung is smelly – no way around that. And when we start to make changes in the way we do things, there is always resistance to change, and it can raise some “smelly” issues. Improving our food safety culture means that we must confront bad behaviours, poor food safety habits and even areas where we may have been less than honest to our leadership, auditors and even ourselves. What is the point of having a food safety system that is designed to protect your reputation and business when it is all window dressing? Relying on the last superficial audit as a true reflection of your food safety system is very unwise. We need to get to the bottom of the real issues and deal with them – however unpleasant it may be.


Creatures with superhuman strength…
On average dung beetles can roll a ball of dung 50 times their own weight. One specific species can pull a dung ball 1,141 times their body weight. This is equivalent to a human pulling six double-decker buses full of people.

I watched two males do battle over the dung ball, while the prized lady sat atop her castle. It was vicious and relentless but eventually, the rightful owner of the ball was triumphant. Along with change, may come the inevitable conflict. You may have members of your food safety team that are bullies, they may even become aggressive. In tackling the real issues, be prepared to learn new skills for conflict management and improved teamwork. Get help if you need it in the dealing of soft issues. Ask HR to assist if necessary. Don’t back down just because there is conflict. We can resolve conflict in a healthy way with the right skills.

3. Your food safety culture should birth the right food safety behaviours

So, the dung ball is where the female dung beetle will lay her eggs. When the larvae hatch, they are conveniently surrounded by delicious poop, which just happens to be their favourite meal and all they need to grow and become new baby dung beetles. And this is exactly what we want our food safety culture to be like. Our beliefs and attitudes towards food safety are what help to engage our colleagues and new employees to take food safety seriously. Our culture should rub off on them and make them do things our way. We want this to be the RIGHT way. It should cultivate and grow more food safety champions. I hope you have enjoyed this wildlife series, and I am looking forward to hearing about your dung beetle adventures in 2022.

Photograph by Linda Jackson