Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Animal welfare vs. food production: a problem only the rich can afford

There's a brouhaha brewing in Massachusetts over a new law that prescribes minimum standards for keeping some farm animals.

All hogs in Massachusetts will be able to stretch their legs and turn around in their crates and all hens will be able to spread their wings under a law passed in November by voters in the state.

Laws like this one, which strictly regulate how farm animals are confined, are becoming more common across the U.S., as large-scale farming replaces family farms and consumers learn more about what happens behind barn doors. Massachusetts is the 12th state to ban the use of some livestock- and poultry-raising cages or crates, such as gestation crates for sows, veal crates for calves or battery cages for chickens, which critics say abusively restrict the animals’ movement.

The restrictive laws have taken hold so far in states that have relatively small agriculture industries for animals and animal products and fewer large-scale farming operations. But producers in big farming states see the writing on the wall. Backed by state farm bureaus, large-scale industrial farmers are pushing for changes that would make it harder for states to further regulate the way they do business.

. . .

Farmers acknowledge that some people who do not spend much time on farms may object to some of their practices. But they say that they do not abuse animals and that their practices are the most efficient and safest way to keep up with demand for food. And, they say, complying with restrictions on raising poultry and livestock like those approved in Massachusetts are costly for them and for consumers.

. . .

But consumer expectations already are forcing producers to change how they operate, said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the U.S. Demand for free-range eggs and grass-fed beef is growing, pushing large companies to change their standards. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s recently committed to using only suppliers that raise cage-free hens by 2025.

Market demands will force producers to change their practices or be left behind, Balk said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that to meet demand, the industry will have to convert over half its egg production to cage-free systems by 2025, up from the current rate of 10 percent.

. . .

When animal welfare groups started about a decade ago to pay their employees to take jobs on farms to expose practices, the industry responded by pushing for what animal welfare advocates call ag-gag laws. Some of the laws made it a crime to take photos or videos of private farm property without the owner’s permission, while others made it a crime for an employee of an animal welfare organization to lie about where they worked when they applied for a job on a farm.

There's more at the link.  Informative and recommended reading.

I can see both sides of the problem, but my perspective is colored by experience in the Third World.  Let's face it:  animal welfare is basically a First World concern.  Outside Western Europe, the USA and Canada, there's very little concern about animal welfare and how farmers treat their food animals.  They're seen as there to be exploited, bred for food at the lowest possible production cost and killed as soon as it's profitable to do so.  In the process they're grazed on over-exploited land, leading to soil erosion and desertification;  they're not treated for common diseases;  they often have no shelter against the elements, and when they do, it's usually overcrowded;  and they're badly treated by human owners and handlers.  In tribal societies, it's often the number of animals owned that determines wealth or confers status.  That leads to very large quantities of poorly fed, poor-condition, pretty miserable animals, rather than a smaller herd of better-fed, more healthy, happier creatures.

Here in the USA, pressure groups have the luxury of being able to argue for better treatment of animals.  I can't disagree.  From my perspective as a retired pastor, when humanity was given "dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth", that includes the implicit responsibility to treat those creatures with as much respect as possible.  'Dominion' is not a license to be cruel.  I believe that, just as deliberate cruelty to animals is (and should be, IMHO) harshly punished, so negligent or neglectful treatment of animals should be forbidden, and punished when it's encountered.

However, farmers also have a point when they protest that they can't afford to raise animals according to standards currently considered 'humane'.  Let's face it:  consumers are generally not prepared to pay the higher prices that would be required to compensate farmers for the additional costs involved.  The farmers, quite reasonably, ask, "Well, if consumers won't pay enough, who is going to pay?"  So far, animal welfare groups haven't been able to come up with a satisfactory or practical answer to that question.  Government subsidies aren't the answer, IMHO - that just means that all taxpayers are on the hook for the costs involved, whether or not they buy the meat or other products of the animals involved.

There's also the question of what, precisely, constitutes 'cruelty'.  I think many humane societies and animal welfare groups lose sight of the fact that in nature, an animal's life has only a few possible endings, and all of them are just plain nasty.  The critter will grow old and weak.  That means it'll be more susceptible to injury, crippling it and preventing it from feeding, so that it starves to death;  or it'll be easier prey for predators.  Either way, it's most likely going to end up being eaten.  There are no happy endings to life in nature.  There are a large number of videos on YouTube showing predators eating living prey, biting great chunks off it while it's still alive.  Welcome to Nature, folks - 'red in tooth and claw', indeed!  Compared to that, most domestic and farm animals have a much easier life, even when treated relatively poorly by the standards of animal welfare pressure groups.

Finally, there's the reality that some animal welfare pressure groups are deliberately doing everything they can to make it impossibly expensive to raise animals for food purposes.  They want the world to be vegetarian, and this is one way they think they can achieve that.  I've got no time for such dishonesty.  If they can't persuade people to become vegetarians on the merits of that diet alone, they've got no right to try and force us to change willy-nilly.  (They don't see it that way, of course.  It's amazing how unethical and immoral pressure groups can be in support of their cause[s].  'The end justifies the means' is, sadly, a very common philosophy among them.)

I don't have answers for these conundrums (conundrii?).  All I know is, I enjoy eating meat, and I'm not about to stop.  I'll gladly pay a higher price for ethically raised and humanely slaughtered meat, but I can afford to.  I have every sympathy for those who can't.  What to do?  Your guess is as good as mine.



Anonymous said...

Idiots interfering in ways that will cause farmers to be injured and piglets to die. The purpose of a farrowing crate is twofold, first to prevent the sow from crushing her young when she lies down. A heat lamp or heated pad placed away from the sow will ensure that the piglets sleep in a safe spot. The second purpose is to keep the farmer safe. Piglets have to be given shots, fed medicine and the needle teeth have to be broken. When you pick up a piglet up it squeals and its mother becomes 300lbs + of furious animal with immensely powerful jaws. The farrowing crate is a temporary enclosure anyway, you put the sow inside a couple of days before she's due to farrow and remove it once the piglets are weaned six to eight weeks later.


urbane legend said...

What these groups can't understand is that these animals exist to be food. They aren't here to be pets. And yes, these holier-than-thou pressure groups are unethical and immoral. I cannot understand why they would deny decent, inexpensive food to anyone. But if you find they also support abortion you realize they don't care about human life anyway.

Anonymous said...


Cambias said...

Food is made more savory by the knowledge that poor people can't have it.

urbane legend said...

Conundria, like moratorium/ moratoria or crematorium/ crematoria.

Cj said...

One of the problem we are facing as a society is the fact that, yes, the farmers can't afford to raise animals that way... buy why can't they? What about the fact that in the recent years food prices have stayed quite high while the price of pork or beef on the stock exchange dropped? The guys running the packing plants have been making bank on the back's of the American people and the American farmers.

One fact that people sometimes don't get is that the grass fed beef that costs so much more, well that's what beef should cost! The difference is that the stuff at the store was fed corn that was subsidized... if corn wasn't subsidized, it would cost more and so would your corn fed beef.

At the end of the day, the reason farmers are able to make a go of grass fed and pastured meats is the fact that they are selling directly to the consumer. No, not everybody can afford it, but for those who can, they recognize the benefits and are willing to support that small family farm. If we had more people willing to support the small family farm, we wouldn't need these laws. The people could go to the farmer and see how he's doing things and decide for themselves if they want to buy his products. The free market and capitalism aren't all bad things... but it requires the consumer to be educated and active!

Unfortunately educated and active people are one thing our nation seems to be lacking in these days...

Per Desteen said...

I raise pigs, chickens, and cattle.

I've gone this year to a creep, as I'm tired of losing one or two piglets to crush. I don't use a farrowing crate, and I pick breeds that make good mothers. I've always been able to get in with my sows because I've interacted with them and accustomed them to people. I'm a small operation, and I sell directly to customers.

Ideally, this is the way food should be grown. Industrial food is nutritionally lacking and, frankly, tastes like cardboard. Slow food, or naturally raised animals, will cost more. It's better food, and you'll get better value.

There are huge amounts of land available, even in the industrial east, for small scale farming. Much of that land is not being used, or its being turned into tract developments. This is a large issue, and it's complex.

I don't give a crap about animal welfare except that ones raised in pastured or natural environments taste better and satisfy my hunger more effectively.

As to the economics, Clinton J said it above. If it weren't for the subsidy beef would reflect its true cost, and there would be a lot more good stuff for sale. Which would likely drop the price, etc.

Ultimately what you feed yourself is up to you. So many people are poor consumers, because they don't have the ability to make the choices that would move them out of food deserts or into new ways of life. They often lack the wives with home economics skills; remember the ones that involved preservation of food, meal prep, and ensuring that the households resources were used wisely? Yeah, those were kinda vital, and they've been decimated by the consumerist world.

Will said...

"They often lack the wives with home economics skills; remember the ones that involved preservation of food, meal prep, and ensuring that the households resources were used wisely? Yeah, those were kinda vital, and they've been decimated by the consumerist world."

This is almost entirely the fault of the Progressives, due to the high tax rates necessary to support a socialist type system. Wives/mothers didn't use to work outside the home, until the tax rates drove them out to add a second income to the family. Say goodby to normal rates of children. Now most all of West/Civ countries are importing replacement people to make up for those non-existent children.

When they aren't in the home full time, or near full time, they don't have the time to invest in learning those skills. They just substitute hard-earned money to replace them.

kamas716 said...

I've got family that still farm and ranch. The people pushing for these laws are almost always either dishonest or ignorant of practices. Farmers/ranchers don't abuse their animals because it's bad for business. Separating animals, dehorning them, castrating them, etc. is all rooted in making sure as many animals as possible grow and stay as healthy as possible so they can be sold for the best price. When these activist groups get involved it typically has the effect of making these animals less healthy or raising the costs so dramatically that producers can't stay in business.

Rick T said...

Mike Rowe's TED talk about castrating sheep is educational here. Doing it the stockman's way the lamb was up and running in no time. Doing the 'offical' way with a rubber band the lamb would be laying down in pain for 3 or 4 days until his balls fell off.

It is even more amusing to listen to Mike's podcast where he describes his participation in the event, that he was half drunk and was essentially winging the entire speech.

Mike Rowe for Secretary of Labor!!!

DaddyBear said...

We pay a bit more to have meat, eggs, and dairy that come from less industrial sources. I think the meat and eggs taste better, and my wife loves the fresher milk.

But we never lose sight of the fact that our ability to pay for it is a luxury not all can afford. So long as animals don't truly unduly suffer (mutilation, disease, neglect, abuse, etc) I'm OK with mass production of animal products.

urbane legend said...

Clinton J and Per Desteen,

Where is the time to interact with local farmers to be found? Some of us have businesses that require a great deal of time. What little is left goes to family. The philosophy of food and taste isn't important; eating is.

fjord said...

couple things:

@Al in Ottawa, the other thing is that the housing of pigs was changed to confined housing for human's benefit. Because putting them on dirt floors made their exposure to roundworm decrease because most people are generally too stupid to cook their pork completely, which led to decrease in trichinosis. Now people scream they want their pigs free ranging again because it's humane, which will lead to the return of trichinosis.

@kamas; those practices not only keep the human caretakers safe, they keep the animals safe from each other. I don't know why some people can't understand this. They are conditioned to think that animals, even domesticated animals are sitting around singing kumbaya to each other?

People are so far removed from their own food production and their guilt over it, i believe it has given fuel to the 'organic', gluten free' 'monsanto -they're- all- out- to -kill -us conspiracy as well as just a general obsession with everything food. Including the fact that most of them know nothing about production but want to dictate everything regarding it.

The "humane" groups that ambush or sting farmers usually lead to the destruction of those animals because of biohazard. It is too high of a risk to allow those animals to enter the food supply so they are destroyed, after they've been exposed to individuals who's main goals are to destroy capitalism.
See how much they care about animals?

As for the abuse claim, and this is going on with children, it's all about increasing power of the state and getting in between individuals and their freedom to live and produce as they see fit.
My large animal vet was just telling me she was at a conference where it was discussed that they (vets) are being accused of raping livestock because they perform pregnancy checks on cattle. For those not familiar, this includes a gloved arm entering the cow's rectum -up to the elbow or higher to check for pregnancy for about 30-45 seconds. But bestiality is ok. Thank you morally superior virtue soldiers. The main goal seems to be everyone eating tree bark and grazing on grass.

The same people calling such things abuse would starve if left on their own devices. Letting them in charge will lead to everyone to the state where everyone will starve. Too many people with too much time on their hands with nothing productive to channel it into.

First world problems indeed.

TRX said...

> vegetarians

"A convenient source of food after the Apocalypse."

Post Alley Crackpot said...

Today's Modest Proposal:

"A Modest Proposal for the Consumption of Animal Rights Activists in the Event of Mass Penury and Starvation, and the Offal-ness That Shall Ensue"

I know that such open talk will broil the gizzards of animal rights activists, no matter how we may conspire to butter them up with savoury talk about alternative protein and fat sources. But lest we succumb to the shortsighteness of our own preparations of provisions, events may render it necessary to render animal rights activists unto something Truly Offal.

Before you condemn this Modest Proposal with various spicy emanations from your ovens well-seasoned with disgust and hate, let us bow our heads with great respect to the fallen kippered who have blessed us with their abundant offerings of stringy, hard-to-chew, slightly toxic benevolence as has been raised on a diet of government cheese, high fructose corn syrup, brominated vegetable oil, and Froot Loops.

We shall overcome ... so say we all!


Fjord said...

@Post Alley Crackpot
Eggsellent satire!

Anonymous said...

Happy meat is tasty meat.