This blog is the start of a new series of blogs, written by myself and others, from both sides of the aisle. I encourage you to not only think about why you believe the way you do, but also try to understand why the other side believes the way it does. I recognize that we will not agree on everything. We may not agree on anything. But if we can truly open our minds and listen to what each side has to say, we can start understanding each other and perhaps improve the communication and even goodwill between each other.
Remember: the “other side” is made of regular people just like us who believe in something and are passionate about it. If we want them to listen to us, then we need to listen to them as well.
Standing in the Middle on Animal Welfare
For years I have been hearing about the horrendous things animal raisers supposedly do to their animals. I’ve heard it all, from pork to chicken producers, no one who raises an animal for food could possibly treat their animals right. Or so PETA says.
On the other hand, I hear how horrible PETA is, how they are only out to destroy agriculture, and they don’t even care about animals, just suing “factory farms” and storming the halls of Washington, DC., lobbying against those factory farms!
Then there is the “Middle”. The average Joe. They think animals probably shouldn’t be abused. But they like being able to drive to the grocery store and picking up a package of pork chops when they want. They don’t dislike agriculture. They don’t dislike PETA. They just stay in the middle.
While I have slightly stronger opinions than Average Joe, I like to say I stand in the middle. This may be rare for someone coming from rural Texas, raised on a farm but I will explain why:
Here is why.
This is one of my sister’s show pigs. My family has raised pigs for 15 years or so, and all 3 kids were responsible for not only showing but the day-to-day care of the animals. In the 12 or so years I was involved, I spent a lot of time with our pigs. From feeding and cleaning to walking and washing I was involved every step of the way and I, along with my brother and sister, were always sure to treat the animals in the best way possible. Our animals were never mistreated or abused. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Our animals had large pens, plenty of food and water, were given exercise regularly, and were taken care of when sick. My parents even had a rule that the animals had to be fed before we could eat. However, as well as these animals were treated, they were still part of the food system. While that was hard to digest when I was five and couldn’t figure out where my pig was going that big truck, as I got older I was proud to be part of a tradition of a few producers who provided food for the entire country, plus some. I may have only provided a couple of pigs a year, but I was proud that I was helping feed my fellow man.
I am not a fan of PETA. I don’t like how they choose to approach their mission of protecting animal welfare, and I think they need to spend more money on actually helping animals rather than suing people. However, I think animal abuse and cruelty is absolutely despicable, and I believe that the agriculture industry as a whole needs to start taking a more active role in standing up against those who choose to treat their animals poorly. Unfortunately for the rest of us, when PETA or someone else catches a producer who does mistreat their animals, it makes the entire industry look bad. Average Joe doesn’t think “Well that’s probably a limited problem, not all producers are like that.” No, they see that animals aren’t being treated right, regardless of who is doing it. That is when the entire industry takes a hit.
Animal cruelty is wrong. I think we can all agree on that. However, when groups like PETA are involved, the lines between what is cruelty and what’s not can become blurred.
On PETA’s website, they have several articles about the abuse in the pork industry. I encourage each of you to read all the articles. (You can find them here: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/pigs.aspx) While some of the accusations they make are truly horrific and I hope are false, some are just entirely mistaken. They claim producers have “no respect for mother” pigs because of the “tiny metal crates” they are kept in. As anyone familiar with pigs knows, this is entirely false. Sows are kept in farrowing crates for their, and their piglets, protection. As someone who has helped deliver and take care of piglets both in and out of farrowing crates, I can say it is absolutely necessary. In fact, one piglet I helped deliver, not in a farrowing crate, barely escaped death after its mother started rolling over on top of it. As a friend of mine would say, true animal cruelty is having your 500 pound mother crush you to death.
However, Average Joe doesn’t know these things either. They only know that it sounds really terrible that a poor mother pig is kept in a small pen while she is nursing.
I know many ag producers are trying to get this information out to the average Joe, so that the normal person can make informed decisions on what to believe, or even what to eat. To these producers, I applaud you. I hope it continues, and that every producer recognizes the importance of spreading information about what they do, and why they do it. However we have to recognize the other side isn’t entirely wrong. Animal cruelty does happen. We should take steps to help end the cruelty that does happen, and also try to educate groups like PETA on why things like farrowing crates are necessary for the animals’ own protection.
While I may not raise pigs anymore, I am proud of my sister who does. I’m proud of my grandfather who raises cows, and of all the other producers who work endless hours taking care of their animals so that each of us can drive to our grocery stores and pick up a package of pork chops whenever we feel like it. I hope we all can find ways to stop the cruelty that is happening, before it becomes a PETA video, and help spread the facts about why producers do what they do to stop the misinformation.
Continue watching for the next blog in this series…