Monday, July 29, 2013

A line in time...  

 Animal ag is still fumbling for a workable answer to animal welfare activism and more importantly customer concerns reflected in their markets. I had not thought about it much, other than noting there seems to a tide of sorts in consumer opinion and it is not flowing the direction the protein sector necessarily wants.

One repetitive argument was to charge welfare activists with hypocrisy if they used bug spray, for example. While most of these are reductio ad absurdum assertions denying our baility as a culture to achieve any sort of balance in controversies, I have not seen as good and simple an answer as this by Nicholas Kristof:
Look, I confess to hypocrisy. I eat meat, albeit with misgivings, and I have no compunctions about using mousetraps. So what? We have the same inconsistencies, controversies and hypocrisies in dealing with human rights. We may disagree about waterboarding terror suspects, but almost everyone shares a revulsion for genocide, the use of poison gas or the torture of children.
Now we are plodding along a similar controversial, inconsistent, hypocritical — and progressive — path on animal rights. We may disagree about eating meat, but growing numbers share a disgust for extreme behavior, like the force-feeding of geese (now banned in California) to produce pâté.
We as a global society have crossed the Rubicon. We disagree about where to draw the line to protect animal rights, but almost everyone now agrees that there is a line to be drawn.
May our descendants, when, in the future, they reflect uncomprehendingly on our abuse of hens and orcas, appreciate that we are good and decent people moving in the right direction, and show some compassion for our obliviousness. [More]
I think he has nailed one thing: we have turned a corner and are now engaged in where, not whether to draw the lines. I also believe we are beginning to get some ideas in the protein sector of how to coexist with such limitations. Smithfield is still producing hogs even as crates are disappearing. It is similar for enhanced cages for layers.

Critics see this as the nose of the camel, but I think that analogy has become useless. Such actions are the exact response a free market generates to maximize outcomes for all.

1 comment:

karl hess said...

Thanks for your posts……….. As a lifelong protein producer, I watch with uncertainty as the world of animal livestock is seemingly turned upside down with animal welfare concerns. My parents had a large egg producing enterprise on our farm growing up. A whopping 7000 hens, in what would be called today a ‘cage free system’. Able to run around on straw, eaten by foxes at night if not careful and each egg was ‘loving’ gathered by hand by yours truly and his sister with maternal oversight! I remember well when the first attempts at battery cages went in in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. We all said that would ‘never work’. Well it did, and as I recall the chicken told the farmers when there were too many chickens in a cage as production was diminished. The cages worked and they tried one more bird next time until the bird said we are now too crowded. As I understand egg production is related to reproduction and in animal’s reproduction to get it right most everything else must be right or it does not happen. If most reproductively capable females of most species under go stress, they either will not get pregnant or will spontaneously abort the fetus to preserve itself. Now our youngest son works with a large local feed company selling feed in cage free systems and marketing the companies eggs, somewhere btn 1-2% of the nation’s total eggs. Michael tells me that the new approved enriched cages will allow all the birds to spread their wings, but it has never been shown that the birds ever all spread their wings at the same time. But it is what the industry will do to meet consumer demand. I do not recall the number, but to completely transition egg production in the USA to either cage free and/or enriched colony cages there will need to be nearly 50 square miles of additional roofs built to accommodate the birds. Whether the additional roofs necessary are 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60+ square miles of roof that is a lot of roof!
In our cattle feedlot as we were implanting the last group, I remember thinking that someone with a video camera could have a hay day here, even though we were using the best equipment we could to handle the cattle properly and there was barely a word spoken. Cattle were moved into a working tub in groups of 4-7 head and then guided into a walkway to the head chute where the animal is restrained to allow me to successfully insert the implant. Some cattle walk quietly and when restrained just stand there quietly and walk out when released. Then the next one will try to run in at full speed, and when restrained, begin to start some ‘deep breathing exercises’, that is my vernacular for bawling loudly.
I remember when we began custom feeding cattle for other people that someone told me there are 2 rules for custom feeding. Rule number 1, the ‘customer is always right’. Rule number 2, when the ‘customer is wrong’ refer to rule number 1. So I suppose that that applies to the protein sector, milk production BST, non-BST, grain production, GMO, non-GMO.
I remember my training in health care during graduate school. The objective is a live healthy patient when finished. If following the book gave you those results then good for the book, but following the book and ending with a patient that was neither healthy nor alive at the end was not acceptable. In food production the same applies, follow the book as long as the consumer is satisfied, but when your end user is not happy, it is time for a revision of the book.
Karl Hess