Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We are in a crisis...

Warning: This is a long one, but if you get through it and comment you'll be rewarded :-)

We are facing a crisis…

In the early days of certain fictional Churches a situation called a “Crisis of Faith” brought together all of the leaders of the church, the community and the wisest people in the land. They put aside their distinctions, their badges and robes of office and sat down in a plain room to fight for the future of their faith and their people. There were no egos, there were no semi or outright secret agendas – it was about the crisis and how to deal with it. Today, in the real world, we face these types of situations more often than we would like, but because we are trained and accustomed to allowing ‘leaders’ to handle these things for us we do not demand results that are for our benefit. We do not demand, and speak with our votes, that they be accountable to the majority who tend to remain silent rather than a vocal, visible minority with a small, highly personal agenda.

The ‘Crisis of Faith’ that I’m talking about people is not one of organized religion, although I would love for those leaders to step up. It is the ‘Crisis of Faith’ in farm country, and we are in the middle of a fight for our very lives, our very culture and heritage – for our right to do the jobs we love on the land we love and provide for people safe and affordable food. The rhetoric is ramping up. The sides are being chosen, sadly, by default for many. We are being lied to, accused of crimes we did not commit and being pursued in a manner that if we were any other cultural group in the world would make headlines for the pursuit. But our pursuers make the news, our pursuers are in the ‘good guy’ cape and tights. We, the agriculture community, are still trying to figure out how to work together, let alone fight together. And that is why we will always bring a knife to a gun fight, we’ll always be 101 miles from the 100 mile diet and we will always be without an advocate voice on the most critical days of our industry.

Advertising won’t cut it – cute kids and pigs or men hugging chickens can’t compete with the videos and bloody photos of the few choosing to do their jobs badly. A pig hanging to death from a tractor bucket or a barn of barely recognizable hogs, burned after death in a barn fire. (BE SURE YOU KNOW THIS: the VAST majority of animals in a barn fire are dead from the smoke before they even know there is danger.) We cannot provide enough free recipes to counter stories of hidden BSE, of unsafe meat leaving the packing rooms. There are no good enough reasons to debate the lack of uptake on the higher welfare systems we have available, that the very researchers are throttled from speaking about. There is a simple reason we cannot win this fight on their grounds – the agriculture industry will attempt to fight emotions with science (a basic no win), they will hide from the fight behind the skirts of commodities, government bailouts and advertising and they will never come together as a SINGLE INDUSTRY and say, “Hey! You! BACK OFF! I know there is a better way, they have proven it just down the road, I’m getting there.”.

The simple fact of the matter is EVERYONE eats farmed foods. Period, end of discussion. The simple fact is MEAT is part of our diet. We are omnivores – teeth for eating variety of foods, eyes in front (predator faces) and guts that are built for variety. Some people choose another diet, and that is simply a CHOICE. And on they are welcome to make for themselves, but don’t try to bully me into sharing it. Another simple fact is that NO ANIMAL deserves to be treated other than with the highest welfare possible. This is a moral law, this is a code that even the very earliest of domesticators learned – if you don’t care for your animals they cannot provide the materials that will keep you alive. Bad farmer, bad caretaker used to equal dead or dying farmer or caretaker. We have welfare laws in Canada, and we are working on making the enforcement of them better, and the weight of their charge more hefty. It takes time for people to care about things differently – it wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t wear seatbelts and smoked in their cars. We know that’s not a great plan anymore, but it took time to change.

This past week we lost a great voice in Agriculture, for the world, and I’ll bet you didn’t even notice the passing of the man who for most of his career chased one singular goal – keeping people from starving to death. This great Aggie knew we weren’t going to ‘feed’ the world from our fields and farms. He knew that we were going to feed the world by showing them how to feed themselves. Norman Borlaug ( won a Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to world peace through increasing food supply. He worked his whole life in creating ways for food to be grown (as a food for people or for animals) in places that would challenge even the most dedicated Canadian or American farmer. He embraced technology and the culture of agriculture to help find ways to help people feed themselves. Who from PETA, HSUS or any other group has done that? Show me their Wiki listing! How much of their 9 million dollars pushing for Prop 2 in California actually got California food on to the tables of Californians who were going without? NOT ONE CENT! Guaranteed. The same can be said for the 9 million spent fighting Prop 2. It wasn’t spent supporting the distribution of farm products to areas which lack access and means to find nourishment.

We have known for a while that the HSUS and its partners have decided to expand, and in the US states are fighting or falling as they determine the economics of fighting an organization with a huge budget and a very ambitious agenda to stop certain types of animal agriculture. Not for the animals, you cannot you believe they care about animals, but for the agenda of controlling an industry they feel cannot be operated, even after thousands of years of production, within the confines of their social conscience. It is hard to argue with the HSUS, they are not as rabid or as ‘out there’ as PETA, but they still hold to the same hard line.

They just deliver it in a more reasonable and hard to argue against tone. They sound like they really believe that our industry, our culture, would be much better off if we did things their way – their way being that of a non-farmer in an urban world trying to justify their political agendas. It isn’t about the welfare of the animals, it is about a conception about meat and meat production that vilifies farmers and divides agriculture against itself. And it is a winning strategy. Because when farmers do bad, when workers are cruel, they get caught. No one shows videos of happy animals, abundant fields and farm families. They show barn workers doing horrible things because that gets attention, that gets airplay and ink. The face of farming that we see isn’t a face we recognize because it isn’t the one out in the fields and barns every day.

Yep, I said it. A winning strategy. They will win, because the agriculture industry will never stand up with a unified voice, with an advocate voice, to stop them. There will never be poultry, egg, dairy and hog producers standing side by side, arm in arm, in front of their elected leaders saying, “STOP!” They won’t put aside their own ‘save your own skin first’ attitudes long enough to realize that divide and conquer works well. Always has, always will – randomly pick a show off of History Channel tonight and tell me you don’t see the message?

What would happen if all the farmers quit – if the grain guys and the animal production guys and the oilseed guys (and gals) said, “I’m done.” That means no more tofu, no more soy milk, no more veggie burgers either folks. No one is going to start eating their lawns and foraging in national parks. No one is eating petroleum by-products, not every day and staying alive. We know farmers won’t quit – they didn’t in the ‘30s when the land dried up and blew away. They don’t when their land is underwater, when they have no sun or no rain, or too much of either. They didn’t during the wars around the world when their fields were torn apart and bloody with war. They didn’t stop when they had to send their children out to guard the animals from predators and thieves while they tended the fields. They won’t now, but by making it harder for farmers to farm we make it harder for us to maintain our source of food which we take so for granted.

We have legislation in Canada for the welfare of animals, researchers are getting better at making systems which work for the care of animals. Supporting their work, providing resources to help farmers transition into new, higher welfare systems, would seem to be a great way to spend 18 million dollars. Not fighting to pass legislation that once signed, becomes a dead document which cannot change or grow to reflect increasing knowledge and understanding. Support researchers who believe in animal care, and not hobble them with commodity agendas and rhetoric. If our agriculture industry is stifled enough we’ll end up importing our products, potentially from countries over whom we have no control for quality or safety. And no political way to make them ‘shape up’ to the ‘standards’ which crippled our own industry.

I would like to take a poll of the animal rights activists who are so against primary production – stand up if you are a) a farmer b) ever farmed c) ever been on a working farm d) ever worked to save an individual animal in crisis. Funny I don’t think anyone is standing up, okay the guy from R-Calf, you can sit down. Okay, people, now it’s your turn. Stand up if you are a) eating food today b) enjoying that food c) found shelves full of food at the store d) never had to worry about empty shelves. Hmmm…being since you are all STANDING already, why don’t you stay standing up for the farmers that provided the answers to a through d?

I advocate for animal welfare, I do not believe that welfare should be something that is negotiable. I believe that we have the right to farm, and we have the obligation to do it well. For our families, for our animals and for our future. I do not believe animals are ‘people in animal suits’, nor do I believe that they should be used without regard for their welfare (familiar with the Five Freedoms? Google that right now). I don’t believe that doing something well and right should be legislated when there are far better ways to encourage and move towards better and more humane production systems.

If you believe in doing things better, then put your money where your mouth is and start an Animal Husbandry & New Age Welfare training centre. Invite farmers to learn from you, if you think your message can bear the strain of ‘in field’ testing. Build some production systems, have some taste tests, invite people over for supper. Put your money where it will do some good for the animals and for the people who are raising your food. If you believe that ‘science’ is not compatible with animal care, prove an alternate and make it work. (oh wait, that would be science wouldn’t it?) Put your money where the animals live and breathe. Not in a political war chest to make a political point that ‘we changed the world’ through legislation that cannot be cost effectively utilized, is not sustainable and meets the emotional needs of a small group of people but not address the great needs of agriculture in our ever changing world.

Activists - I respect you for caring, but I cannot support your methods because they do not raise a hand to help animals in crisis and they do not embrace welfare as a long reaching goal.

Agriculture – we have to stick together or we’ll fall one by one. Just because you are the last one standing doesn’t mean you’ll stay that way.

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