Friday, July 31, 2009

Ag Subsidies Are Bad

A new survey indicates that a majority of people believe that subsidizing farmers is important to ensure a safe food supply. The results could have been affected by the wording of the question, as all survey results are, but let us suppose the finding is correct.

If the result is correct, we have a lot of educating to do. In a free capitalistic market, buyers and sellers are free to strike deals whenever the exchange benefits both parties. That is the beauty of a capitalistic system: all market transactions benefit both the buyer and the seller, and free markets allow buyers and the sellers to make as many of these mutually beneficial transactions as physically possible.

Subsidies essentially trick consumers into buying products they do not want. Suppose you purchase five bananas per week at the price of $0.50 per banana. You do not purchase six bananas, because you value the banana less than $0.50. Now the government subsidizes bananas, lowering the price to $0.40. You now consume six bananas per week, but you are still paying $0.50 per banana because the government subisides are paid for by tax dollars. You pay $0.40 per banana at the grocery store and an extra $0.10 in taxes.

Hence, subsidies make us pay for things we do not want. This is not an intuitive notion, why is why economics education is so important. After seeing this study, I have incorporated the need for education on subsidies into my course objectives for the next semester.

Excellent, Excellent Essay By Missouri Farmer

I highly encourage everyone to read this superb essay written by a Missouri farmer in response to critics of modern agriculture.

I really do like this essay. The arguments are clever, simple, honest, and precise. The author is also a very talented writer.

I would like to add a few comments to the essay.

But now we have to listen to self-appointed experts on airplanes frightening their seatmates about the profession I have practiced for more than 30 years. I’d had enough. I turned around and politely told the lecturer that he ought not believe everything he reads. He quieted and asked me what kind of farming I do. I told him, and when he asked if I used organic farming, I said no, and left it at that. I didn’t answer with the first thought that came to mind, which is simply this: I deal in the real world, not superstitions, and unless the consumer absolutely forces my hand, I am about as likely to adopt organic methods as the Wall Street Journal is to publish their next edition by setting the type by hand.

The farmer is absolutely correct that people are superstitious, and this superstition does drive niche markets like the organic market. However, I am afraid there is little you can do about this. Despite our rational, scientific world most people still believes in an imaginary people who love you but will also send you to hell if you profess certain beliefs, most people still believe in angels, and most people still believe in ghosts. Agriculture needs to know that in a world of imperfect information and superstition, everything farmers do sends a signal about its character. Using hormones in beef is perfectly safe and has many advantages, but to uninformed, superstitious people it conjures the image of a greedy corporation who will poison the masses for a few dollars.

Agriculture must also deal with the fact that some individuals will exploit this superstition to sell books. People will believe anything, and using certain technologies that are harmless but "sound bad" gives people like Michael Pollan ammunition to mislead gullible readers for book sales (and now movie tickets).

Lynn Niemann was a neighbor of my family’s, a farmer with a vision. He began raising turkeys on a field near his house around 1956. They were, I suppose, what we would now call “free range” turkeys. Turkeys raised in a natural manner, with no roof over their heads, just gamboling around in the pasture, as God surely intended. Free to eat grasshoppers, and grass, and scratch for grubs and worms. And also free to serve as prey for weasels, who kill turkeys by slitting their necks and practicing exsanguination. Weasels were a problem, but not as much a threat as one of our typically violent early summer thunderstorms. It seems that turkeys, at least young ones, are not smart enough to come in out of the rain, and will stand outside in a downpour, with beaks open and eyes skyward, until they drown. One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.

Now, turkeys are raised in large open sheds. Chickens and turkeys raised for meat are not grown in cages. As the critics of "industrial farming" like to point out, the sheds get quite crowded by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and the turkeys are fully grown. And yes, the birds are bedded in sawdust, so the turkeys do walk around in their own waste. Although the turkeys don't seem to mind, this quite clearly disgusts the various authors I've read whom have actually visited a turkey farm. But none of those authors, whose descriptions of the horrors of modern poultry production have a certain sameness, were there when Neimann picked up those 4,000 dead turkeys. Sheds are expensive, and it was easier to raise turkeys in open, inexpensive pastures. But that type of production really was hard on the turkeys. Protected from the weather and predators, today's turkeys may not be aware that they are a part of a morally reprehensible system.

This is interesting information, and relevant, but no one is saying that high animal welfare standards should be achieved by leaving animals outside in pasture with no shelter and with no management. Animal advocacy groups are pressuring farmers to provide shelter with opportunities to behave naturally and shelter with reasonable space requirements. We do not have to choose between a factory farm and throwing animals out into the wild. There are thousands of reasonable balances between allowing animals to act naturally and acting on behalf of the animals' best interest.

Like most young people in my part of the world, I was a 4-H member. Raising cattle and hogs, showing them at the county fair, and then sending to slaughter those animals that we had spent the summer feeding, washing, and training. We would then tour the packing house, where our friend was hung on a rail, with his loin eye measured and his carcass evaluated. We farm kids got an early start on dulling our moral sensibilities. I'm still proud of my win in the Atchison County Carcass competition of 1969, as it is the only trophy I have ever received. We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I've seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.

The author is correct that farrowing crates do prevent a number of deaths compared to a system where the sow makes her own nest wherever she wishes. But again, there are compromises. Beeler Farms in Iowa use a farrowing room with crushing bars to prevent crushing. These types of rooms with special attention to selecting good mothers can prevent a large number of deaths. Moreover, even if one does elect to use farrowing crates to prevent crushing does not imply they must use gestation crates as well. Sows will spend two-thirds of her life in gestation crates, and it is these crates that elicit the most criticism.

Finally, the author does a superb job with the fertilizer issue. Quixotic agricultural crusaders are obsessed with the fertilizer issue, but though agriculture does have some environmental and animal welfare issues to tend to, there is no fertilizer issue. Commercial fertilizer is good. If you drive a car, you should support commercial fertilizer, and the fact that organic producers cannot utilize commercial fertilizer is absurd, and testifies to the organic movement's detachment from reality.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Public Education Is A Messy Process

(Readers should first note that I am not publicly in favor or in opposition to any animal welfare measure. I am only seeking to help consumer preferences for food be translated accurately into markets and policy)

As HSUS ventures into Ohio, seeking to carry with it remnants from their California victory, the same sorts of discussions are emerging. Recently, James Kinder, the chair of the Ohio State University Animal Science department has stated ...

James Kinder, chair of Ohio State University's Department of Animal Sciences, says that the approach taken by the Humane Society of the United States to push for animal welfare legislation in Ohio is not an effective means of change.

"They are looking at it from the wrong perspective," Kinder says. "Improvements in animal welfare have to be done through education instead of regulation. It's changing the attitudes and behaviors of the producers and the animal handlers that, at the end of the day, will have the greatest impact on animal wellbeing in agricultural production."

However, the type of controversy caused by HSUS efforts do in fact motivate education. This is not a statement supporting HSUS measures, buta statement proclaiming that the controversy helps educate. It was the controversy surrounding the California Prop 2 initiative that caused Oprah Winfrey to host a show dedicated to farm animal welfare. Who ever thought Oprah would host a show like that? This show demonstrated to many consumers for the first time what a gestation crate and battery cage look like. Players on both sides of the debate stated that the show was informative and balanced.

Public debate induces consumers to conduct their own research. Without lobbying and political fighting, the topic of farm animal welfare would never even cross the average consumers' mind.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Will Not Believe This

Supposedly, these are Islam rules for bestiality. I have a hard time believing it, but these rules are supposedly present in an Islam Holy book. If anyone can attest to the legitimacy of this, I'd be interested in knowing.

yuck, yuck, yuck :(

BTW: this is the last time Ham and Eggonomics will post anything about bestiality!

Animal Welfare Is Not That Complex

A speaker at the recent conference of the Animal Agriculture Alliance set about explaining the rise of the farm animal welfare debate by saying...

Pet owners have to find a way to deal with a certain cognitive dissonance in their lives: they live with some kinds of animals as pets/companions, while they eat other kinds.

The guilt involved in treating pets one way and food animals another way goes to one of the activists’ core messages; people donate money to alleviate that guilt.

The speaker seems to imply that the actions of a compassionate carnivore are, in a sense, irrational. People, the speaker explains, give money to HSUS because they are mentally confused. The comments are akin to those in the mid 1900's when some believed that animal rights activists had a mental problem.

Is it really that complex of a problem? I don't think so, and I don't think the majority of Americans feel any guilt from eating meat while raising pets at the same time.

The issue is so very simple. People want to eat meat, but they do not want the animals they eat to be treated inhumanely. That does not sound irrational. It sounds perfectly reasonable.

Often I feel comments like these are meant to placate livestock producers who feel their morality is questioned by animal advocates. By telling producers that the average American is mentally confused in some way, it belittles consumers' efforts to increase the welfare of animals on animal farms, and justifies the conventional factory farm.

If this is the case, it is unnecessary. Farmers are not doing anything wrong; farmers are producing the exact food item that consumers are demanding. This is the sole economic, social, and ethical duty of farmers. It is up to consumers to demand and pay premiums for more humane food, and the modern animal welfare movement is the market and political process for doing just that.

Again, let me repeat the simplicity of the animal welfare movement. Most Americans want to eat meat, dairy products, and eggs. They also want the animals to be free of suffering. What is so odd about that?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Corrupt Agricultural Economists?

A recent Feedstuffs article, Panelists discuss beef industry past, future (July 20, 2009) made the statement, "He said areas where the academic community might help enhance the image of animal agriculture..."

The statement was made by a former professor, and what a shame it was. The journalist also paraphrased this former professor as saying, "Owens believes the academic community needs to deepen public knowledge and appreciation of animal agriculture."

What this former professor is talking about is corruption. Not illegal corruption, but corruption nevertheless. Should any professor feel obliged to act as a spokesperson for any industry? Is it the duty of a land grant university researcher to promote any private industry? I think the average consumer would be horrified at the thought of a university professor being at the beck and call of private firms producing food. I am horrified at the thought. I am a public servant, not a servant of any industry. I work for consumers and private producers.

Fortunately, my status as a tenured professor allows me to conduct my affairs with dignity. Should anyone question the value of this institution called tenure, they should ask themselves whether I should be allowed to pursue my job with dignity, or if I should misrepresent my occuption as an objective researcher to promote the interests of a private industry.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Capital Punishment Farce

(The following is a farce regarding the stances of certain of animal rights groups such as Animal Abolitionists and Vegans Against PETA. The narrative does not necessarily represent my true preferences. Because it is a farce, one should not attempt to develop arguments for and against the conjectures within the farce. The narrative is intended to promote discussion and encourage personal deliberation regarding the farm animal welfare debate)

It is disturbing that the government possesses the legal power to take a person's life, and more disturbing that the government employs this power with brio. Though incarceration is a necessary institution in an orderly society, capital punishment is an embarrassment.

Death sentences in the past were implemented by methods such as hanging and stoning. These methods were cruel and painful. Our modern society employs a more "humane" procedure for implementing death sentences. Whether it be lethal injection or electrocution, the criminal is thought to feel little or no pain. In the past, I supported these humane procedures for capital punishment, but writings from the animal rights movement have convinced me otherwise.

Many animals lead miserable lives on farms that cram animals into small spaces with no environmental enrichment. Besides food, water, and shelter, these animals possess no means to discover contentment. The farms in which they reside are referred to as factory farms. A number of animal rights activists oppose the raising of animals in these conditions. They also oppose the raising of animals for human purposes such as food, clothing, or health care. Recent activity by animal advocacy organizations have sought to improve the conditions of animals on factory farms; examples include giving laying hens room to walk and sows room to turn around. These groups pursue these improvements while at the same time promoting veganism.

What animal rights activist would oppose improving the lives of animals while promoting veganism? A large number, in fact. A group has been formed titled Vegans Against PETA to oppose PETA's efforts to force slaughter houses to install more humane methods of killing animals. The ambitious Gary Francione urged his disciples to oppose Prop 2 in California, which scientific studies content will improve the lives of laying hens.

The reason for these confusing stances by animal rights activists are in many ways legitimate. By making the killing of animals and the raising of hens more humane, consumers who formerly avoided animal food products may be more inclined to purchase food derived from animals. These animal rights disciples are vehemently opposed to the raising of animals for food, even if the animals lived a happy life, so any action that may encourage the eating of animal foods are opposed. Logic suggests they would even support measures that would make livestock production methods more cruel.

This is why I oppose humane methods of implementing capital punishment. The public sees a procedure that bestows little physical pain, and thus makes the public more inclined to support capital punishment. Anything that increases public support of capital punishment should be opposed to the fullest extent.

I heartily propose that, if we are to sentence criminals to death, we implement the sentence in the most cruel fashion possible. Reverting back to public hangings would be a start. Not only is hanging more painful, but public witnesses will be horrified of the activity and opponents of capital punishment will grow in number. That is not enough though. Because I so love every human, criminal and non-criminal, I support that we implement biblical procedures. Every death sentence should be carried out through stoning, and citizens should be recruited to participate in the stoning just as they are recruited to participate in courtroom juries. The horrors of stoning, and their direct participation in the stoning, would encourage opposition to death sentencing.

The animal rights movement has taught me that, because I oppose capital punishment, I must also oppose humane treatment of prisoners on death row. I encourage all readers to contact their political representatives and urge them to replace lethal injection and electrocution with public stoning. For those readers who are also emotionally moved by the discussion of factory farming and oppose the raising of animals for food, they should also oppose the human treatment of animals, and should even support any and all measures that would further degrade the quality of life within the walls of factory farms.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Veganism Versus Non-Veganism: In Terms of Health

Individuals motivated to eliminate livestock agriculture are quick to assert that vegan diets are healthier. Bill Maher often seems to suggest that meat and dairy is the root of our health problems in the U.S.

But is it true? Are vegan diets healthier than non-vegan diets? One who regularly peruses the news might be confused. Studies find one type of cancer higher in vegetarians, another cancer more prevalent in meat eaters. Animal fats obviously can lead to cholesterol problems, but recent evidence suggests that the animal fat - cholesterol link may be exaggerated. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread, but so is obesity.

The answer, I believe, is that it is impossible to legitimately claim that a "vegan diet" is healthier than "non-vegan diets" or vice-versa. The reason is that there is no one single definition of vegan and non-vegan diets. A vegan who does not make a concerted effort to take vitamin D and B supplements is risking their health. A non-vegan who consumes nothing but fried chicken and french fries is doing likewise.

Both vegan and non-vegan diets can be healthy. For the sake of truth, it is necessary to note that a non-vegan who consumes meat and dairy in moderation and large amounts of plant foods is very likely to be healthier than a vegan, because this particular non-vegan diet is ensured to capture all essential nutrients. It is also necessary to note that a smart vegan diet (with supplements) will indeed provide all essential nutrients. It is not a battle for which is better, both win when implemented smartly.

It is difficult to find a good publication on the issue, even in scientific journals. The best article I have encountered is by Joan Sabate, who properly acknowledges the positive and negative aspects of both diets, stating, "Diets largely based on plant foods, such as well-balanced vegetarian diets, could best prevent nutrient deficiencies as well as diet-related chronic diseases. However, restrictive or unbalanced vegetarian diets may lead to nutritional deficiencies, particularly in situations of high metabolic demand."

This author does argue that vegetarian diets are slightly healthier, but what I like is the acknowledgement that meat and dairy based diets have their advantages, and can be healthy. Below is a statistical bell-curve articulating the risk of nutrient deficiency. In the author's view, the vegetarian diet has a lower likelihood of health harm, but harm stemming from a non-vegetarian diet is far from certain. If vegetarian/vegan diets are healthier (and there is an "if"), the improvement is marginal, when both diets are implemented smartly.

Vegan and animal rights groups should temper their claims as to the health harms associated with meat and dairy based diets, lest they be exposed as quixotic crusaders with no personal commitment to honestly.


Sabate, Joan. 2003. "The Contribution Of Vegetarian Diets To Health And Disease: A Paradigm Shift." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 78(3): 502S-507S.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Value of Talking-Points

Some of my recent posts have been hard on people who rely extensively on talking points when discussing the farm animal welfare issue. To show that Ham and Eggonomics loves everyone, allow me to articulate why talking points are used.

I have criticized talking points because people use them without thinking, but that is precisely the value of talking points. Express a talking point without questioning its validity helps others feel inclined to join the cause, and communicates the cohesiveness of the group to facilitate political patronage.

The purpose of making public statements is about more than simply communicating information. Often, the information is of little value. When people write blog posting, letters to the editor, and the like, they are writing for its therapeutic value, to helpe reinforce social norms, and to express to politicians the cohesiveness and power of one's interest group.

Almost every time someone defends livestock agriculture they include the argument that farmers always provide high welfare for the animals because it is in their own self-interest. Animals who have a low state of welfare also have a low productivity, so the argument goes. This argument is false, there is no question of that, yet even those who know better make the statement. Why?

This argument, even if false, provides justification for using current production practices, and places the farmer in a desirable state (which they deserve to be, by the way, as any welfare problems are up to the consumer to rectify). By repeating this mantra, the agricultural community acts to reinforce its social norms. It seeks to reassure farmers that they are good people, that other farmers are good people, and that the community is a moral community. Just as families use presents and celebrations to reinforce their family bonds, repeating the mantra of a group reinforces the cohesiveness and dedication of the group. Talking points reminds listeners of the group's cause and reassures the listener that they are one among many like-minded.

A repeating slogan also signals to politicians that the group is solidify and strong. Politicians exist for the sole purpose of pandering for votes. Whenever politicians can identify a group with a well-defined wish list and large numbers behind that group, you can be guaranteed that this group will get its way. Rallying behind talking points shows politicians that the group is disciplines and knows that it wants. If the politician delivers, the politician will be rewarded.

The same forces are at play for animal welfare and rights groups. The HSUS in particular is very well disciplined. They have a few targets and reasons for those targets and they never deviate. There is little doubt that there are some disagreements within HSUS about matters, but you would never know of them. They cannot afford to allow disagreements to be known. Without their discipline and focused objectives, they would not be able to reinforce its constituents behind a common goal and would not be as politically efficient.

I have criticized talking points because people use them without thinking, but that is precisely the value of talking points. Express a talking point without questioning its validity helps others feel inclined to join the cause, and communicates the cohesiveness of the group to facilitate political patronage.

Interview With Paul Shapiro

Paul Shapiro leads the factory farming campaign at HSUS. Here is a recent interview with Paul.

By the way, I've talked to Paul on the phone and exchange emails with him. He is a good guy. Whether or not you agree with him, most everyone would like him if they got to meet him.

I've previously argued, from an objective viewpoint, that livestock agriculture is losing the intellectual battle with HSUS and the battle for public support. Paul's quote below is a great response to those who think the large HSUS is just one vegan-conspiracy machine.

Just think about it — we’re the largest animal welfare charity not only in the country, but in the world. Do you think that an organization that didn’t take mainstream views would be so influential? Just about two-thirds of Californians voted for the proposal we put on the ballot ... If you look at the breakdown of the vote, we won the majority of virtually every demographic ... even some of the largest ag counties.

This interview is also the first time I have seen discussion of Feedstuffs' role in the farm animal welfare debate. I love Feedstuffs, and frequently publish in it. By like any other media, it has its biases, and has a huge, huge bias towards factory farming. There are some advantages of factory farming, and someone has to stand up and fight to ensure those advantages are understood. Feedstuffs has assumed this role. While it provides a slanted-viewpoint, that bias often provides valuable information you would not receive if they tried to be objective.

LF: Who has been promoting this caricature?
PS: Feedstuffs plays a big role in it, as do other publications. (That publication) regularly engages in vilifying tactics. It (recently) published an article comparing our president, Wayne Pacelle, to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. When you have the largest agribusiness trade journal in the country comparing the HSUS’s president to Hitler and Mussolini, does anybody think that’s really appropriate?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Talking Points

Regarding a previous post, lest you think that only livestock agriculture regurgitates talking points, see this awful article criticizing the beef industry.

Beef Is Humane, Even Beef From Feedlots

Recent anti-food sources have attacked beef on the grounds that steers and heifers are "finished" in a feedlot prior to slaughter. Though they were raised for the first year of their life in pasture, their last few months are spent in a small pen on top of their own manure, and fed a feed ration that is not consistent with how their digestion system evolved, leading to sickness.

These criticisms have some points. Cattle do prefer pasture than pens filled with their own feces, but consider this...

(1) Cattle abolutely love the feed they are given, more than the grass. Though they do not receive the grass, they get something better.

(2) I estimate that the body of a feedlot cow consumes about 24 square feet of ground space, while the animals are given 250 square feet of space. That is a lot of space. This is not a factory farm in the sense that hog farms are factory farms. Cows receive 250/24 = 10 times more space than their body consumes, whereas pigs receive only 8/5 = 1.6. The reason is that the cattle are outside, not inside expensive buildings, so the cost of space is lower and thus there is no need to cram animals inside a small space.

(3) When cattle are given both feedlot feed (consisting of hay, corn, and the like) and grass, they mostly use the pasture for a clean spot to rest. Clean grass is better than manure for lying.

(4) The feedlot feed does produce more sickness than grass, but the frequency and intensity of this sickness is often exaggerated. Only about 2% of cattle experience any problem with the feed provide in feedlots, and the mortality rate due to this feed is only 0.69%. The "unnatural" cattle feed in feedlots has a very, very small effect on animal welfare.

(5) However, most feedlots are located in dry, moderate-temperature regions. The reason is that productivity plummets when it is cold and wet or hot and wet. Consequently, cattle manure dries quickly, and is more like dirt than manure. Yes, they lie in their own manure, but it is very dry, like dirt. Not so bad. Furthermore, there is an approximately 0% chance any of this manure gets into the beef when the animal is harvested.

Given feedlot cattle receive a delicious feed they love and ample space, it is not unreasonable to believe that cattle in feedlot might be quite happy.

As a friend of ag, allow me to weigh in...

Livestock agriculture and animal advocacy groups are in an important battle over how farm animals should be raised. A few years ago, I focused my research efforts upon the farm animal welfare issue because I considered myself a friend of livestock, and I did not like the manner in which agriculture engaged the animal welfare issue. I wanted agriculture to do better, so I have offerred my time. This blog entry is part of this commitment.

Whether the current strategy of livestock agriculture will win in the public perception and the political arena I do no pretend to know. I have enough difficulties being a good economist, that I cannot afford to try and be a good political scientist as well. What I do know is the livestock agricultural agenda is not winning in the intellectual arena.

Consider the recent editorial: Farmers responsible stewards of livestock. Letters like these are getting old and do not reflect the level of enlightenement which I know the authors possess. Livestock agriculture needs to stop repeating its talking points, which are largely designed to make farmers feel better about themselves. Farmers have nothing to feel ashamed about. They are producing the exact commodity the consumer [currently] desires. If animal welfare needs to be increased then it is the consumer who is responsible for demand more humane products and paying the associated premium. Farmers are only doing what every good business is morally charged to perform: producing the good consumers desire.

That said, let us explore why this editorial is an epitome of livestock agriculture's intellectual failings.

Providing good care to the animals on our farms is a second sense within us, because we each have lifetimes of experience doing so. Any good farmer knows that good care also equals profitability. That’s why for years we as farmers have been financing meaningful scientific research through our commodity associations to benefit animals’ behavioral and psychological needs.

When the farm animal welfare debate first appeared back in 1965 Britain, the hypothesis that animal welfare can be measured by productivity and profits was offerred and quickly dismissed in the Brambell Report. Nothing has changed since 1965. Animal welfare is only partially related to animal productivity, and animal agriculture needs to stop pretending it to be otherwise. Moreover, it is arguable that many farmers do not actually understand their hogs needs, and I will offer myself as an example. In my youth I spent considerable time working on confinement hog farms, and it formed a particular impression in my mind about what hogs desire. That impression was later proved wrong when I visited a hog farm that operated under the Animal Welfare Institute guidelines. For the first time in my life, after years of working on hog farms, I saw a hog run. I saw a hog merrily playing in mud even in cold temperatures. At that visit, I realized that I knew how to run a factory farm, but I knew very little about the animals on that farm.

It seems what started with Walt Disney’s personification of animals with Mickey Mouse has evolved into a segment of society that puts the supposed needs of animals above humans. Some people seem to care more about what they call mistreatment of animals than a rash of other societal ills.

These same people are leading the charge across our nation to eliminate livestock agriculture, hunting and even pet ownership. Too often they deliver their deceptive messages as self-appointed experts on animal care. When farmers shrug them off in the face of assault, then the public only hears their exaggerated side of the issue. As they say on the farm, you reap what you sow.

The issue of whether animal welfare should be improved does not depend on whether Wayne Pacelle (CEO of HSUS) is a vegan. I imagine many social workers, after witnessing case after case of child abuse and neglect, wish people would stop having so many children. It would be absurd to suggest that we should not do anything about child abuse because some social workers yearn for a world where parents have fewer (or maybe no) children. It is absurd to suggest that we should not improve animal welfare simply because it will appease those who want us to become vegans. It is equally absurd to assert that giving animals a better life immediately locks us in to subsequent veganism. We can have government without becoming communists, and we can treat animals well without being vegans.

Earlier this spring, when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced it was holding lobbying efforts at over 40 state capitols, including Wisconsin, the Farm Bureau decided it wasn’t going to sit on its hands.

Good. It is important for society that both sides of the issue engage in battle. I am not being sarcastic, this is how real democracy works.

Instead, the HSUS is a slicker version of their friends over at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). As the new, multi-million dollar player of the professional protest industry, HSUS’s playbook is well known. They have successfully passed referendums in other states that ban certain livestock housing practices. Exhibit A of this is California’s passage of Proposition 2 last November. Voters there banned gestation stalls for sows, pens of veal calves, and wire pens for laying hens. It was an example of exaggerated emotionalism winning out over rational thought. Never mind scientific research or economic fallout, HSUS met its goal when emotions ruled the day.

The author is asserting that replacing cage eggs with cage-free eggs or eliminating gestation creates is an example of "exaggerated emotionalism winning out over rational thought." It is here, especially, where my agricultural community is losing the intellectual ground. This statement is made because it has been a talking point used by others, and makes authors feel good about themselves. It is a blatantly false statement! There are scientific studies that show both switching from cage to cage-free eggs and eliminating gestation crates is better for the animals (see here and here), and absolutely zero studies (that I know of) showing otherwise.

There are plenty of good reasons to improve and to not improve animal welfare. The decision is ultimately up to the consumer. It is true that animal advocacy groups are seeking to impose choices on consumers, but when it comes to public goods like animal welfare, that is not necessarily bad, if these animal advocacy groups accurately represent the preferences of their constituents. The suffering of a hog affects compassionate humans irregardless of who consumes the food from that sow. Animal welfare is like the environment, it belongs to everyone and cannot be parsed out like corn.

I beg of you, my livestock agriculture family, who I identify with so strongly, stop using talking points. Start reading. Start listening. Start thinking for yourself. Yes, it does present the danger that you may change your mind. That is the cost of possessing an open mind.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Discussion of Feedstuffs Commentary

Friendly Discussion of Animal Welfare, Animal Care, and Ballot Initiatives: What's The Solution?

In regard to animal care and welfare, animal agriculture’s message is that current animal production systems produce safe, nutritious, affordable food by means of state-of-the-art technology based on sound science. Moreover, that animal production must be protected from special interest groups having vegetarian and other ethical agendas whose legislative efforts are simply attempts to stymie modern animal agriculture.

However, "sound science" has also showed that the methods HSUS is pursuing is superior to the status quo (see here and here)

Results of studies on the behavior and function of closely confined farm animals consistently indicate chronic stress. And behaviors suggestive of negative emotions are often observed.

For the record, however, similar problems can be found to varying degrees in animals kept in the alternative accommodations promoted by humane organizations.

Still, although stress is counterproductive in producing human foods of animal origin, contemporary animal agriculture has prioritized animal health and productive and reproductive performance over freedom to express a wide range of normal behavior patterns.

Conversely, HSUS’s rhetoric has focused primarily on animal behavior. Their message is simple and apparently reasonable: An animal should be able to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably and easily. Unfortunately, to honor such a dictum would create a financial and logistical nightmare for contemporary U.S. animal agriculture. Furthermore, it would not sufficiently consider other aspects of animal welfare.

Thank you for acknowleding the fact that traditional egg and pork systems have flaws, and thank you for pointing out the other systems have drawbacks for animal welfare as well. However, let us first acknowledge the fact that wanting an animal to be able to lie down comfortably and turn around is not naive. Second, if the alternative system one is considering is comparable in terms of animal welfare to systems where an animal cannot turn around, one should reconsider what that alternative is.

First, the conventional stalls, crates and cages used for much of the country’s livestock and poultry production would have to be either altered or abandoned. The cost of this alone would put many farmers out of business.

Any time one does anything that raises the cost of production, there will be some economic harm. But since those who are put out of business or lose their jobs can always find work elsewhere (unfortunately, this job-hunt can be difficult), people who are opposed to factory farming on ethical grounds will not accept this as an argument. One should not condone unethical behavior just because it makes money.

With that said, it is disingenuous to suggest that the only options for Ohio are either: (1) to make minimal or no changes to livestock and poultry production practices — in other words, to simply defend the status quo, or (2) to risk having food produced that is actually unsafe and unwholesome or so expensive that some Ohioans will starve.

Well said!

The respective parties could instead work together to maintain our safe, affordable food supply and better protect animals and people in the process. This, however, would require each party to state what they are willing to give up as well as to vow to act in good faith to ensure a positive outcome for all stakeholders: win-win-win for animals, consumers and farmers alike. This would require a couple of intentional actions by everyone.

The first would be proactive, sincere consideration of the values held by all stakeholders.

Second, it would require fuller use of current knowledge in animal-welfare and animal-production science, veterinary medicine and agricultural economic

The question facing citizens across the nation nowadays is this: Do we engage in an expensive and protracted battle of faulty referenda or can we put aside personal agendas and create a feasible plan that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of farmed animals and people?

No, it can't work like that. It probably shouldn't. This is a battle for how farm animals are raised. The industry and HSUS have different opinions on what farms should look like. It is pollyannism to think they can compromise, because there is no compromise to be made. This is how a democratic world works; both parties lobby, fight, smear, and persuade for their cause. Both are backed by money representing different desires of the public. People love pork and eggs, and prefer them cheap, hence the industry's political power. People want animals to be treated humanely, hence HSUS's power. The winner will be determined largely by the power of these two constituent groups, by the intensity of these two societal desires. While a bit ugly to watch, allowing this uncoordinated political process to battle is much better than a committee of animal welfare czars.

Thank you Dr. Croney and Dr. Curtis for your thoughts.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Daily Show Interview of Robert Kenner

Daily Show Interview of Robert Kenner (producer of Food, Inc.), on July 2, 2009

I'm summarizing...and comment in green

Jon Stewart: what's wrong with food today?
Robert: food isn't raised on open pastured, instead cows are stuffed into feedlots...
Where every day they receive large portions of a food they absolutely love, and greatly, greatly prefer to grass

Jon: how they raise animals is like the Abu Ghraib of food animals...the animals are stuffed one on top of one
another in the dark, climbing around in their own feces
That is true for many animals, and I see how people can have a big problem with that

Robert: our tax dollars subsidize this by subdiziding corn
That is true to some extent, but no one likes the subsidizies except the farmers and companies, but the payments
to the farmers are to a large extent independent of how much they produce...except for ethanol subsidies,
which are ridiculous but came about because of liberal concerns about fossil fuels
...the price of corn is mostly determined by supply and demand, not subsidies

Robert: food today is basically there to produce salt, sugar, and fat
I know he is intentionally using hyperbole, but even so that statement is a bit ridiculous. Every grocery store has
plenty of nutritious food, but consumers simply don't want much of it, so don't blame the companies.

Jon: if our food is so bad, why are we not dying earlier?
Robert: we will start dying earlier, soon...when I was a kid we spent 18% on food and 5% on health care,
now we spend 9% on food and 18% on health care, so in aggregate food our food is really more expensive.
So first, if the data are not in your favor you simply assert the data will soon change. Second, are you really
prepared to say that ALL of our increases in health care costs are due to a poorer diet? Really? The invention
of better medical technologies and new methods of treatment have NOTHING to do with it? I'll say it, he knows better
than this. Anyone smart enough to write books and produce movies knows better than this.

Jon: don't we have to mass-produce food on some level, given our busy lifestyle and large population and stuff?
Robert: but the system we have now is not sustainable because it relies on gasoline and pollutes the 6
billion go to bed hungry right now
So, everything that relies on gasoline and creates any pollution needs to be phased out? Doesn't that mean
we need to stop producing everything? Plus, because North Korean dictators intentionally starve their citizens, and
other countries do the same, that means our food system is broken?...I'm telling you, he is smarter than this, just not

Jon: so what do we do?
Robert: ag cooperations wouldn't talk to us
That is because you are dishonest. I talk to these people all the time. If they think you will be honest and fair, they will
talk to you.I guess you can't make money like that though.

Robert: consumers have more power than they think...Wal-Mart took out milk because it contained rBST and
consumers didn't want it
And consumers didn't want it because people like you lied to them about its safety.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Animals are not helping

Animals should be doing more for the animal rights movement.

Wayne Pacelle on AgriTalk

Wayne Pacelle was recently interviewed on the agricultural talk show AgriTalk (listen here). One lady who is an animal abolitionist provides some escerpts here, and for those who are not aware of how abolitionists think, her comments are educational. The entire transcript is here.

A few of my comments are below.

First, regardless of what you think of animal rights activists, you have to say that Wayne Pacelle does a good job as the CEO of his organization. He must manage the millions of dollars of donations from people with disparate views. The common thread of those views is extending more compassion to animals, and Wayne manages to capture this thread while not exposing the disagreements many HSUS members have by not using words like "animal welfare" or "animal rights". He replaces these words with "human responsibility." Brilliant management.

I was glad to see that they were able to discuss "science". Hopefully the listeners understood that "science" does not in any way support the use of gestation crates or battery cages.

The discussion about hunting was interesting, because Pacelle said that HSUS is not opposed to hunting. He said they only focus on worst abuses in hunting. In my research for my book, however, I found out that as a college student Pacelle would enter the woods where individuals were hunting and make a commotion to scare the wildlife away. This demonstrates that what Pacelle believes and what the HSUS policy is are often two different things.

Interesting Facts From The Interview

  • Most of the HSUS board of directors are not vegetarians.
  • I had always heard HSUS has a vegan cafeteria, but Pacelle claims they do not have a cageteria.
Last thought: Am I the only one sick of asking whether Pacelle and HSUS managers are vegans are not? Does that have anything to do with the actions of HSUS?

Life in the Wild, and Alan Dawrst

For many, especially those who raise livestock, the notion of animal liberation may seem a farce. These animals can either be raised as livestock (humanely or not) or will not exist (save for a few pets). The idea that they can be set is the wild just seems absurd, as this piece in The Onion illustrates.

What many people fail to consider is the possibility that animals in the wild suffer. From what I have seen in my own experience, and every wildlife documentary I have watched, life in the wild is not pleasant.

Which brings me to this brilliant young thinker, Alan Dawrst, who runs the Reducing Suffering blog. What is best are his essays , one of which concerns suffering in the wild.

Anyone who considers the natural wild the only place in which animals can live without suffering should be reading Alan Dawrst's work first.