Interesting how perspective can change.
When I was studying large animal behaviour in college a lot of the focus of our discussion and research was centred not just around behaviour but on animal welfare. It was a natural thought progression I guess. At the time however, the word “welfare” carried with it a negative connotation within the ag community. It was associated with something on the fringe or for people who were extreme and equated with animal rights groups and activists like the PETA members who got naked on the corner of a downtown city block to protest something or other.
Now let me be clear it’s not that agriculture didn’t care about animal welfare it’s just that they didn’t necessarily have a word for it. It was more a belief system of it being the ‘right thing to do’. I’m reminded of what a family member told me when I explained I was writing a paper on feedlot animal welfare. She explained that I had better be careful before I ruined my career before it started. When I let her read the paper she said something to the effect of “well yeah, that’s just common sense”. It was simply the label of Animal Welfare that was foreign, not the concept.
Seeing the now infamous dairy footage recently was disheartening to say the least. It was simply wrong, it was disgusting and it was unacceptable. It set back everything that I and other proponents of animal welfare are trying to do not to mention cast a black cloud over the rest of animal agriculture and the good work that the majority of producers in Canada do. I am encouraged though to see that the ag community has not battened down the hatches to defend the poor decisions of a few. The agriculture community has not circled the wagons to say to the public “no, you just don’t understand”. As a group and as individuals they have stood up and condemned that behaviour publicly. Animal abuse is Not Ok. The ag community has seemed to embrace the terminology that you the consumer can relate to – Animal Welfare.
Ironically I feel like I’m now being reverse discriminated against for being involved in livestock. I have been called disgusting, moral-less and without ethics. I have been asked how I can be involved in a business so horrible and would I eat my dog or my horse? I’ve been told I only have my views because I live in Saskatchewan and that’s all I know. I have been told numerous times that agriculture is big business and big business is intrinsically unethical so how can animals really be cared for well. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many producers are introduced to the public or how open we are about what happens on farms the worst always seem to be believed. It used to feel like a noble profession, feeding the world. But that positivity seems to be stolen with every negative tweet.
My only hope is that the recent evolution in livestock agriculture has not come too late to keep up with the dynamic social media world. My request is that if you have questions about something that you’ve read or heard please find a producer and ask for the real answer and an honest response. Maybe hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will change your perspective.