Changing perspectives in a changing world

dairy cow PICJean L Clavelle

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.

The Distance from Farm to Plate

 

be Jean L Clavelle

Since becoming involved with social media over the last year I have begun to take note of people’s attitudes, opinions and knowledge as it pertains to agriculture and food production.  I grew up on a farm, attended an ag college and subsequently worked in agriculture so I’ve been surrounded by like-minded people my entire life.  However, agvocating has opened my eyes to the realization of just how little the From AgricultureMoreThanEver.cageneral public knows about where food comes from.  It is fascinating (not to mention a little scary) to delve into the general public’s belief system and knowledge base in this area.

To clarify I am pro conventional agriculture, organic farming and alternative production practices.  I believe in new technologies and in providing the consumer with what they desire and believe there is room for multiple types of systems.   It is surprising though at how little understanding there is of contemporary food production practices by the general public regardless of what type of system we discuss.

Now, at every chance available I ask questions.  Whether it is on Facebook, Twitter or in an actual real life face to face conversation (I know, how old school).  This is not to be antagonistic, just to understand an individual’s perspective – and sometimes position – on food production and possibly to dispel some misconceptions or false information that seems to be endemic in the populous.  I also ask so as to understand why and how they developed their beliefs.  Where did we fail in our society that such a basic life necessity is so distanced from that of every other day to day need?

A recent conversation of animal welfare versus animal rights included a discussion about what happens at a slaughter plant.  Surprisingly I was asked if I understood what “actually” happens there.  Now, I do not object even the slightest to someone’s choice of being vegan though I was thoroughly astounded about the question of whether or not I’d considered what happens at a slaughter plant.  We raise animals to eat and with that comes the understanding that the death of those are animals are inevitable and it is our responsibility to be respectful of and honour that animal’s life.  For this person the thought of that many animals dying on a daily basis was just too overwhelming and simply too much to bear so adopted a vegan lifestyle.  Despite the intrinsically dark nature of animal slaughter it never occurred to me that this essential step in getting meat from the farm to the plate should come as a surprise to anyone.

Stats Canada stated that almost a third of Canadians lived on farms in 1931 and in 2006 that dropped to 2%1.  How did we go in one or two generations to be intimately involved in supplying our own food to now having so little idea as to be completely oblivious.  And that is only going to become more evident in future generations.  My cousin told me a few years ago that her young daughter wanted to take the “wrapping” off of her peas – she wanted to take the shell off the pea pod.  If we are so distanced in garden vegetables how shocking must a barn filled with thousands and thousands of laying hens seem?

So in conclusion, my friends, I offer no suggestions here.  I only request that we all continue to speak out in an honest and respectful way.  To seek out what really drives a person’s belief system so that we can help to dispel those myths and to continue to keep producing food in the best way possible.   Because it is essential that our customers and our society understand what it means to do so.  That we are not forced to do it in a way that would not be beneficial for our children, environment or our future.

  1. Found at statcan.gc.ca