There are always two sides to the story

Guest blog:  Jacquie Maynard, Fairview Post (Alberta)

After I wrote my article on vegetarianism a few months ago, I received several letters from upset farmers, ranchers and veterinarians, reprimanding me for one single paragraph out of the entire story.

While I appreciate their input and understand where their anger might be coming from, it disappointed me that they chose to focus on that particular part and completely miss the point of the article, which was that vegetarianism can be a healthy lifestyle choice if done properly.

It was not my intent to bash the meat industry or anyone in it, I was merely pointing out a reason that some vegetarians and vegans chose to be so. I realize now that my sources may have been biased or non-credible, and I plan to remedy that now.

Since I was a young teenager I played with the idea of being a vegetarian. As an animal lover, at first I wanted to make this lifestyle change because of the cruelty aspect, hoping to save a few cows or chickens from a horrible fate. I watched videos and read articles from various sources including www.goveg.com and www.peta.org.

I was appalled and extremely saddened by what I saw on these websites : Chickens packed in cages like sardines with their beaks cut off and legs broken, dairy cows with scabbed and stressed udders, pigs continuously screaming and frantic, crammed so tightly into pens so that they could barely touch the floor.

I read horrifying stories of the treatment of these animals, how they were barely stunned before the slaughtering process for the sake of faster production, and how little care was given to their welfare.

Now, in my line of work and with a bit more maturity under my belt, I realize how unreliable and biased these sources can be, and how a lot of information out there borders on propaganda.

So when I wrote that article, you can see where the idea came from that animals weren’t being treated as well as pro-meat organizations would lead us to believe, and when the letters came pouring in that I was wrong, you can see why I might have been skeptical.

With so many people telling me that I was wrong, I began to think that maybe I was. Being a truth-seeker, I decided to get to the bottom of things to see if they were just blissfully unaware, or if I was merely perpetuating rumours or propaganda put out there by the anti-meat people.

Cattle on pasture

One letter-to-the-editor-writer Nelson Ferris was kind enough to invite me out to his farm and let me see how he does things.

One sunny morning a few weeks ago, I drove out to Hines Creek to visit his farm. When I got there, he and his wife took me out on the quad to look at the 75 head of cattle he had in his pastures.

It was calving season for them, so there were adorable little calves running around, some of them as old as one month, or as young as one day old.

The cows seemed content . They had plenty of water to drink, grass and hay to chew on, salt to lick, space to frolic and shade to lounge under.

Mr. Ferris explained to me that it was in a livestock producer’s best interest to keep his animals healthy and happy. He said that if an animal isn’t properly fed or is stressed out, production goes down. Of course, this made sense to me, but I know that not all farms are like Mr. Ferris’. I know that especially in southern Alberta there are a lot of feedlots and industrial farms. I wondered what they were like, when it came to the treatment of animals. After all, that’s where all the stories came from.

Not having the resources to actually go to an industrial farm, I had to do a lot of research. First, I used the Internet, which gave me all sorts of mixed results. Some were from the U.S., some were pro-industrial farming, some were against it, and some said it was taking over small family farms, but I couldn’t find any concrete evidence for or against cruelty in these places.

I decided I needed the information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I called veterinarians, Alberta Agriculture, the Peace Valley Beef and Forage Association, and anyone else I could think of who might know something about this.

Their answers were all the same: Unhappy animals leads to low production, which in turn leads to unhappy farmers.

Again I was told that it was in the producer’s best interests to keep their animals happy so that they produced a lot and didn’t get sick so that their meat or milk wasn’t contaminated.

Some said that in years past, there may have been instances like that, but now there is way more heavily enforced legislation in place to protect animals.

Meat inspection rules include humane treatment

According to Dr. Lloyd Keddie, a veterinarian in town, things are getting better and better. There are inspectors at every turn and slaughterhouses are getting more regulated and even starting to install security cameras for these such purposes.

“Humane and slaughter are not words that would normally go together, but now most slaughterhouses are aware of humane treatment,” he says. “Cutting corners and not doing things properly means more contamination and condemned meat, and that is not tolerated in the inspection process.”

Despite having been misinformed before, I was happy to be set straight. In fact, I was relieved.

While I’m not going to say that I was wrong about the meat industry as a whole in Canada and the United States, because there is still a part of me that still isn’t quite convinced, but I will say this: I’m happy to find out that in Alberta things aren’t as bad as I was led to believe.

I apologize to any livestock farmers who felt attacked by what I said, and I’d like to thank everyone who helped me see.

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