Every day it is inferred that animal agriculture abuses their animals. According to many websites and “people on the internet” producers like me are cold, callous and only in it to make a buck. That is a tough pill for me to swallow because in my life the exact opposite is true.
My life revolves around my animals. My Parents raised me to respect, love and care for animals because they are our life and it’s the right thing to do. Their needs ALWAYS were met before ours. The better we treat our animals the better they do, they are healthy when they are happy. Our cowdogs live in our homes and eat better than most people. Our cattle see the doctor more than we do. Needless to say when people criticize me about my animals, it hurts. They are my reason for being.
99.99% of the people I interact with daily care deeply for their animals. Our animals are the reason we eat, sleep and breathe. Our lives revolve around them and their welfare. When people accuse me of animal abuse because of something they read in a book or saw on the internet, when they in fact, have never seen my animals in real life, I lose my stuffing. It is my Achilles heel, I go from ‘let’s talk about it, Megan’ to ‘yeah, you pretty much suck at life, Megan’ and generally completely shut down. In other words I jump in the mud with the pigs, and as the saying goes, the pigs enjoy it and we all get dirty.
This brings me to the topic of ag gag laws. Many states are writing and passing these laws. I was lucky enough to speak to Annette Sweeney, who authored the “ag gag” or Ag Protection Bill in Iowa. I’m going to make a confession before I continue to tell you about my conversation with Ms. Sweeney. Before I spoke with her, I had not read the actual legislation, and did not know what I was talking about. After my conversation with Ms. Sweeney I read more about it, and I have to say, I agree with her Ag Protection Bill.
Ms. Sweeney explained to me “the legislation is to stop people from lying on their job applications and if abuse is recorded it needs to be turned in immediately not to wait for 4 to 6 months and then release it to the media and not to the proper authorities to stop the abuse. When we see abuse we want it stopped right away”. I agree with her. I’ve heard horror stories from other producers who hired undercover animal rights activists that have actually created abuse just to have something to film. I realize those cases are rare, but it happens. Just as animal abuse does happen. The fact is it is easy to manipulate film and pictures, anyone with a smartphone knows that. Sometimes I fear that my full-transparency will lead to a manipulated picture of my ranch that depicts abuse, but I take that risk.
I think the pejorative term “ag gag” coined by Mark Bittman makes the agriculture industry look like we have something to hide. When in fact all Ms. Sweeney is trying to do is to make it illegal for people to lie on job applications and turn in abuse within 48 hours. These are things that a reasonable person should adhere to anyway.
Often when these animal abuse videos are released its weeks or months after the initial abuse, and after much promotion by whatever group took the video. That isn’t ok. All abuse needs to be reported immediately. If it’s a legitimate video, you don’t need to build more of a case. I often question the motive of animal rights activists when they take so long to report abuse. I’m a true believer in full transparency. I think if we made available everything, from pasture to slaughterhouse our consumers would have nothing to fear (knowledge negates fear) and animal activists would have little to attack us for (don’t get me wrong, they will always find or create something, some activist believe raising animals for food is inherently bad).
I’ve worked off the ranch full-time for the past three years. I work in an office building close to a diner and a homeless shelter. I’ve seen more animal abuse in the past three years from the window of my office than in 30 years of working in production animal agriculture. In fact I’ve been subpoenaed as a witness more times than I would like to admit; everything from little old ladies leaving their poodles in hot locked cars, to meth-heads setting their pit-pulls on other meth-heads, to teenagers jumping on the heads of their ‘pet’ for “training” purposes. I would love to see the public’s same level of interest regarding the abuse of companion animals compared to farm animals.
I do not hesitate to report this abuse. It’s the least I can do for the voiceless animal. 99% of the time nothing happens. The cops or animal control won’t come. The cycle of abuse continues. I do my due diligence though, I take pictures and videos and often share on my social media. I live in a small town and once people realize that a community member has seen their abuse, SOMETIMES that helps. My other option is to ignore it, and that is not who I am. Often I value animals more than people (probably because I am a slightly anti-social only child whose best friends growing up were my animals).
What I have found is my transparency and willingness to share and report abuse often comes back to haunt me – especially from within the ag industry. For example when I shared my blog post about my custom exempt beef slaughter my state beef council posted this :
But wait. Let’s ask a consumer.
** All these comments are from this blog http://thebeefjar.com/2011/07/13/wordless-wednesday-a-beef-harvest-2/
I think more and more consumers are starting to feel like Ms. Atkinson. In the past five years, I’ve seen a food movement grow. People want to get back on the farms and ranches and understand the how’s and what’s of their food. Farmers and ranchers are starting to open their barn doors and tell our stories, and I cannot be happier about that. As farmers and ranchers it is our JOB to tell consumers what we are doing. And as an industry, we’ve done a crappy job. BUT we are getting better, just check out all the farmers and ranchers on social media now, we want to talk and share!
I believe part of our problem is us, our industry. Instead of choosing to admit we aren’t perfect, we get defensive or attack each other. I know I get super defensive, I even admit in the beginning of this blog. Animal abuse happens. How we chose to deal and share that abuse will ultimately decide our fate. I am pleased to see websites like See It? Stop it! shared by my friend and fellow producer Wanda Schott Patsche. Websites and organizations like this, will help us police our own.
I had something happen to me last week, that drove this point home for me. Again through the window of my office I saw a neglected dog in the back of a pick-up barking his head off, it was very sad and not fun to listen to. I posted to my social media and found out the owner of this dog has some history with neglect. My therapist confirmed that abuse and neglect are the same thing. I was deeply frustrated with the lack of care our local police and animal control agencies have over animal abuse in town and asked for advice on how to deal with this in the future:
Imagine my surprise and shock when a friend, that knew me in real life and also earned an ag degree and works in agriculture, posted this on my comment:
Leanne illustrates my point perfectly. Instead of dealing with the bad apples or the real issue at hand, our industry will turn on each other. It reminded me of when the Butte County Cattlemen ostracized my family for turning in a neighbor that was abusing his cattle, instead of dealing with the issue and the bad apple, they got mad that we “turned on our own“. In my world “our own” do not abuse or neglect animals. I do not want to be apart of a group or be friends with people who won’t do the right thing.
This is why we need legislation to protect us (this is a very rare time when I will argue in favor of more laws or regulations). Until the agricultural industry openly addresses transparency to our consumers and policing our own, we will continue to be our own worst enemy by bickering internally over these issues. A divided and angry industry leaves us further vulnerable to attacks from those who do not understand or want to understand what we do. Fellow Aggies, join me in support of agricultural protection, transparency and policing our own – let’s do the right thing.
For other thoughts on this topic please check out Dairy Carrie http://dairycarrie.com/2013/04/16/aggag/
and The Irish Vs. http://irishvs.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/the-irish-vs-ag-gag-laws/