The following is a Focus on Agriculture column I wrote for the American Farm Bureau:
Farmers and ranchers might not consider themselves animal welfare activists, but no one cares more about the treatment of animals. Who else gets up in the middle of the night to check if any new calves were born? Who else wakes up at daybreak every morning, 365 days a year, to feed their livestock before enjoying their own breakfast?
The dedication and animal husbandry that has always been associated with agriculture is outstanding. Ranchers care about their livestock not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s their way of life. Healthy animals are the most productive, so it makes economic sense for producers to hold their animals’ wellbeing as a top priority. But, there’s a lot more to it than that. While agriculture is a business, livestock producers don’t pick their career path to get rich quick. They also love the rural lifestyle, the land and the animals.
Farmers and ranchers attend workshops, read literature and seek veterinary advice to ensure the wellbeing and comfort of their animals. Agricultural organizations work with producers to continually provide professional development in this area. For example, the National Milk Producers Federation, along with Dairy Management Inc. and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, recently provided dairy farms across the country with barn posters listing, in English and Spanish, the 10 top considerations when culling and transporting dairy animals.
Industry organizations work with scientists to develop these handling recommendations. The United Egg Producers boasts more than 80 percent voluntary participation in its UEP certified animal welfare program based on recommendations from an independent scientific advisory committee, which included representatives from the Agriculture Department, scientists and academics.
Similarly, any regulations regarding animal production should be based on peer-reviewed scientific research that evaluates economic feasibility. Unfortunately, groups that oppose modern livestock production practices are notorious for employing emotional appeals to push animal welfare-related bills. Often their ultimate goal isn’t evident when campaigning for these bills. Too often, people hear their stories but are not informed how proposed regulations would negatively affect farmers and ranchers.
By raising healthy animals, farmers and ranchers produce healthy food for American families and others around the world. Unnecessary regulation – based on emotion instead of science – makes food production less efficient, ultimately leading to higher food prices for consumers. Adding unnecessary costs to U.S. production also will increase the amount of food imported from other countries that often have an inferior record on food safety and animal well-being.
As consumers and voters, it’s important to distinguish the real-life accounts of farmers and ranchers, who take great care in providing for their livestock, from the emotional appeals of people not actively involved in animal care. Look for information provided by animal scientists and veterinarians. Most importantly, listen to producers’ stories. They’re the ones closest to the farm or ranch, and their daily care of their livestock and poultry proves animal welfare and providing safe, healthy food is always on their minds.
A Colorado native and graduate of Kansas State University, Chelsea Good is a public relations intern at the American Farm Bureau Federation.