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The myth of rural ethics

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

I just posted a comment in response to a blog post on the Iowa Farm Bureau blog. I doubt that the comment will get approved, so I thought I’d post it here as well.

Here’s the paragraph that caught my eye:

Not only are too many suburban-dwelling kids like my daughter removed from the character-building value of the sweaty, dirty, heavy-lifting jobs which are a part of farm life, they’re uneducated on modern food production. How can we be surprised when they are seduced or recruited by animal activists who claim food today comes from cruel practices or polluters? Many kids have never been on a farm to gain the experience to discern the truth themselves.

Here’s my comment:

I grew up on a small homestead farm in rural Vermont. I watched cows and goats give birth. I saw pigs and cows killed and then butchered. I helped with the smoking of their meat. I helped in the garden weeding and picking vegetables that we ate and canned and pickled.
All of that experience led me to realize that there was no justification for killing these animals. I experienced looking into their eyes in that moment of death. I saw how they wanted to live and how they cared for their young. We were getting enough food from the vegetables we were growing, why did we need to raise these animals like this and then kill them?
I think if people allow themselves to openly and honestly experience the lives of the animals they are “raising” they will gain an greater appreciation of those lives. And a greater respect – a real respect, one that enables us to take the great and noble step of letting them live their own lives.
I’ve also spent time on farm animal sanctuaries, where I have been able to be with animals who are not destined to be loaded on a slaughter truck or get shot in the head. The experience is far different, and I remember those days with happiness. The sadness of killing an animal to eat is not necessary, and can be completely and easily avoided through responsible choices. How can any suffering we inflict be justified when we are doing it unnecessarily?

Family farms are factory farms

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Today Erik Marcus wrote a post about a pig farm company in North Carolina that has declared bankruptcy. The”farm,” Coharie Hog Farms, is the 22nd largest pork producer in the United States, with 33,000 sows. The original news story states that “the company remains held in family hands.”

Some people like to say “family farms, not factory farms,” but in reality factory farms and factory farms are not opposites. Many farms are family-owned, but still large-scale operations that confine animals indoors, in pens, and don’t allow them to engage in ordinary, natural behaviours. “Family farms” vs. “factory farms” is really a false dichotomy.


Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to write a post about this message I got on twitter the other day. But, since it was sent to me publicly, I guess it’s ok to write about it and make it more public.

For some time I’ve been conversing on twitter with a pig and soy farmer from Iowa, who goes by the name foodprovider, about animal rights and animal agriculture. We’re quite obviously on opposite sides of the issue. He is a large-scale farmer of pigs, and supports the use of confinement systems, etc.

Anyway, after this tweet:

If they don’t have anything to hide then why?: Farm Bureaus Warn About Undercover Investigations

He responded:

Family farmers R not hiding wht they R doing. R protecting R animals. We dont wnt 2 exploit R animals. U shld understand that.

Now, normally I kind of chuckle when people say things like this, but for some reason this got under my skin a little bit. I mean, what do the words he is saying mean?

First off, note that he considers his farm a “family farm”. We need to be careful and not fall into the trap of “family farms vs. factory farms”. Many intensive confinement operations are owned by a single family and run by a handful of people. With intensive farming, this is very possible. I don’t know if he is part of a larger farm co-operative or if he has contracts to only sell his pigs to a larger company. But, do keep in mind that family farm does not mean anything more than that it is owned by a family.

Then he says that they are not hiding anything. This could be relatively true. He does have a picture of a pig in a sow stall as his twitter avatar. [[note: since posting this, Foodprovider has changed his avatar photo]] But he would not point me to any other photos of his farm, and I’d bet he doesn’t have video footage available of the artificial insemination process, castration, tooth trimming, or even of the rows of confined pigs. It’s incredibly difficult to get footage of the insides of these farms.

If they really aren’t hiding anything, then why aren’t they showing everything?

Next he claims they are protecting their animals. I guess he must mean that they are protecting them from outside diseases and infections (from uninvited guests sneaking in to take pictures). Which I guess makes sense since he needs to protect his “investment”. Protecting the animals from potential infection by confining them on concrete and never letting them see the sun or root around in the dirt seems pretty extreme to me. It would be like putting your children in bubbles so they won’t get sick.

But now it gets really weird. He says that they don’t want to exploit their animals. I’m not sure I even understand what he means by this. When we raise an animal to kill them we are exploiting them. We are taking advantage of them in a hugely unequal relationship. The pigs get nothing out of this except for 6 months of living in one single spot, getting castrated without anesthesia, having their tails cut off, then being packed into trucks and slaughtered. How is that not exploiting them?

I can only guess that he’s not aware of what the word “exploit” defines it so:

1. to utilize, esp. for profit; turn to practical account: to exploit a business opportunity.
2. to use selfishly for one’s own ends: employers who exploit their workers.

Any kind of animal agriculture exploits animals. It’s what animal agriculture is.

And no, I don’t understand it at all.