Archive for June, 2014

How is a modern livestock facility like a factory? Photo source: www.ars.usda.gov

Is a modern livestock facility really like a factory?
Photo source: http://www.ars.usda.gov

Recently I shared an article on Facebook about some surprising nutritional benefits of eggs. In the discussion that ensued, one commenter mentioned that she had concerns about how the majority of eggs in the U.S. are “farmed in factories.”

I felt an all-too familiar rush of emotions when I read her comment. First I felt frustration and disappointment that someone I knew and liked was expressing beliefs that run counter to what I know first-hand. Next came the sadness and discouragement: If smart, compassionate, open-minded people feel the way she does about how food is produced, modern agriculture may be in serious trouble.

For many people, the (conveniently alliterative) phrase “factory farm” probably conjures images straight out of a Mercy for Animals undercover video: dark, scary buildings, abusive behavior, animals seemingly pleading for help. The inference is that factories are big, dirty, and run by thoughtless, faceless corporations; therefore factory farms are by association large, unclean, and managed by people who care little for the welfare of animals. The phrase “factory farm” is supposed to make one shudder with revulsion coupled with pity for those pitiful, mistreated animals. By and large, it works.

I’ve been fortunate to visit dozens of modern farms and many factories. In my experience, modern farms ARE a lot like factories. Not, however, in the ways anti-animal agriculture activists want us to think.

How factories and farms are similar:

  • Modern U.S. factories are bright, clean places where safety, efficiency, and environmental responsibility are paramount. This is also true of modern livestock facilities.
  • Modern factories are run by people who care deeply about the health, welfare, and morale of their employees. Add “and animals” to the end of this statement and it is also true of modern livestock facilities.
  • Some factories and farms are large. Some are small. Size of an operation does not correlate with quality of care. Both large and small operations can be well or poorly-managed.

How factories and farms are different:

  • Factory owners don’t live at their factories. Most farmers live on their farms. Whatever happens to the environment around a livestock farm happens at or very near the home of a farm family.
  • Farmers are raising live animals, not building widgets. Animals can get sick. Widgets don’t. Animals have brains and nerve endings. Widgets don’t. Responsible farmers are acutely aware of and attend to the needs of their livestock at all hours of the day and night.

Livestock, like any other animals, thrive when their needs are met. Providing milk, meat, or eggs is a livestock farmer’s livelihood. Mistreating his or her animals only threatens that livelihood. As a dairy farm friend of mine once said, “Being cruel to your animals is like taking your paycheck and shredding it in a blender.”

Income aside, farmers are no more likely than any other subset of the population to be cruel individuals. When we hear about instances of child abuse, we are rightfully horrified but know the vast majority of parents are not abusive. Thus, if we hear about cases of livestock abuse in so-called “factory farms,” why leap to the assumption that all conventional livestock producers mistreat their animals?

Pass the eggs, please.

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the June 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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