A recent article in The Gothernburg Times caught my eye, Animal welfare activists threaten nation’s agriculture.
Drawing largely on the platform of the industry-supported Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN), the author presents us with two options:
1) shore up agriculture as is – meaning the large factory farms that currently supply us with most of our animal protein, or
2) a vegan utopia in which animals are afforded the same rights as people, and pigs are treated like puppies.
Other articles (Farmers, activists at odds over animal treatment; Michigan’s 2 competing animal welfare proposals) echo this sentiment. A-FAN’s field director says that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is, “working to create a vegetarian society,” pointing out that less than 4% of their budget goes to regional animal shelters with the majority going to lobbying. He goes on to say, “Animal agriculture is too important to [Nebraska] to allow organizations like HSUS to take it away from us.”
I would like to propose an alternative to this dichotomy. I believe it is possible to raise farm animals in outdoor systems that are truly based on animal welfare – not merely on providing the bare essentials and subtherapeautic antibiotics. Our current dependence on factory farming has left us with more than just so-called cheap food. What we save in the store we are paying out the back end in polluted groundwater, tainted meat, rampant animal cruelty, antibiotic-resistant pathogens and and long-term health and wellness issues. High-welfare, pasture-based farms offer an alternative to this scenario, and are by no means a threat to agriculture; in fact, they may indeed provide the solution.
The farmers in the Animal Welfare Approved program adhere to standards of humane husbandry that take into account the animals’ natural behaviors. Pigs wallow, hens forage and scratch, and cows graze – all freedoms which are denied to most farm animals. As long as we limit our discussion to the merits of factory farming vs. veganism, we ignore the logical line in the middle: animal husbandry that is healthy, safe, environmentally responsible and humane. We know this is possible because the farmers in our program do it every day.