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Love vs. Logic in the Animal Rights Debate … Is it Really that Simple?

dog, pet, animal rightsOn one side of the animal welfare debate is the highly effective, emotionally charged campaign by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to promote its agenda to reform livestock housing.

On the other side stands the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), whose goal is to encourage a rational, scientific and non-emotional approach to improving the conditions imposed on animals through factory farming methods.

As the AVMA readily admits, the Humane Society does a much better job garnering public support for its position. The truth is, evoking emotion around animal welfare issues is much easier to accomplish than generating public interest in a scientific discussion of the pros and cons of reform measures.

However, intelligent decisions about issues of animal welfare cannot be made fueled only by emotion. Scientific solutions, no matter how tedious and unglamorous they seem, are the best way to achieve sustainable reform which takes into account all potential consequences.
Dr. Becker's Comments:
I expect the animal welfare debate to rage on indefinitely. There’s really no middle ground, only polarization at both ends of the argument.

Animal rights organizations are not particularly interested in the concerns of farmers, ranchers, and others in the agriculture industry. And while it would be ideal to allow every farm animal to live in a free-range, natural setting, the goal is unrealistic.

There isn’t enough farm and ranch land to go around, and the agriculture industry would be put out of business, unable to absorb the increased costs associated with this method of farming.

The people who make their living raising animals for food are fearful of any type of reform initiative that would make it more difficult and costly to do business. Many in the agriculture industry view organizations like the HSUS as ignorant about the real meaning of animal welfare as it pertains to livestock raised for food.

Unfortunately, the conditions in which factory farm animals are forced to live and die are often horrendous. And the food products that result aren’t all that healthy for consumers, either. Under the circumstances, it would appear it is the agriculture industry that doesn’t understand the meaning, or importance, of animal welfare.

On one side you have politically backed, sweeping reform initiatives which play to the emotions and feelings of guilt of consumers of animal products, animal lovers, and the general public.

On the other side, you have legitimate concerns about the future of the agriculture industry and the nation’s food supply.

Is the Situation Really as Hopeless as This?

In my opinion, no!

If we, as citizens and consumers, focus on what we can do in our own lives and communities to bring about the kind of change we want to see, anything is possible.

At a minimum, if we “walk our talk,” we can sleep soundly at night knowing we’re not hypocrites or contributors to the problem of farm animal abuse.

Educate Yourself About the Realities of Factory Farming

Corporations have taken over family farming operations, turning them into factory farms. Profits are made by raising large numbers of animals quickly and inexpensively. The animals function as production units rather than creatures with species specific physical and psychological needs.

A typical factory farm houses hundreds to thousands of animals, either indoors in cages or other confined spaces, or outdoors in dirt lots.

Animals spend their lives in small, confined spaces, often without the room to move around freely.

Factory farm animals are given antibiotics and vitamins to prevent the diseases that would normally overtake them living in such confined, densely populated situations.

Animal cruelty is practiced as a means to control behavior that results from crowded, unnatural living conditions. One example: the beaks of just-hatched chickens are seared off to prevent pecking, in a common practice known as de-beaking.

If you’re interested in learning more, there is a vast amount of information available on the Internet about the issues of animal welfare and factory farming. A visit to a factory farm, if you can arrange it, would give you a first-hand look at the operation and the animal housing areas.

How Healthy is the Food Produced on Factory Farms?

Factory farmed cattle are fed grain instead of grass. Grain-fed livestock have more omega-6 fat (a factor in heart disease) and less omega-3 fat than both wild animals and grass-fed livestock. You eat what they eat, more or less.

Factory farmed animals are also treated with large quantities of vaccines, antibiotics and other potentially toxic chemicals to prevent the illnesses associated with their crowded, confined living spaces.

The animals are also given synthetic hormones and protein supplements to promote fast weight gain. Measurable amounts of these hormones turn up in humans who eat factory-raised beef.

Again, if you want to learn more about the food you’re putting in your body, there’s a wealth of information available on the Internet and elsewhere about the quality of the animal and other food products you eat.

Aligning Your Beliefs and Actions

This is where you, as an individual and consumer, can make a difference.

  • If you have no objection to factory farming and buy factory farmed animal products, your actions are aligned with your beliefs.
  • If you object to factory farm practices but continue to buy factory farmed animal products at your local grocery store, you’re supporting the industry and your actions are out of alignment with your beliefs.
  • If you object to factory farming and buy organic meats from local farmers, your actions are aligned with your beliefs.
  • If you object to the use of animals for food and you don’t buy or eat animal products, your actions are aligned with your beliefs.

What Else Can You Do?

Voting with your wallet or pocketbook is the best way to send a message to the factory farm industry that there is a market for ethically raised livestock.

Support small local farmers in your area, and visit their operations to see for yourself what conditions their animals are raised in.

Click here for a list of sustainable agriculture groups in your area. Many of these groups hold meetings at which you can meet local farmers.

If there are no local food sources in your area, another option is to purchase grass-fed, organic beef and other free-range organic meats at a health food store.

When ordinary citizens concerned with animal welfare align their actions with their beliefs and vote with their pocketbooks, the agricultural industry will eventually have no choice but to address issues important to consumers.