I was struggling with what to blog about, between ADSA news and new ARS research, but "Anonymous" has provided me with a far more exciting topic. Thank him/her later, but for now please read his/her comments under my September 8th blog and then read my response. As always, I accept comments and am willing to entertain discussion, but fellow readers please don't make me do all the work. You too can talk about what you think and how you want to respond to comments such as these. You'll also probably want to excuse a few typos, I'll try to edit them out as I find them.
"Anonymous, per your comments on Sept. 8th (this didn't fit into the box and you didn't provide me an email address or identity to respond to)
"It is not the actual ideas listed in this bill which are repulsive. Rather, it is the fact that this kind of legislated welfare hasn't been shown to benefit either farmers or animals yet. The wording in this bill is shockingly similar to that of some wordings in Prop 2 of California. No surprise, really, since the sponsoring Rep. is from California, but the true surprise comes in the fact that what happens when legislation similar to this is passed is that there is no true progress made on behalf of animal welfare. Of course, this doesn't matter when the agents behind this bill are only interested in the elimination of global animal product consumption and not in the well-being of actual animals. However, for the rest of us who are interested in consuming the wholesome, nutritious protein products offered by livestock, the bill represents many other problems.
"Bills that merely state the limitations on confinements operations as subjective measurements such as "free to turn around" or "able to stretch limbs" eventually accomplish just what they specify. Nothing. The same few "bad producers" out there who taint the reputation of thousands of other good farmers every day are the ones who will push to the limits such pathetic laws as ones suggesting that an animal be able to turn around. Compared to other legitimate documents being considered among Congressmen and Congresswomen, well, who're we kidding? Why would we compare them in the first place. Sure, these animals can be allowed to turn around, but wouldn't you rather create a situation in which the animal was more COMFORTABLE? Research shows, for example, that pigs actually prefer the seclusion of tight pens in some instances because they don't want to be bothered by other pigs in their pen or group. Will forcing the ability to turn around solve the problem of hormonal gestating sows and gilts (female pigs) that exhibit more cruelty to each other than humans have ever shown them? Will the use of larger cages (or even no cages) protect the hens from the truth about "pecking orders" which proponents of cage-free systems continue to ignore and conveniently forget to mention at their pep rallies? The answer is rhetorical, but for anyone who missed it, NO.
"I'm not saying that the current conditions are perfect. Otherwise, I wouldn't be involved in research from which we hope to gain a better understanding of how to raise livestock in a manner which better suits their needs as well as ours. Nothing is perfect, otherwise there would eventually be no purpose for research, and we would not make progress in the world. Yet I do like to consume protein products and they are a healthy addition to my diet because I consume them in correct serving proportions. So this puts me into a position where I must justify my feelings about caring for animals with my need for consumption.
"If you look at the past compared with the present, you can see that we have made leaps and bounds of progress in the way of animal health and husbandry. These cages and confinement were not spurned into existence by a greedy desire for profit as you suggest, but rather a desire for reduced death and morbidity loss. I challenge you to name me one farmer who likes to lose animals to injury and disease. It's not pretty, nor fun, nor is it specific to any type of livestock system. Through greater control on the growing environments of the animals in a system, we have gained production and profit through doing what farmers have always done best - caring for animals and helping them to grow and produce, which leads to more people being fed around the globe. This is the same goal that farmers across America share today. Every day, people go hungry and the increased production offers a way of providing protein products to many under-privileged households that would otherwise not be able to afford the nutrition they are provided. Because animals consume feeds not edible to humans, they are a great way to continue producing protein products for future generations as we reach increased food consumption needs.
"With this in mind, I think it is imperative to consider what this bill will practically accomplish and what better goals might be set instead. With a bill expanding the size of cages to allow for freer movement, the uneducated individual would naturally assume that the animals would be happier, healthier and thus the individual would feel less guilt in consuming an animal that has led a better life. Despite this imagery which has been distributed in mass mailings and pamphlets worldwide, this is not necessarily the case. Chickens in larger cages are certainly not happier nor healthier after being pecked to death by their neighbors. Nor are calves' stress levels going to be reduced after being removed from the safety from weather and disease transmission within their individual hutches or tie-outs during a critical stage of their life (Interestingly enough, per your comment about veal calves, they're going to all be group-housed by 2017 anyhow, because we're going to make that work). What seems like cruelty, tight quarters or seclusion was almost always begun originally for the benefit of the animals. Now with new ideas about how to best care for animals, research on this issue is inconclusive and highly conditional still.
"Are there a few bad egg producers in the clutch that require legislation to force them to properly care for their animals? No, because those bad eggs still won't do anything differently after the legislation except clean up their act for a few audits. It's just like animal rights protesters. Is every single one of them a nude maniac that does their best to force their opinions down peoples' throats between jail terms? Of course not, but they sure do give people a bad name, don't they?
"Therefore, the legislation you touted in your comments will not actually accomplish in all cases the reform that you appear to desire. Instead, this is a perfect example of radical rights group-backed legislation aimed at the eventual removal of a critical source of nutrients from our food system. They come forth with cheap articles praising the new cage-free systems or the larger cage for group-caged layers, but without an actual interest in benefiting animals and despite proof of any success from past legislative initiatives, are you still willing to believe them? I am not, and I am saying that this is a childish way to go about trying to enact change in this country. Further, I am reiterating that national legislation has not proven beneficial to animals in the past (reference the plight of horses now that HSUS got their way with the Horse Slaughter legislation - big names such as Temple Grandin and PETA publicly disagree with this law). Lastly, I am saying that we need to hold off on these mass-legislative movements until we can really honestly say that we have found what's best for the animals, because isn't that what both of us are after in the end? If the animal-rights groups were truly after helping the animals, then they would agree. There are lots of people out researching how to improve the lives of animals on farms, they just need the chance to find the answers before someone goes and ruins the lives of millions of animals by pushing for laws which don't end up helping improve anything. Give research a chance to find the answers before you force failure upon everyone."