On yesterdays Intersection program on KBIA, our local public radio station, there was an interesting discussion of farm and food controversies. The program centered around Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” ad that has been all over every food and farm blog in existence.
Now, when I say it was an “interesting” discussion, I mean that in the way that cable news programs, parasitic wasps and liver disease are interesting: Nauseating.
Four panelists. One family-farmer who’s quite a fan of modern production methods, One big-ag oriented radio talker, and one vegan animal-rights activist. Oh, and that other guy, who didn’t really talk or contribute much. (at least on the radio edit that I heard)
*I have since listened to parts of the online version that I linked to above, and Wes Jamison’s contribution is excellent and provides the sorely-needed middle of an otherwise un-listenable argument among the extremes. *
Add in a heaping spoonful of false-choices, straw-men and other logical fallacies, and you’ve got yourself some infuriating radio.
On one hand you’ve got Chinn and Adams arguing that keeping pigs in gestation crates is neccessary to keep them comfortable, out of the extreme weather, and safe from “wolves.” I kid you not on that last one, Adams actually raised the menacing specter of wolves. (If the absurdity of this needs explaining, wolves do not exist in the wild in Missouri)
On the other hand, you’ve got Freidreich arguing that the only way that animals can have a nice peaceful life is if we don’t eat them after they are dead.
So here’s the thing that was missing from the conversation: there is a middle road between the two extremes. It is entirely possible that we can raise animals with an absolute minimum of suffering and still eat them when they die. This practice involves carefully examining our agricultural methods, and skillfully applying changes. We have to have the ability to realize when we are treating the problem, or treating the symptom.
Our modern agricultural practices are one of the worlds greatest exercises in investing untold resources into treating symptoms, and ignoring the actual problem.
Need to produce more cows? Simple, buy some more cows, and buy some grain to feed them. Then buy some wormer, antibiotics and hormones to treat the symptoms that come up when you take them off the grass diet that they have evolved to eat. Go ahead and buy a nice big tractor to scoop out all that manure, and a spreader to spread it over your fields. Better yet, go get a loan to build a liquid manure retention pond, and a center-pivot irrigation system to spray it on your field. It’s a lot less work that way. All the sudden you’ve got oodles of well-meaning farmers up to their eyeballs in debt, who are using tons of money, fuel and equipment to “solve” the symptoms that cattle have taken care of naturally by themselves for tens of thousands of years before we were around to care for them.
I start off being angry with the folks like Chinn and Adams, but I end up just sorta feeling sorry for them. They’re naturally defensive about the practices that their industries have told them are right and neccessary. Rightfully so, but that doesn’t change the fact that without embracing the criticism from folks like Freidreich we’d risk losing our compassion for our animals altogether.