Thoughts on Humane Animal Handling


Earlier this week, #AgChat hosted a discussion over Humane Animal Handling, including third-party audited verification of handling practices for farms and ranches. I found it unusual to have a topic this closely related to actual daily livestock production, so I made a little extra effort to join in. The archives of the discussion are posted here under the week of February 1.

I submitted a question that was covered in the discussion asking “What is the best way to build bridges and convey the message to concerned consumers that Farmers/Ranchers already care about “Humane Animal Care?” Be sure to take a look at that conversation. Of course, the recommendation from the third-party verification program represented said we just need to be certified through them. (genius right?!) The majority of the responses suggested transparency and education through face to face communication and social networking. This is all great and good, and I am already working to be transparent in sharing my daily experiences on the farm and ranch through this blog and other resources. My problem with this subject is I do not go around my farm everyday thinking “What can I do to care for my animals more humanely?” Providing proper care and handling for my livestock is just what I do. It is my lifestyle, my job, the way of doing things that I was taught to do right. And why should I have to justify that to others because a few bad apples made their way to the spotlight?

That is just the problem. A few bad apples can ruin the whole bunch. Through YouTube videos, films, books, and even television commercials, groups out to discredit livestock production have been able to instill that distrust in American consumers about how their food is produced. And we, as genuine American Farmers and Ranchers, have to play defense for something that never even came to mind for most all of us.

During this discussion on #AgChat, a few questions came to mind. The first:

Where did food production go so wrong that we require 3rd party verification to obtain consumer confidence?

Like I said earlier, how to treat our animals more humanely is not something that we are thinking about, it is what we already do and have been doing for quite some time now. But somewhere along the line, someone messed things up for us. Where did we go wrong? When did we lose that distrust? That leads me to my second thought:

I have had no interaction with a “Certified Humane” audit program, but think it is sad we cannot be trusted to take care of our own livestock and livelihood.

When did it become necessary for a third-party to audit our practices to ensure consumers we are doing our jobs correctly? This just blows my mind, and I hope I am not the only one that has a problem with this.

Farmers and Ranchers are the Food and Animal professionals. In college, my courses included everything from chemistry to biology, accounting, and even nutrition in hopes that we may have a better understanding of the overall picture of animal production. This does not even account for the rigorous food science, nutrition, genetics, and species specific classes we have within the animal science department. Even those farmers and ranchers who did not have an opportunity for further education have an understanding of these topics through the school of hard knocks. No class can ever teach me to understand many of the things on the ranch, until I am there to witness it myself.

We learn about raising livestock through the School of Life because Farmers and Ranchers are out there with the animals on the best and worst of days. No amount of PR or transparency can ever fully communicate that to the American public, if they do not give us some amount of trust. Without third-party verification.

So long story short, here I am at 1 AM, sleep schedule messed up because I am down with the flu, wondering what I can do, as a cattleman and beef producer, to better gain the trust of American consumers. Tell me I am not alone in thinking this.

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9 Comments

  1. “Where did food production go so wrong that we require 3rd party verification to obtain consumer confidence?”

    The day we collectively outsourced our marketing to third parties, and even fifth and sixth parties in some cases, we started the sequence that would lead to where we’re at, in my opinion. One of the problems with the food system in my opinion is that it’s become anonymous. Consumers don’t see us when they walk into a grocery store, they see corporate food processors. In the old days an urban consumer bought his meat from a butcher, a butcher that had bought an animal direct from a livestock market maybe even that morning. The animal at that point had only passed through a few hands, there was a level of trust involved, if you didn’t like the butcher you went across the street to his competitor.
    But then we went to large scale animal processing, abattoirs filled with cheap unskilled immigrant labor (usually eastern europeans back then). The chain from farm to market to consumer became much longer, and much more anonymous, and much less skilled. What did we get from that set up? Upton Sinclair and The Jungle. Yes, the Jungle was tabloid sensationalism, but it’s effect can’t be denied. It has set the tone for animal welfare and meat processing discussions for a century. We can see those same themes playing out today.
    I feel a 1,000 word screed coming so I’ll cut it short and leave it at this. As long as we outsource our marketing and processing to third party vendors, we will be subject to a disconnect and consumers wanting third party verification. I’m not saying every beef producer needs to sell out of his freezer, I’m just saying that it’s a trade off. We should see it as an opportunity instead of an insult.

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  2. I look down at the black and blue marks on legs, the ankle lightly sprained from a gate rolling over it, and stiff knee. I sacrifice my own body to care and feed my cattle making sure they are doing the very best and have more than they need. Ranching is not the only job I can get, but the only job that feeds my soul. It will not take a third party long to realize that the only thing that is not treated humanely on my ranch is me. I pay money to get to do this. How did consumers get so mislead?

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  3. Not alone. The “humane certification” place – I couldn’t get answers during chat and emailed questions to the address on their website – still no answer. So as far as I can figure – a video and blog showing what we do does more than paying someone to do a video and blog of what we do. Third party verification can be a good idea – but when it’s “give me money and you’re humane” it seems a scam…especially when contact is not answered.

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    1. Agreed with you on that. I was attending a county Cattlemen’s Assoc mtg with my dad a few years back when State Extension was first trying to encourage producers to buy EID tags and enroll in the source/age program. One of the first questions asked by producers was “If I buy this ‘special’ tag and invest the labor to implement your system, what premium can you guarantee me for my efforts?” The extension specialist’s only answer was “I can’t.” I know it’s a different topic than humane handling, but I think still along the same lines.

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  4. Steve Cornett had some interesting thoughts on ID systems, both pro and con in a recent piece. http://www.agweb.com/blog/Out_to_Pasture_149/trace_beef_not_cattle/

    I did like his thoughts on how it might be better for beef vs chicken and pork, but my only problem is if the bar code on a steak shows a picture of Ryan’s operation, are they merely using his picturesque location and good practices to white wash the rest of the chain in the way that steak came to market?

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