Recently on Yahoo.com there was an article provided by Prevention magazine “Are we cruel to our food?” that listed the eight “cruelest” foods (http://health.yahoo.net/articles/nutrition/photos/8-cruelest-foods-youeat#0). Not surprisingly, the vegetarian-leaning magazine includes beef, veal, pork and chicken in those cruel foods.
Written by Mandy Oaklander, the article has the tagline, “Why some of your favorite dinners are downright brutal.” Ouch. I go on a lot of feedlots, ranches and dairies, and brutality is not a word I would use to describe how they are caring for animals.
It’s explained that “Many male calves are destined to become veal…” not differentiating that those are dairy animals, not beef breeds. Oaklander assumes the readers are experts on beef production when she conspiratorially asks “How well is your cow treated before it turns into your burger patty? Not great, you think, since you know how lax the laws are regarding factory farms.” Wow, that’s a pretty big assumption that the readers would know anything about regulations on any kind of farm to begin with, and they would “know” those regulations are lax.
Others disagree about the cruelty factor. “Animal welfare is a cornerstone to beef cattle operations,” says Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, from Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute. “Animal welfare is animal husbandry. Ranchers and farmers continue to strive to provide animal comfort, nutrition, preventive health programs and many other management items that directly improve the health and well-being of cattle.”
Thomson says the industry has worked diligently on cattle handling and cattle facilities to decrease fear or distress when cattle are handled for marketing or animal health reasons. Ranchers and farmers continue to receive animal welfare training through the Beef Quality Assurance program. “Also, we are now utilizing the on farm BQA self-assessment tool for veterinarians and cattle producers to observe animal welfare practices on the ranch, feedlot or stocker operations,” Thomson explains.
“Nearly 85% of the cattle on feed in Kansas are housed in feedlots that have been assessed with the new on-farm BQA assessment tool,” he says. “The results show that Kansas cattlemen do an outstanding job of providing care to their cattle.” And these programs are not just limited to Kansas, but are being put in place nationwide.
Prevention’s Oaklander points to one example to make her case about cruelty, the abuse incident at California’s Central Valley Meat Co. I agree that it absolutely was an egregious case of abuse, but again, isolated incidences shouldn’t be used to paint the whole industry.
Her remedy for avoiding these “cruel” animal proteins is to “go local, humane and buy your beef at a farmer’s market.”
I’ve got nothing against farmer’s markets – I love to cook and I love to browse around farmer’s markets when I can, but I don’t buy my beef or pork there because of the higher price for productions systems that I don’t see additional value in. If people want to buy organic, natural, grass-fed, whatever, more power to them. We are fortunate in this great nation to have those choices. I personally have faith in our production systems having been on scores of the aforementioned feedlots, ranches and dairies all over the country that I believe are producing a quality, safe and wholesome product with animal welfare and husbandry practices in place.
Do I think the industry can do a better job with animal welfare? Sure. There are always improvements to be made, but I believe we have made great strides. Animal welfare, well-being and handling are on the agenda at just about every veterinary or livestock meeting these days. It is top-of-mind and being addressed up and down the food system.
So you can read into Oaklander’s article what you will, but I think her broad-brush approach is a little misleading for Prevention’s consumer readers.