INDUSTRY MUST PROMOTE BEEF POSITIVELY TO CONSUMER

by: Stephen B. Blezinger, Ph.D., PAS

Part 3

This is the final installment of this series where we have been discussing factors that are affecting beef consumption in the United States. You'll recall that in the previous articles we have looked at health issues and the vegetarian movements. In this issue we will discuss the effect the animal rights and welfare movement and groups have on the beef industry. This is a very controversial topic and produces a great deal of emotion on both sides of the discussion, especially since so much of the information generated by these groups is not based on fact, is hugely sensationalized. It is also very attractive to the news media because it does produce a “story,” albeit incorrect in many situations, that generates interest by an uninformed consuming public.

Some Background

There are literally hundreds of animal rights groups in the US and around the world. Some of these groups do, in fact, perform a useful service and work toward reducing legitimate cases of animal cruelty or attempt to improve the living or production conditions in which a variety of animals live. Some individuals have made this their life work, such as Dr. Temple Grandin who has been a pioneer in research, design and development of animal handling and care facilities, including applications designed to make animal handling in processing facilities more humane.

Other groups have been much more extreme, and have taken an almost terroristic approach to their agenda of reducing or eliminating the use of animals in the food supply chain, for research, etc. They are, in many cases, well funded, have access to media (the internet has proven a HUGE asset to these folks) and, unfortunately in many cases do not seem to concern themselves with the facts. A very big problem that the beef industry has here (and its not just beef, the same issues affect the swine, poultry and dairy industries), is that these groups play towards peoples' emotions. An example of this can be found at http://www.veganpeace.org/animal_cruelty/beef.htm, a website set up by a vegan group which attempts to illustrate cruelty to beef animals as a common occurrence – something with which EVERY beef producer should take issue. More on this group below. Another method they use is that they take advantage of the fact that huge numbers of consumers have absolutely NO idea how animals are raised and managed for the food supply chain. The beef and other livestock industries have taken steps to promote their products in more favorable lights. The problem we commonly have is that for the industry to produce a commercial or a website that illustrates the work, care and effort that goes into effective, efficient beef cattle management, it is not “sensational” (i.e. an explosion in Iraq, a train crash, an earthquake, a worker at a packing plant kicking or electric prodding a downed animal to attempt to get it up and moving). These types of stories or web pages don't sell copies or attract viewers.

Who These Groups Are

As mentioned earlier there are hundred of animal rights groups. Some of the more common of these include:

•AnimaNaturalis

•ASPCA (against animal cruelty)

•Animal Aid (UK)

•Animal Defense League (ADL)

•Animal Equality

•Animal Liberation Leagues

•Animal Liberation Press Office

•Animal Rights Organization Fauna

•Anonymous for Animal Rights

•Center on Animal Liberation Affairs (CALA)

•Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT)

•Compassion Over Killing (COK)

•Equanimal

•Friends of Animals (FoA)

•In Defense of Animals (IDA)

•International Primate Protection League (IPPL)

• Libera!

•Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition (MARC)

•National Resource Defense Council (NRDC)

•People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

•Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

•Southern Animal Rights Coalition (SARC)

•Western Animal Rights Network (WARN)

•World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

•Uncaged Campaigns

Some groups that focus primarily on farm animals include:

• Farm Sanctuary

• Farm USA

•United Poultry Concerns (UPC)

• Factory Farming

•Factory Farming Pictures - The Truth Behind The Scenes Of Factory Farming

• Farm Animals Shelters.org

•Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM)

• Hog Watch

•Humane Farming Association

• No Downers

• Poultry.org

•Wilderness Ranch Sanctuary for Farm Animals

• Meat Stinks

• No Meat

Two of the most well-known groups include PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and HSUS – Humane Society of the United States.

As mentioned, these groups are very well funded and tend to raise funds by appealing to the emotions of those people who ultimately become benefactors, in many cases without truly understanding or recognizing the agendas these organizations promote. Ultimately, however the result of the efforts these groups pursue is that it paints animal agriculture in a very poor light and in many cases results in a reduced willingness to consume meat products in some segments of the population.

In many cases, the attitude these groups take toward animals is “anthropomorphic,” which is attributing human feelings and characteristics to animals or even inanimate objects – i.e. treating animals like people. This is obviously very common in pets. In many cases we tend to laugh about the fact that we can treat our pets better than our kids! But in the case of these animal rights groups it gets a little carried away. An example of this can be seen on the Farm Sanctuary web page (http://www.farmsanctuary.org/mediacenter/2010/pr_holsteins.html) where the “escape” of two Holstein calves from a farm is documented. The Farm Sanctuary organization is described as “the nation's leading farm animal protection organization. Since incorporating in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has worked to expose and stop cruel practices of the ‘food animal' industry through research and investigations, legal and institutional reforms, public awareness projects, youth education, and direct rescue and refuge efforts. Farm Sanctuary shelters in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Orland, Calif., provide lifelong care for hundreds of rescued animals, who have become ambassadors for farm animals everywhere by educating visitors about the realities of factory farming.”

Points made on the Vegan Peace web page under the beef cattle section include (these are direct quotes):

•“Cows are exploited by humans for their meat, milk and skin, reducing these wonderful animals to nothing more than products for our use.”

• “Most beef cattle are not well taken care of on the ranges where they live. They often don't get the necessary veterinary help and aren't adequately protected against the changing weather. Some cows die of dehydration or freeze to death.”

• “Several methods are used so ranchers can identify their cattle. One very common method is a combination of ear tags and tattoos. Another common method is hot brands. Less common methods include freeze brands, ear notches, neck chains and horn brands.”

• “When cattle are rounded up by the ranchers, they can get very scared and are often injured. When cows are injured to the point that they can no longer stand or walk, they are called "downed.” Some downed animals are neglected and left to die while others are beaten and dragged on their way to slaughter.”

• “Other stressful events in the life of cattle are the many transportations they have to endure. They are forced to travel in extreme heat or freezing temperatures. While traveling they urinate and defecate right in the trailers.”

• “Before slaughter, most beef cattle are brought to feedlots where they are implanted with growth-promoting hormones and given unnaturally rich diets to fatten them up.”

• “In the slaughterhouse, the cows are 'stunned' by a mechanical blow to the head. This method is very inadequate and a lot of cows are hung upside down while still conscious. Whether conscious or not, they will end up having their throats slashed with knives. A sad ending to a very sad life.”

After reading this, the typical cattle producer recognizes one very important thing – these groups and individuals do not understand “how the world works” especially when it comes to animal agriculture. This lack of understanding is converted to misinformation and broadcast to the consumer. Again, since so much of the consuming population also does not understand how the industry works, they have no way to tell the difference between facts and fallacy.

So what does the Beef Industry do?

In going back through all three of these articles we see one very important constancy – that misinformation plays a huge role in the effect the various groups have on the consumer. And, like so many other issues that plague our culture today, accuracy is irrelevant in the eyes of many groups and individuals if it serves their purpose.

As an industry we have several very important and very difficult tasks:

1) It is critical that as an industry we promote the healthfulness and safety of beef.

2) It is critical that as an industry we promote the fact that cattle are managed under humane conditions and that this is a concern. Even that it is well recognized that animals that are purposely or excessively stressed do not perform well and that it is not in the best interest of the animal or the producer for this to occur.

3) The message must go beyond our own “circle of friends.” We can talk about these topics all day long among ourselves but the message has to go out to the consumer who may not have even a remote understanding of how the animals we manage are handled and cared for.

4) As an industry we must promote safe and humane handling and management practices. It is well known that some practices are painful (dehorning, castration, etc.). But with proper restraint and techniques this effect can be lessened. It may be very useful for the beef industry to adopt a series of guidelines for management practices and techniques similar to the Beef Quality Assurance guidelines that are in place.

5) Insure the information we are promoting is based on FACTS.

The beef producer has enough challenges he or she must face everyday with markets, weather, feed, fuel and fertilizer costs. Having to deal with outside interests that want to derail the beef cattle producer's way of life seems to be just the icing on the cake.

If you have additional questions please contact Dr. Steve Blezinger at (903) 885-7992 or sblez@verizon.net.







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