My View • Association's strong ethical stand may not be enough for some
For decades, animal agriculture industries have been dealing with extremists who advocate for animal rights and meatless diets.
At National Cattlemen's Association annual meetings where thousands of cattlemen congregate, they would storm the meeting hall and unfurl their red and white banner: 'MEAT IS MURDER.' Security would come in and whisk the offenders out to the street where, waiting by prearrangement, would be the press, which outnumbered the few protesters. They'd be on the evening TV news with their identity hidden by a non-leather cow suit and spout their message of evil ranchers exploiting livestock.
We learned that they could not be engaged in a civil conversation to exchange our philosophical differences about the use and welfare of animals, which may indicate that they were not really serious about either but rather had a different agenda.
Now, after 15 years I'm pretty sure that's the case; but it did make cattlemen aware of the need to connect with reasonable non-agriculturists, our consumers, about what ranchers do and why they do it, rather than let the radicals identify us.
To that end, in 1996 we helped to develop and adopt what we call the American Conservation Ethic to address the rights and responsibilities in the conservation of all our natural resources. The preface says: 'The American Conservation Ethic is grounded in experience, science, wisdom and the enduring values of a free people. It affirms that people are the most important natural resource and that we must be good stewards of the world around us for this and future generations. It is founded upon a deep respect for the wonder, beauty and complexity of creation and is dedicated to the wise use of nature's bounty. It reflects every American's aspiration to make our environment cleaner, healthier and safer for our future, and it draws its strength from the most powerful force for improving our environment: free people.'
I know of no rancher, farmer or forester who does not ascribe to this ethic, and yet it has not prevented environmental advocates from getting laws passed to restrict or deny people's use of land and water by setting unattainable standards based on bogus science.
They get grazing allotments closed, horse slaughter plants burned down, predator trapping outlawed, regulate animal confinement without looking back at the unintended consequences that often times degrades the land and causes more suffering in animals.
Enter animal rights laws. Enter a whole bunch of brand-new lawyers who will project their feelings and their intellect to animals so they can sue on the animals' behalf. They will protect 'animal dignity,' define inhumanity and cruelty and they will be the vicarious voice to represent animals.
Let me just say, I abhor cruelty, physical and verbal, to people and I abhor cruelty to animals, including the often cruel behavior that animals turn on their own and other species. We who raise domestic animals for a living, and who are among our animals daily, feeding, protecting, assisting at birth, tending the sick and injured, have an emotional connection to our animals that casual observers may not understand. We care deeply for their welfare, even knowing that they are raised specifically for providing consumers with high quality protein.
I don't think that we could find common ground to make a law on what cruelty is or is not with anyone who thinks an animal's dignity should be protected. Dignity is a human trait.
I advise caution in writing laws that enable lawyers to sue on behalf of animals a lawyer perceives are being treated inhumanely. There are already laws that protect the owner: libel, defamation, interference of rights to farm.
Then there would be that sticky business of getting the witness on the stand. One moo for yes, two moos for no?
And getting them to understand that the bathroom is down the hall (to preserve their dignity) might be a challenge.
There is one case of extreme animal cruelty that I would like to see taken on. There are hundreds of cattle in Eastern Oregon being terrorized, chased through fences, breaking legs, severely wounded, some being eaten while alive and others killed by the Canadian Gray wolf.
The unhurt cattle are so stressed that they huddle together in trembling groups. Some will abort calves, some will die of stress-related diseases, all will be difficult to manage because of the fight-or-flight instinct that kicked in during the wolf attack.
Who to sue on behalf of the cows? U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing the wolf as endangered? The Defenders of Wildlife, which makes a living by litigating? Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state of Oregon for listing the wolf and then developing a plan to allow wolves to populate our state unmolested by man no matter what they do? Environmental groups that have sued to prevent killing any of the wolves that kill cattle? Or, maybe even the judge who put the stay in place even though ODFW ordered the wolves killed?
I don't suppose this is what the new (Lewis and Clark) law school program has in mind when they complain that there are few laws protecting farmed animals (New law school program unleashes animal rights, Nov. 24). They are likely thinking more along the lines of forcing their values onto everyone else, that animals should not be eaten at all. They are seemingly unaware that they are exploiting animals and the people who raise them as a means of making their world view a reality.
Farmed animals have the legal protection they need. Counties have ordinances that sheriffs enforce to prevent animal hoarding or people from starving their animals. The transport and slaughter laws protect them when they leave the farm. They are protected and nurtured by their owners while they are on the farm - no law can improve on that.
I don't think more animal rights laws, or pumping out more lawyers to advocate for animals in our legal system, will improve animals' lives or condition a whit, and chicken sanctuaries certainly will never supply the world demand for protein.
Writer Karen Davis claims that 'animal rights means that other animal species have moral claims on us based on their nature as expressed in behaviors, including their voices, that tell us who they are and what they desire to do and not do' (It takes courage to support animals' dignity, Dec. 15).
Really? Their voices may tell you what they are (moo is a cow, oink is a pig), but I question who. Admittedly, their behavior tells us what they don't want to do; but if we waited until the cows 'wanted' to load into the truck to be hauled to a fresh pasture, well, let's just say we sometimes need to decide for them what is in their best interest, and I'm certain they aren't suffering because of it.