Pearl Snaps

Stories of a cowgirl living life by her own lights

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The Five Freedoms of Cattle

via Progressive Cattlemen

by Ron Gill

Animal welfare is a topic of a lot of discussion across the livestock industries.

One philosophy regarding welfare management and oversight centers on a concept of five freedoms livestock under our care should be granted.

Now, one could argue about the term “freedoms” and what that might imply, but when a closer look is taken of these freedoms, one realizes it is a pretty good list of what managers of livestock should strive to provide.

The Five Freedoms are:

1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to express normal behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.

5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.

According to Dr. John Webster: (The researcher who helped develop the Five Freedoms in 1979, and Professor of Animal Husbandry, (University of Bristol) “… the five freedoms are an attempt to make the best of a complex situation.

Absolute attainment of all five freedoms is unrealistic.

By revealing that all commercial husbandry systems have their strengths and weaknesses, the five freedoms make it, on one hand, more difficult to sustain a sense of absolute outrage against any particular system … and easier to plan constructive, step by step, routes towards its improvement.”

If anyone disagrees with the responsibility of the owner/manager to provide ready and ample access to water and feed to maintain health and vigor, they should remove themselves from food animal production immediately.

We make a living by providing nutrition and letting the natural process of growth occur, capturing sunlight in a saleable product.

Freedom from discomfort is probably the one that causes as much discussion as any of the freedoms in cattle production.

We are not an intensive confined animal industry and environmental control is not possible.

However, it is in everyone’s best interest to provide cattle with the ability to protect themselves from environmental extremes as much as possible.

Freedom from pain, injury and disease has some pushback from the industry because of one word in the list, pain.

There is no such thing as a pain-free or even risk-free existence for humans or livestock. It is always in the best interest of productivity to manage pain, prevent injury and disease and treat as quickly as possible in the event of injury or disease.

Freedom to express normal behavior is an area where the beef production sector is on as solid ground as any livestock enterprise can be.

In every phase of traditional beef cattle production, cattle are managed in groups and have ample room to express normal behavior.

Freedom from fear and distress is probably the most misunderstood of these five freedoms. What does this really mean, “ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering?”

Most people have never really even thought about a cow having the ability to experience mental suffering, much less suffer from fear or distress. Mental suffering is what the industry commonly refers to as stress.

Stress is created through human action and therefore must be managed through human action. Other than environmental stress caused by extremes in weather patterns, all other stressors are human-related.

Stress and its associated consequences represent one of the greatest, if not the greatest, drains on the livestock industries. Stress can be managed very effectively. However, it requires physical management.

There is an art to the proper care and management of livestock that has been taken for granted within the animal industries.

This is one of the few industries where people are hired with little known skills or any real background in the industry and asked to manage multimillion dollar investments with little to no training and oftentimes little oversight.

Managing the well-being of animals affects the quality of life of the animal, the people involved and the profit of an operation.

Lack of employee knowledge, skills and training and inadequate oversight has resulted in several recent high-profile problems in animal care and handling across most sectors of animal production.

People who do not know or understand animal behavior and how to use that behavior to move or manage livestock can quickly become frustrated.

Use of excessive force is oftentimes the response to this frustration.

As a livestock producer, I have a really hard time seeing where food animal production can argue with the concept of these freedoms.

Call them what you want to, but the bottom line is that managers and owners of livestock, by any measure of faith or ethics, should diligently strive to provide livestock with these basics throughout their lifespan.

Further discussion of the Five Freedoms can be found at

Ron Gill is a professor and extension livestock specialist at Texas A & M University.

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Agriculture a victim of its own success

via Feedstuffs Foodlinks

By Nevil C. Speer

Last month’s blog post explored Michael Pollan’s guest appearance on a recent episode of Oprah. The show featured Winfrey’s staff and their experiences adopting a vegan diet over the course of a week. Pollan provided comments about food and the food system.

His discussion began by explaining the perils of refined carbohydrates in connection with the obesity epidemic and subsequent health care costs in the U.S. However, the show’s theme was about avoiding meat, milk and eggs in one’s diet. And Pollan proved a dutiful guest – he subsequently attempted to make meat the culprit. As such, I noted that, “Responsible, healthy dietary decisions are not exclusive to vegans…inclusion of meat, milk and eggs in one’s diet is neither unhealthy nor the direct link related to obesity!” Any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous.

Unfortunately, Pollan’s observations weren’t isolated to the nutritional theme. He also proceeded to denigrate animal agriculture from several other perspectives: “I came out thinking that I could eat meat in this very limited way, from farmers who were growing it in a way that I could feel good about how the animals lived. And luckily we have a great many farmers like this now. We have a renaissance of small-scale animal farming….And that we’re not feeding them grain and taking that grain away from people who need that food.”

But it doesn’t end there. Pollan, in a recent interview as follow-up to his Oprah appearance, has commented further about the meat industry (The Oregonian, April 12). Some of his more incendiary remarks include the following:

· “The feedlots…they brutalize the animals…”

· “…half of all those hundreds of millions of corn and bean fields in the Midwest are essentially feeding cattle. And that if you actually put the cattle on that land, you could grow a lot of meat that way. In fact, there are corn and bean farmers who rotate between putting animals on their land for a certain number of years and growing corn and soybeans.”

Those types of comments from Pollan aren’t necessarily new. That, however, doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Several key themes need to be addressed.

First, Pollan invokes concerns about agriculture’s treatment of animals – he wants to “feel good about how the animals lived.” I addressed that very issue in a separate column following the Oprah vegan episode. That column described my perceptions of Oprah’s six-minute video, “Inside a Slaughterhouse,” in which her production team tours both a commercial feedyard and processing plant. The video underscored the beef industry’s successful commitment to producing high-quality, safe food while also revealing an enduring and serious responsibility surrounding the humane treatment of farm animals. Seeing is believing; the video is compelling. Pollan’s emotive, unsubstantiated claims of “brutality” represent an egregious disconnect that’s impossible to reconcile.

Second, indicting animal agriculture for its grain utilization is uninformed. Yes, feedyards utilize corn to grow animals, but the condemnation overlooks the fact that ruminants also represent an important source of protein for a hungry planet – primarily by converting forage resources that would be otherwise unusable by the human population. And what about those corn fields Pollan advocates should be turned to pasture? Perhaps he might visit those same fields following harvest – in many areas he’d witness firsthand cows grazing corn stalks.

Lastly, small-scale farming is one of Mr. Pollan’s favorite promotional themes. It’s a rewarding and admirable pursuit for many individuals who’ve chosen that option as part of their occupational endeavors. However, it must exist only as part of a broader strategy; agriculture has the responsibility of feeding a rapidly growing population in an increasingly efficient manner. The Center for Food Integrity articulates the challenge like this: “If the number of farms and level of productivity remained constant since1950, there would be no food for anyone in the following states – California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia” (the nine most populous U.S. states representing 151 million people).

There’s a place for honest criticism – it’s constructive in helping agriculture fulfill its mission to feed the world. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there with respect to food and food production. But misinformation is one thing; wholesale condemnation is another matter – it’s neither beneficial nor legitimate.

It fails from two perspectives. One, it fails to connect the dots – it’s an overly-simplistic, idyllic view of the world and its various complexities. Two, it disregards the amazing success of agricultural innovation and productivity. We live in a time of unprecedented food security and satiety (albeit many challenges remain, both domestically and globally). And it’s that framework of abundance that allows even the possibility for finger-pointing to gain traction. Perhaps agriculture is a victim of its own success.

Dr. Nevil Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves as the chairman of the Animal Agriculture Advocacy Council for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

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Omnivores dilemma is that of sorting through rhetoric

via Feedstuffs Foodlinks

By Nevil C. Speer

Given the track record, Oprah Winfrey’s “Farewell Season” was bound to include at least one episode featuring veganism. Winfrey didn’t disappoint – she and 378 staff members, under the direction of author Kathy Freston (Quantum Wellness), omitted meat, milk and eggs from their diet for an entire week. Winfrey’s previous veganism run occurred several years ago; she went on a 21-day vegan fast initiated by her association with Freston. At that time she noted, “The goal is to allow the body to rid itself of toxins, but Freston’s thoughts on the ‘health, environmental and spiritual implications of the foods we choose to eat’ got my attention too.”

The recent episode focused upon the respective experiences and observations by employees during the week. It also featured Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma). Dialogue between Pollan and Winfrey was especially revealing. The conversation transpires as follows:

Winfrey: “Isn’t it amazing how we have more access than ever before and yet we’re unhealthier than we’ve ever been?”

Pollan: “Yeah, we have access to lots of healthy food and yet the American diet is a catastrophe. When you hear the phrase ‘healthcare crisis’ or ‘healthcare cost crisis,’ that is a euphemism for the catastrophe that is the American diet. 75% of our healthcare spending is on chronic diseases linked to diet. That’s really what’s bankrupting us and that has to do with the way we’re eating: way too many calories, too much processed food, tons of refined carbohydrates.”

Oprah: “Define refined carbohydrates – by refined carbohydrates what do you mean?”

Pollan: “White flour, things with white flour in it and sugar…soda.”

Oprah: “It’s all those things that are packaged in the boxes and you just add water and…” [Winfrey snaps her fingers]

Pollan: “Exactly. It’s all that processed food.”

Fair enough: Pollan correctly asserts the significance of obesity’s impact from a health-care cost perspective. However, the dialogue takes a decidedly strange (and I’d argue convenient) turn from there. Pollan’s logic suddenly morphs into wholesale condemnation of mainstream animal agriculture. We pick up with Pollan’s observations about a shifting diet below (these immediately following his processed food comment above).

Pollan (continuing): Our diet has changed more in the last 100 years than in the last 10,000 probably, with the result that it is affecting our health. And also, look, cheap food is a blessing in many ways but it’s also a curse. So there are many good reasons to reduce our consumption of meat, especially. But eliminate it? You know, that’s a personal choice. I went through the same exercise about meat, could I justify eating meat or not? I came out in a different place than Kathy [Freston] did – I came out thinking that I could eat meat in this very limited way, from farmers who were growing it in a way that I could feel good about how the animals lived. And luckily we have a great many farmers like this now. We have a renaissance of small-scale animal farming…. And that we’re not feeding them grain and taking that grain away from people who need that food.

Certainly, we can’t disregard the influence of food availability in our current society; abundance plays a role in the rising obesity epidemic. But then again, high-caloric foods aren’t a new invention (think apple pie, ice cream, butter, chocolate, etc…) Therefore, it leaves one wondering about the attempt to provide an anti-animal agriculture explanation. It just doesn’t compute. (Other than being beneficial for Winfrey; she never presses Pollan on his incoherent train of thought). Does Pollan really believe that meat-based diets didn’t predominate 100 years ago (never mind 10,000)? After all, what’s really changed over the past 100 years is a society that’s become increasingly industrialized. As a result, we’re now more sedentary. And in the end it’s pretty simple, we’re likely making poorer dietary choices (more on that later) while also burning fewer calories.

In all fairness, such observations aren’t unique to Winfrey, Freston or Pollan. For example, Dr. Taryn Vian (Boston University School of Public Health) further suggests that purchasing options should now be regulated (letter-to-the-editor, Boston Globe, “Meat of the Matter on Fighting Obesity,” August 3, 2010): “What if we could reduce consumption of artery clogging beef without changing eating habits at all? We could do this by offering more choice of meat package sizes in grocery stores. Many recipes for a family of four call for 1 lb. of ground beef, yet packages sold in many markets weigh 1.2 lb., on average. Rather than throw away the extra meat, most people throw it into the pot, adding unnecessary calories to the dinner. Those package sizes are not random. All those little “0.2″ portions add up to more profit for meat suppliers and stores. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health could help nudge consumers to eat less beef by pressuring meat packers and grocery stores to offer a range of package sizes, including smaller portions.”

The argument suggests that regulators (in their infinite wisdom) can save us from ourselves. That’s a slippery slope. Do we really want to go down that path where government dictates how food products are packaged for purchase or consumption? And of course, it doesn’t solve the problem that consumers might simply purchase 2 lb. packages (that might weigh 9 ounces) instead of a single 1 lb. package.

Lastly, it’s important to note that responsible, healthy dietary decisions are not exclusive to vegans. Case in point, Freston’s cautions against bad habits: “One thing to be careful of on a vegan diet is that you don’t become a “junk food vegan,” only eating things like cookies and chips.” Also note that Pollan emphasizes the fact that we have access to lots of “healthy food” but we fail to exploit that advantage. Therefore, inclusion of meat, milk and eggs in one’s diet is not automatically unhealthy nor provides a direct link to obesity! In fact, many nutritional researchers have noted that gaining weight on meat-based diets is nearly impossible (for more on that subject read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories).

Meat, milk and eggs are NOT the culprit – any attempt to indicate otherwise is disingenuous. The real dilemma (puzzle) for omnivores (consumers) is the need to sort through the rhetoric when so-called authorities confuse and/or misrepresent the facts.

Dr. Nevil Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves as the chairman of the Animal Agriculture Advocacy Council for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.


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