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let's talk farm animals

Food animals are not pets

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

The following letter to Reader’s Digest points out that even veterinarians can have misplaced views about animals.

Dear Editor:

The recent issue of Readers Digest carries an editorial titled “Food For Thought:  Pets are family, but chickens are food?” Written by a rural vet in Quebec, this editorial claims to “examine our changing view of other creatures” to make an argument for applying the same standards to food animals as we do our pets.

We are all entitled to our opinions. However, the author does a disservice to both readers and farmers by making the unfair comparison between pets and food animals. The author considers our treatment of cats and dogs- “as indulged and pampered emotional fixtures in our lives”- to be a success story in how we relate to animals. And “as our empathy for our pets grows deeper”, she argues, “our indifference to similarly sentient animals we eat grows more startling.” Citing the “unpleasantness of industrial farming and slaughterhouses”, the author creates a bucolic picture of how agriculture should be by describing how she treats her backyard laying hens much like her pets.

What is wrong with this picture?

We need to be reminded that no culture eats its pets regardless of the species that pet might be. We also need to remember that animals raised for food (or any other working purpose for that matter) have never been viewed as pets and have never been treated as pets. This is logical since “pets” are meant to fulfil an emotional need not a practical need.

Because it is written by a rural vet, who selectively cites facts and figures, her opinion may carry credibility with a widely non-farm readership.  For example, she faults today’s “industrial farmers” for creating practices that have made it possible to feed our rapidly expanding world. Yet many of the practices this vet cites, including selective breeding and culling animals that under-perform, have long existed, albeit on a smaller scale suited to a smaller world. Grand champion winners at the local fall fair come from a long line of selected ancestors. When the hen stopped laying eggs she went into the soup pot.

The author falsely accuses “industrial farms” for creating animal health problems that have in fact plagued animals and farmers for centuries- regardless of the housing and husbandry practices used. Not mentioned, is that farm animals, like pets, are living healthier lives today. She even goes so far as to fault Canada’s food providers for supplying affordable, safe and nutritious protein because it is, in her mind, tasteless. And while all methods of raising food animals have their own set of problems, the author ignores this fact and the strides being made to overcome them.

Most important of all, however, is that the author accuses both consumers and “industrial farmers” as lacking in empathy for the animals we eat. Readers are led to believe that because we don’t treat food animals with the same “tenderness and devotion” we provide our pets that we don’t care. And it is just as false and misleading for her to conclude that our indifference is growing. The fact is that farming practices, regardless of the farm size or farming methods used, continue to centre on meeting the needs of animals while meeting the needs and demands of consumers.

Most farmers today remain committed to their responsibility to raise and care for their animals in the most practical and effective ways possible. The time, money and effort invested to further improve farm animal care are signs of a growing, not diminishing, commitment. The author goes so far as to blame consumers for enabling a system of food production that she clearly considers wrong. While most consumers today may be detached from farming it doesn’t mean they are indifferent.

The author is correct on one point however: our view of other creatures is changing. But it needs to be recognized that farm animals have benefited from that changing view too.

Adele Buetner
Farm Animal Care Saskatchewan

Until the next BLOG.


Posted by OFAC on April 21st, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Consumers,Family vs factory farming,Letters to the Editor,Veterinarians
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5 Responses to “Food animals are not pets”

  1. Bonnie from Canada
    April 21st, 2011

    This author is very conveniently ignoring the truth of the matter, which can be found in a very graphic video released this week (April 21, 2021) by Mercy for Animals, a respected non-profit organization. The farmers are torturing the calves in their care. They are beating them with all manner of farm equipment and stomping on their heads. The calves cry out for mercy until they are bludgeoned to death.

    Every month, a new video appears, from a different organization, different state, different country, different farm animal: but it’s all the same: cruelty beyond imagine. Cruelty that shames the human race and forces the God-fearing individual to wonder if God even exists.

    Nowhere in the above article does the author mention the number one reason that many people, myself included, are working to protect farm animals: because they are being tortured. By the farmers.

    Animal agriculture is animal cruelty. Face it. It’s the truth, and it’s everywhere on YouTube. Go to the Mercy For Animals site and watch the video. Then tell me I’m wrong. You will not be able to.

  2. rudi
    April 26th, 2011

    Dear Bonnie,
    I have taken a look at the video mentioned above and as a dairy farmer who raises its calves i can honestly say that you are wrong.

    i have worked on multiple farms taken care of all sorts of animals like cows, calves, bulls, sheep, pigs, llama’s and more and although even as a farmer this video disturbs me, as it should everyone, it is a lot of “set up” situations.

    as mentioned in the video it is a two week investigation, which already raises some question but as one person does the math the can see that this video only represents .0099% of what happens at the farm. and that is a fact. it doesn’t make the actions any less wrong and the people responsible should be charged but it is not at all as common as they make it seem. until they show good solid video that represent what “always happens” a person should never believe what is said.

    also this farm raises animals for dairy herds to be milked. now using common sense, how much money does a sick non-producing, small, stressed out calf, get on the market? nothing, that what. it does not make sense to put the calves in situation where they will not reach there optimum growth. feeding a stressed calve will not give it its optimum growth and thereby will not be profitable. this farm needs to raise the healthiest, nicest, and best looking calves possible to even turn a profit.

    it is true that animals are being used for our consumption and thats why God put them on the earth, they are not pets and should not be treated like them. they are a ways for farmer to live and the only way to do that is to have healthy animals.

    considering back to the article, i can say that, yes i keep some animals because they are pets and all animals are kept in safe places, the same way pets are, but still we need to be able to afford bread and supplies so there is a business aspect and that is where good animal treatment will always have a position on a farm.

  3. Cam
    May 11th, 2011


    How dare you accuse me of such absolute atrocities. As I watched the video above, it became clearer and clearer that Mercy for Animals went looking for these situations, and magnified them ten thousand times in the video. I support Rudi in saying that no animal will produce anything in those conditions, and, obviously, animals all over Canada are producing milk, meat and wool.

    As a beef producer, I know that all of my animals depend on me, their caregiver, for their food, their protection, and their health. You and Mercy for Animals are wrong, so, so wrong. How dare you accuse me of that. One, isolated, horrible incidence on one farm is plastered all over me and my fellow livestock producers. These people should be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law and then some, but DO NOT make the mistake of labeling me a monster. DO NOT.

    You would never say (I hope) that all black people are gangsters and criminals, or that all east indians are terrorists. NEVER paint a farmer with a bloodstained brush.

  4. Melissa
    May 20th, 2011

    So Cam, do you follow every single one of your animals during their transport in their last hours, all the way into the slaughterhouse and every single agonising second along the slaughterbench? Do you comfort them when they are in pain and terrified and fighting for their dear lives? Do you give every single one of them the care of a painless death? Because they keep depending on you until the bitter end.

  5. Cheryl
    May 29th, 2011

    Dear Cam, (and Rudi)

    No one in these posts has accused you of anything…. and, as respectable farmers, I don’t understand why you would jump so quickly to the assumption that the despicable practices out there are not prevalent. As you work closely with animals I do not understand why you would not be the FIRST group to champion the cause of treating animals with respect (which is different from treating them like pets). The videos mentioned DO NOT represent .0099% of the cases, I’m afraid. Look into books such as Eating Animals or movies like Food Inc. I first learned of Factory Farms in college. If the cruel practices are not true (or only representative of .0099% of the cases), then I am perplexed as to why my professor would bother broaching this topic at all. And if all the videos I’ve seen are staged, believe me, someone invested big, big Hollywood dollars to set up many entirely convincing and elaborate sets portraying truly despicable cruelty against animals - to what gain?

    Please do not dismiss these claims so easily. Do your own open-hearted research and you will see. Join the fight against the atrocities - precisely because you should distinguish your own ethical farming. I do not paint every farmer with the same brush, but I have seen, heard, read enough since that first video 24 years ago to know that society as a whole is only to happy to turn a blind eye to gross indecencies so that we can continue to enjoy our steak, pork or chicken meals. If you are truly farmers, you know that these animals have hearts and brains and, though many people MAY concur that it is a natural thing to breed and eat them, it is NOT natural to be unnecessarily cruel. They do deserve our respect.

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