01 May 2013

Be Your Own Governor: Support Local Farmers

Much has been written lately about a Tennessee bill that passed the state House and Senate recently, a bill based on a law that exists in many states requiring people to turn in photos or videos of livestock abuse, unedited, to law enforcement within 48 hours of recording it.  Ideas like the one presented in this bill and the response that the idea has generated were the impetus behind my starting this blog in the first place: issues often aren't as clear as they seem.  Two primary responses stand out, both from groups of people claiming to be looking out for the welfare of animals, and the logic of both stopped me from shooting off an email to Governor Bill Haslam with an opinion. Of course, you can read any of the dozens of articles and blog posts out there on the topic, so here, I shall take a slightly different turn.

Some of the livestock seen at Adventures in Agriculture in Rutherford County, TN.
On one side, animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] criticize this bill--even taking it to The Ellen DeGeneres show--because it makes proving recurring abuse difficult. They emphasize the importance of gathering evidence over time that shows a history of abuse. Supporters of the bill and critics of HSUS believe it's important to stop abuse immediately, hence the 48-hour rule. Some of the blogs I found on the topic, like Humane Watch, point out that HSUS allows abuse to continue for weeks or months while compiling video footage, and bloggers also assert that HSUS splices together inconclusive video segments to make stronger, falsified cases. Either situation is then used to raise funds for the group.

My initial thinking was, if the law proves unjust, people will break it or find ways around it to protect animals. Of course, people subvert just laws, too. Why, then, care about whether bills like this become law?

Cari Wade Gervin, a journalist reporting with Metro Pulse out of Knoxville, highlighted additional points in an article on March 27th entitled, "Critics Say Tennessee Bill Aimed At Reducing Animal Cruelty May Actually Protect Food Industry." The entire article is worth reading, but two points stuck with me. First, the bill only protects livestock, not all animals. The language should have been written to give the law a broader scope. Second, the bill does not protect the press or their confidential sources. That latter point doesn't merely reflect the sentiment that long-term investigations are important, but it casts a shadow over the freedom of the press. An animal rights group specifically looking for abuse differs from--or should differ from--an investigative journalist hunting out the truth without an agenda. While it is neither the case that all animal rights groups seek to shut down animal farms, nor that all journalists write without an agenda, we must carefully consider legislation that could restrict the effectiveness of research by the media.

Both sides have valuable arguments: animal's need protection from harm immediately, not six months after the harm occurs, but to convict someone of serial inhumanity requires proof of recurrence. Livestock handling differs dramatically from how the average non-farming family would handle a pet, and a lack of understanding of the processes by the public could damage a business that is operating within the law.

"Farm animal welfare is critically important to animal agriculture." John McGlone, Texas Tech University (Miller, Marlys. "Webinar: 'Gestation Sow Housing' to provide answers and insights," Pork Magazine, May 2, 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.)

On Wednesday, Blake Farmer with Nashville Public Radio reported that Governor Haslam has received a huge response advocating against signing the bill, but what should we do next? If you believe that animals, including livestock raised for food, deserve humane treatment and slaughter, that they should not suffer and should be honored as that which sustains us, then you will find yourself in the company of many farmers. Find sources of humanely raised animals. Advocate for more humane laws regarding the housing and slaughter of animals. Talk to farmers at the farmer's markets and read about the individual industries to learn accepted practices. You might not agree with accepted practices, but you will be able to make informed purchases and advocate for better policies.

As I discussed in one of my most popular posts, "Monsanto, Monoculture, and Consumer-Driven Monopolies," much of our power comes from our pocketbooks. All industries are driven to cheaper methods of production, and only when we demand better quality with our purchasing power do we see long-standing, effective results. By committing to buying certain types of products, we allow producers to strive for quality over price. When people will break or circumvent laws that do not suit them, whether just or unjust, our best motivator becomes money. Make it feasible for farms to do things in a way that brings them better profits by producing better products, and the market will respond. Yes, we can be misled by promises, and that is where the laws and freedom of information protect us. The potential to be misled must not discourage us from seeking a culture of quality and morality. Whatever you believe about the bill, you can make a bigger difference with the choices you make every day.

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