One course agriculture students take is titled “Agriculture In Society”, a class mentioned before in this column. This class exposes students to the role agriculture has played in the development of civilization; the way agriculture is viewed in today’s society; the challenges agriculture faces now and as it moves forward; and misconceptions the 98% not involved in the production of food, fiber, and fuel have about the industry. A large area of conflict and misconception regards animal agriculture.
The two main issues involved here can come under the headings of “Animal Welfare” and “Animal Rights.” Animal Welfare may be briefly described as the “humane” treatment of animals. Animal Rights while involving welfare is more broadly defined to include the idea that animals are in possession of their own existence. Naturally this area is a hot button issue for all sides involved. Notice the use of the word “all” instead of both in the previous sentence. As in most complex issues, there are more than two simple, neat sides to the story. Even within a class of agriculture students there is a lack of agreement on much of this debate. Normally what is involved are the shades of gray making coming to a compromise, much less a consensus, almost impossible.
Nearly everyone can agree that certain practices are abuse and anyone raising animals for any purpose has certain responsibilities. The problem is the definition of the terms abuse and responsibility. These areas range from animal confinement to castration and weaning calves. This column can’t possibly provide definitive answers to these complex questions. What might be interesting is to pose the questions the students worked on in groups, after reviewing some videos and literature from various perspectives. As you read them and formulate the answers in your own mind, be aware that the students complained the questions were too open-ended and vague. They are that way because in the real world that’s the way they are really framed. One last caution, attempt to remove emotion from any consideration, try to be objective, and don’t place human values and emotions where they are inappropriate. Good luck on that last one.
· What is the definition of animal abuse? Be specific.
· What are appropriate uses of animals in society, if any?
· What are inappropriate uses of animals in society, if any?
· What is the role, if any, of local, state, and federal governments in regulating the use/abuse of animals? If government should play no role, explain.
· What penalties, if any, should be imposed for animal abuse? Be specific.
· What should be the goal of agricultural producers in animal production in terms of animal care and use?
Actually, the last one has a pretty definite answer if you’re in the animal business. The saddest part of this debate, outside of the extremes, is most all of us fall in the middle ground and could agree on much of this if we could eliminate the chatter of the extremes. That would benefit everyone involved except the extremists.