The turkey business is getting beat up this week. How should the beef industry respond?
Although Thanksgiving (aka Turkey Day) has passed, the birds are making the headlines this week. Eric Swafford, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) staffer, recently penned an article that appeared in the Shreveport Times. Entitled “Give Thanks For Compassionate Family Farmers This Season,” Swafford relies on his childhood upbringing on a small Tennessee cattle operation to describe the idyllic family farm, complete with cows grazing on green grass in rolling pastures. He adds to his credibility by being pictured in the article wearing a cowboy hat and smiling with his wife and son.
As the director of rural development and outreach for HSUS, it’s his job to appeal to folks like you and me. His target audience isn’t consumers, but farmers and ranchers. I imagine it’s HSUS’s goal to try thawing the icy shoulder that most of rural America has given the extremist animal rights group. And I’m sure Swafford’s words will earn him a few brownie points from at least a few cowboys in our circle.
Swafford writes, “As the director of rural development and outreach for HSUS, I travel the country meeting family farmers and ranchers demonstrating the best values and practices of animal care and environmental sustainability. I work with many farmers in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Nebraska who help other family farmers switch to more humane practices, as well as assist in bringing these farms to the marketplace so they can more effectively compete against mega-factory farms that are harming animal welfare and small farmers.”
His article starts out complimentary to beef producers, but then he pulls the old switcharoo and slams “factory farmers.”
“While these compassionate family farms do exist, 99% of turkeys raised for food spend their lives in confinement on factory farms and never touch one blade of grass. These oversized birds are manufactured — not raised as the animals God designed them to be.”
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My beef with this article is that he appeals to one segment of the animal agriculture industry in order to sway it to slam another segment of our industry. While raising beef is much different than raising poultry, the common denominator is that it’s families who are raising this meat. And whether it’s a one-man show on a ranch or a poultry barn that employs numerous individuals, both have adapted to new science and technology, improving efficiency, environmental stewardship and animal welfare along the way.
Temple Grandin’s most recent video tour of a turkey farm and processing plant is the perfect tool to respond to this sly article written by one of HSUS’s own. The video shows viewers how 253 million turkeys make it to grocery stores each year.
About the video: “In the video, the viewer gets an up-close look as Grandin interacts with a flock of 1,500 birds roaming easily down the football-field length of a climate-controlled turkey house. When readied for market, those turkeys ride up into conveyor loading trucks and to an orderly delivery at the processing plant.
“There, the process of humanely stunning the birds renders them unconscious before processing under the watchful presence of USDA government inspectors enforcing safe and sanitary preparation. At each step along the methodical movement of rinsing, cleaning and separating the meat from the carcass, Grandin provides context and commonsense explanations. The reality of raising and preparing turkeys for market is revealed in the video for what it is: a modern process that is humane, safe and efficient.”
As I read this article from HSUS, I’ve got to give the writer credit for trying to appeal to the hearts of beef producers. He certainly paints a picture-perfect portrait of who we are in the beef industry. And while we should breathe a sigh of relief that we aren’t in the crosshairs right now, we also shouldn’t stand by and watch as another segment of the meat animal industry is tossed under the bus.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Is HSUS trying to use a divide-and-conquer strategy? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
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