Kansas State University DVM Dan Thomson believes the U.S. beef industry is doing a lot of things right when it comes to animal welfare – but there´s plenty more work to do when it comes to perceptions and realities about animal welfare.

Speaking to attendees at the recent 2009 K-State Beef Conference, Thomson says most producers work in an ethical and humane manner but the industry hasn’t done a good job of educating the non-farm public of standard management practices or of reminding citizens that beef producers are food producers.

Thomson says concerns about the subject first arose regarding animal use in research, but has spilled over to livestock production for food purposes. He reminded that there is a difference between animal welfare and animal rights, noting that those who believe in animal rights likely will not be influenced by science.

Despite a well-funded, well-educated, anti-meat effort in this country, Thomson says a 2007 study found that 97.4% of Americans eat meat. It also indicated that several other topics were a higher priority to U.S. citizens – human poverty (23.95%); U.S. health care system (23.03%); food safety (21.75%); the environment (13.91%); financial well-being of farmers (8.16%); food prices (5.06%) and farm animal well-being (4.15%).

"We are more carnivorous than we were in 1990," Thomson says, noting that the U.S. percent of income spent on food has gone down. He says USDA data show the average citizen in China spends 34% of personal income on food consumed in the home, compared to 6% in the U.S., while Russians spend 28%, and Japanese 15%.

While the U.S. and other developed countries boast of a vast array of food choices, parents in many other countries deal daily with food shortages. "I believe our next big international conflict will be over food. I don´t think it will be about oil," he says.

Although he believes that the industry as a whole is taking good care of the animals it raises, Thomson encourages beef-industry professionals to disarm their critics with these actions:

  • Be transparent and do everything you can to educate non-livestock producers. It is up to producers to educate and advocate;
  • Don’t engage in inhumane practices and ensure those you hire treat animals in a humane fashion;
  • Recognize that euthanasia is the humane way to handle downed animals;
  • Castrate male animals at a young age;
  • Dehorn animals at a young age;
  • Precondition your animals;
  • Work to reduce livestock stress in transport and handling;
  • Be involved in industry groups that diligently work to represent livestock producers.
Thomson says the beef industry should collaborate in forming one welfare assessment tool, subscribe to the practices outlined by it and use it as a marketing tool. Otherwise, he says, one will likely be imposed by politicians or others who may not be familiar with agriculture production.
-- Farm Press