Oh, the farmer and the greenie….


The Farmer and the Greenie Should Be Friends …. But

I am sitting in my brother’s farm ute. My brother is driving. His best dog keeps his distance from the slow-moving mob of pregnant ewes. We are taking them to a paddock where they’ll have more room for lambing. It’s a slow progress across the paddocks. It’s important not to stress these sheep: by the time their lambs are born they will need to be in top condition with the best pastures easily accessible to them.

This care for animals is not only prudent business: my brother treats the animals on his farm well for their own sakes. I know many farmers like him. Farmers in general are unlikely to be cruel to animals, or allow others to be cruel to their stock coming from their property.

Like many others over the last few years, I have become concerned about the way some animals are treated. I was too distressed to watch to the end the Four Corners program on the slaughtering of cattle in Indonesia. I worry that cattle and chickens are force-fed in smaller and smaller pens. I wish we could always buy free-range animals and eggs.

But one thing I am sure of is that farmers are not enemies to animals. Most do what they can to look after sheep, cattle, dogs, pigs and hens. I am angry at activists who call for radical changes to farming practices without investigating how the majority of farmers do things. Often activists ask people to rally around causes that are based on old or incomplete information.

Take the story on mulesing sheep. Mulesing is a drastic operation where skin is cut away from around the sheep’s backside. Before farmers mulesed, there was a high incidence of fly-strike. When flies lay maggots in sheep, the maggots eat away the flesh of the sheep while the sheep is still alive. Mulesing – with much milder consequences for the animal – reduced the rates of fly-strike considerably.

PETA and other activists groups called for the abolition of mulesing. They showed graphic pictures of a sheep’s rump after the skin had been cut. Rarely did they mention the maggots threatening the lives of sheep, and they certainly showed no gruesome pictures of half-eaten still-living sheep. The farmers could well have countered the arguments of PETA by demonstrating the benefits of mulesing. Instead, the farmers went a step further and agreed to a total ban on mulesing. An enormous research effort produced chemical mulesing.

Animals Australia tells this story with reasonable accuracy, but its concluding call to action does not follow logically from the story and is any case out-dated.

I don’t believe that a perfect solution has been worked out, but I do believe the farmers wanted the same end result as the activists.  And with their first-hand knowledge, they could be honest about the situation.

Animals Australia condemns all live sheep export and describes their investigations showing cruelty against animals in transit and in market countries. It counters industry claims to improvement; but not with detailed evidence, rather with graphic photos.

Their ethical arguments begin with the assertion that raising animals to eat is wrong in itself, and therefore any instances of cruelty, however isolated, prove the point. The reality, however, is that our society accepts the use of animals for eating. Finding enough protein for a healthy and balanced diet without meat is currently an expensive challenge.

Farmers who grow animals for meat are not acting illegally, nor are they anti-social, and to claim that all their activity is unethical is at the very least controversial, and is usually insulting. Environmental concerns may well price meat out of existence over time and we will simply be forced to find replacement protein. But we are not at that place yet. Discouraging cruelty to animals makes more common sense in the short to medium term than calling for a total ban on meat.

Animal activists come over as either unrealistic idealists or deliberately undermining the livelihood of the very farmers on whom we depend for our food.

The greenies and the farmers should be friends. Both groups are genuinely working towards a world in which there is less cruelty to animals. But polarising the debate by calling for a complete ban on meat and demonising all involved in its production and transport is unwise and unproductive. It is no wonder farmers defending live sheep exports organise their gatherings off-line away from the glare of volatile social media. Their cause is so easily hi-jacked by easy and sentimental appeal of the animal activists.

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