What do those people really want?

Recent events suggest that the opponents of intensive livestock and poultry production are intensifying their campaigns.

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In late December 2007, the Abbot of Mepkin Abbey near Charleston, South Carolina, announced that the Brothers would cease producing eggs following pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Adverse publicity concerning the 30,000-hen operation included a video release including clandestine footage and non-relevant and inflammatory commentary.

The voter initiative in California to ban caged housing of hens promoted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a further challenge to egg producers with far reaching implications if adopted by the electorate of the State. The opportunity to disseminate biased anti-industry propaganda and to stimulate negative publicity in the media during the 2008 campaign will effectively represent an advantage to PETA in their fund-raising efforts even if they lose.

Pressure on the broiler industry to discard electrical stunning in favor of controlled atmosphere killing has intensified. Direct representations have been made to the members of the National Association of Chain Restaurants and the Food Marketing Institute to pressure integrators into prematurely adopting this technology.

The question arises as to the motives of the various organizations which oppose poultry and livestock production. Analysis of their philosophy and intent, as documented in their websites, clearly indicates that they have as their objectives the adoption of a strictly vegan lifestyle for everyone. This would require abandoning all livestock production. Based on their concepts of “animal rights,” these organizations are promoting displacement of all animals in the entire range of medical and pharmaceutical research, banning hunting or the use of animals for entertainment and even substitution of synthetic materials for products of animal origin in clothing and footwear.

The avowed intention of the ‘rights organizations’ is to radically change our economy and infringe on our legal and socially acceptable lifestyle by imposing their distorted worldview as an ultimate goal. Given this reality is there any possibility of compromise or accommodation with their views? It is possible to debate with a fanatic or to satisfy a zealot? If we present scientific evidence to support a position in direct presentations or in the media it will be distorted to their advantage in rebuttal. Academics and practitioners are frequently misquoted and our writings are taken out of context to support sophistic and blatantly emotional claims.

As food suppliers we have the obligation to produce our eggs, broilers and turkeys as humanely as possible given the state of the art in housing and equipment. Voluntary adoption of welfare guidelines as established by the United Egg Producers, the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation are reasonable measures to placate the concerns of reasonable consumers. Displacing cages in favor of floor systems and replacing electrical stunning with gas installations are only expensive way-stations on a road to the destruction of our way of life. We must accept that there will be no level of concession which will be acceptable to our strident opponents. We should rather publicize our justifiable position based on sound science, promote our achievements and contributions to a safe and inexpensive food supply and defend the right of consumers to free choice based on honest labeling and information. We should support rational decisions by legislators and abjure any practice which could bring discredit on our industry.

As a veterinarian for the past 43 years, I can draw my own personal lines. I strongly oppose and deprecate blood sports. I personally do not attend  circus  shows with animals and am not a hunter, but I respect the rights of my fellow citizens to attend or to hunt within the limits of the law. I have no reservations about raising or maintaining animals humanely, according to realistic standards applicable to the species for food, fiber or recreation. I resent in the strongest way the intent of another person or group to impose their views on me, to deprive me of my legal rights or to proselytize my grandchildren with propaganda. I am proud of my contribution to the industry and what it achieves for our citizens and our export markets.
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