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The Animal Lover's Dilemma: A Quest for Sustainable Farming Techniques

| 12/19/2012 2:01:25 PM

OxenReposted with permission from Elizabeth Van Deventer and Glenn Davis Stone: Originally published in FieldQuestions.

When Green Mountain College, a sustainable farming school in Vermont, recently decided to slaughter their two aging oxen and serve the meat in the dining hall, the decision unleashed a flood of angry emails, Facebook posts, and protests from animal rights activists around the world.  From the point of view of the college, consuming beef produced from animals raised humanely on their own farm, rather than from unknown origins elsewhere, fits squarely with their sustainable food production philosophy.

However, to animal rights advocates, killing the oxen was simply wrong—regardless of the fact that one of the animals would have to be euthanized for leg injuries anyway. Activists threatened local slaughterhouses, leaving the college nowhere to take the cattle, so in the end, they decided to kill the injured ox without eating it, while sparing the life of the other.

While animal rights groups might consider this a victory, I believe protesting a school that is trying to teach future farmers humane animal husbandry is ultimately counterproductive for animal welfare.

Before saying any more, let me lay all my cards on the table. I’m a livestock farmer: I raise cattle and chickens for meat.  But one reason I do this is that I believe farm animals are ultimately better served by a viable humane alternative to factory-farming than by vitriolic protests over their becoming food after a good life.

I love animals and, unlike small-farm celebrity Joel Salatin, I agree with some of the activists’ criticisms of certain practices on small farms. However, I have come to realize that pasture-based livestock farming serves as part of the solution to the messy ethical dilemma of what to eat in an imperfect world. I have no desire to convince anyone to eat meat; I only wish to explain how I came to this conclusion.

Patricia Christmas
12/22/2012 8:31:38 PM

Beautiful! So few people realize the havoc caused by our obsessions with food. So many of the well-meaning people touting fad "super foods" - tea, soy, quinoa - are completely unaware of the social and environmental damage being caused by the insatiable demand.

Stuart Massion
12/20/2012 11:14:11 AM

Amen! I always wondered why it was okay for a pride of lions to attack and dismember a zebra, but somehow "unnatural" for humans to eat meat. Of course, anything in excess is not good, but the occasional ingestion of meat protein is not a crime. I certainly haven't eaten my parents, but when I see how old and frail they have become because they dedicated their lives to give me and my siblings a good start in life, I don't think it is outrageous to assume cows are willing to give their bodies up to those who love them and who they love back. I am a member of a CSA that mainly provides vegetables, but also uses cows for making manure, milk and meat. I have personally milked "Betsy" and she seemed to be grateful for it. I have drunk their milk and eaten their butter, cheese and meat. I don't feel ashamed and I think Betsy and the other cows are happy too. That is the way it should be, and it is natural.

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