Animal cruelty laws could become a fact of life for Texas livestock producers.
As pointed out in recent blogs-Who defines humane treatment of animals? and The ethics of livestock production. Will you do what's right?-a few bad actors in the Texas livestock industry are setting a scenario where all producers will suffer. And that's unfortunate.
Not that any of us are for animal cruelty and mistreatment. The sad fact is that it's out there. It's highly visible. And extreme cases tend to end up on television and newspapers which adds fuel to the forces who seek changes that could profoundly affect the way you do business…and not for the better.
Those two blogs have generated a lot of comments, many phone calls and a ton of emails. Some of the musings observe that all animal production in this country is cruel and I take that for what it is-the beliefs of people whose motives will never jive with my assertion that we must produce an abundance of safe and wholesome food.
Many of those comments, however, address the frustration of trying to correct a wrong and running into a brick wall. One South Texas rancher told me a story of starving cattle on a neighboring ranch. When he asked the owner to do something about it he was told to mind his own business. Another explained a situation where cattle were on the verge of starvation and local authorities were reluctant to step in. Of course I don't know the details of either. We've just come through a horrendous drought and there were a lot of thin cattle spread statewide. But there is a point of no return. And I've heard from enough people I know personally to realize that we have problems out there. And no matter where you live in Texas, I think we have all some time or the other witnessed livestock animal cruelty firsthand.
Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of answers. But I do have many questions.
• Should the industry police itself? If so, what form does it take?
• Should a fund be put together to buy out the bad actors? What keeps them from getting back in the business?
• Should the abused animals be sold with proceeds used to nurse the animals back to health?
• Should we stick our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away?
The only answer I'm sure of is the one to the last question. This is not an issue the industry can ignore.
I'd like to end with a response from Jason Hubbard, a blog reader who is not involved in agriculture other than eating and taking a healthy interest of the issues affecting farmers and ranchers. Here's what he wrote in response to the Ethics of Livestock blog:
"This mistreatment of animals and the effect it has on our food supply are both deplorable... The few careless ranchers out there allowing these things to happen are creating problems far larger than they realize. As long as stories like these can be told, stories like Food, Inc. will be believed. As long as animals are mistreated and made to suffer, so will the industry, your revenues and our food suffer."
Well said, Jason. I'd just like to add one thing.
If a proactive solution is not mapped out, animal cruelty laws will be passed which will add restrictions and headaches to an already challenging Texas livestock industry. Those restrictions will address the sins of a few but will affect everyone. Once on the books, they will only get worse.
The bad actors need to disappear. My question: How do we make that happen?