Farming Choices are Rarely an Either/Or Decision

“There are no facts, only interpretations,” is a common quote I refer to from poet Friedrich Nietzsche. Modernizing the language, I take it as, “Facts don’t matter, only the perception.”

The struggle for perception in food is at an all time high. I talked last month about A&W’s perception of what ‘Better Beef’ represents, despite what the facts prove. President’s Choice runs a similar campaign for its ‘Free From’ brand, bragging about hogs raised without added hormones. That’s despite the truth that added hormones are illegal in pork production in Canada, and aren’t used at all. Ever. But again, the perception that it is better, not the facts, are all that matters.

The biggest proof of this is highlighted from Mercy for Animals Canada and W5’s cozy relationship. What started with undercover video from a pork farm in Manitoba early this year is obviously now a standard. An animal rights group heads into a farm, constantly tapes for the three or four months they work there, then send W5 the worst 15 minutes while licking their lips at the controversy that is about to unravel. I’m not going to run through the specifics of the video, as a very intelligent chicken vet in Ontario highlighted some of the facts in a post that I hope you’ll take the time to read.

Experienced folks, like Mike the Chicken Vet, are good to point out what needs to be improved to better the welfare of the birds. But why is the perception that getting hens out of cages is the solution to any and all welfare issues? Like all farming practices, it isn’t that simple.

Here’s why. There are just over one thousand egg farms in Canada, with the average farm having 20,000 hens. While it may happen in the movie “Babe”, throwing a bit of corn out of your apron isn’t an economical way to feed 20,000 hens. Plus, since 20,000 hens are a little hard to count, you’d likely miss the fox dragging a few struggling hens away between its bloodied teeth. Heck, just last month our neighbour’s free-range flock got a little smaller when the school bus hit the rooster on the road. Add in the eggs that have to be collected (about 16,000 per day for a flock that size), cold winter nights, hot summer days, pouring rain, a ‘pecking order’ (in which some hens dominate other by quite simply pecking, or attacking weaker birds, injuring or killing them) and it starts to paint a picture of why laying hens were moved into barns, and then into cages. It was to protect the chicken, make it easier for the farmer and, because the consumer demanded it, make the eggs cheaper.

You are free to buy a farm yourself and raise them differently, (maybe fence in the birds to avoid a cruel joke on why the chicken didn’t make it across the road) or buy an egg from a farm that raises them differently. But, is it fair for others to stand on some kind of moral high ground of animal care that isn’t nearly as black and white as they make it out to be?

It is also why I’m incredibly opposed to any action to change the method of production on the advice of Mercy for Animals Canada. After all, they are not interested in improving how eggs are produced. They are interested in eliminating egg production. Why should I, a news organization, or anyone else put complete faith in that kind of an agenda? Just look at the idea that the show signaled poor staff training, an inadequate euthanizing process, and too infrequent inspections, among other things. Mercy for Animals Canada isn’t calling on more inspectors, better training or a more consistent euthanizing process. They’ve only used their spotlight to try to end the use of cages, and pressure big brands to make the change themselves. I see a bit of a conflict with the idea that most animal activists don’t buy the free-range, organic options they guilt us into buying. Most don’t eat eggs at all. They don’t believe in it, and want us to do the same – so use these negative perceptions to get their way.

That being said, I’m fully aware that Egg Farmers of Canada want you to have a positive perception of egg production. However, more people need to take what an animal activist group, with real goals of ending our consumption of meat, milk and eggs, with a grain of salt. (That, and an ‘investigative journalism’ show that does little investigation on their own and, in the end, has to be focused on ratings to stay on-air.)

So, after all the excitement about egg production what am I going to do? I’m going to encourage farmers to make sure their practices are consistent with other farmers, and have evidence supporting some of the tough decisions they have to make on a daily basis. That, and I’ll stick to my two eggs at breakfast, from a hen raised in a conventional cage system, over-easy.

Want to decide for yourself? You can also visit www.virtualfarmtours.ca to tour five Canadian egg farms – conventional, free run, free range, aviary and enriched housing. You can see all the choices of egg types in Canada – and then can pick and pay accordingly.

 

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a dairy farmer in southern Ontario who also specializes in helping farmers learn about social media and advocacy. Once broadcasting farm news reports on the radio, he still likes to keep a close eye on news and issues relating to agriculture. Andrew is the owner of Fresh Air Media (http://www.thefreshair.ca), has a mild addiction to Twitter and believes the Brier & Scotties are the most important sporting events in the country. @FreshAirFarmer

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One Comment

Ross Barber

Well Said Andrew and unfortunately this falls across all livestock farming in Canada (and most of the world). Having grown up on a Beef & dairy operation in South Eastern Ontario, I have had a fair share of arguments over how milk is produced, how beef cows are treated. I have made many attempts to explain to people that animals that are treated well will generally be more productive and efficient. Sadly mass media is not a friend of most farmers these days. Hopefully Social media can be helpful in spreading truth.

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