Those who work with livestock can take great pride in their vocation — but they also shoulder great responsibility.
This was the theme of a presentation in Red Deer on Tuesday by Tim Blackwell, a veterinarian with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Speaking to members of the Alberta Chicken Producers, he described how stockmanship has long been an important and revered trade.
“I think you have the great privilege to belong to one of the world’s most respected professions.”
However, those in that profession need to be committed to food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare, stressed Blackwell.
“We don’t say we’re committed to animal welfare enough.”
In fact, it’s a professional duty that producers should constantly strive to improve in, he said.
Just like members of the medical profession might say a 90 per cent recovery rate for young leukemia patients still isn’t good enough, those who raise livestock should always seek to reduce their animals’ discomfort, argued Blackwell.
A failure to do so can cost producers the public’s trust.
“You can lose that trust easily if you don’t show that you care.”
Blackwell listed 17 statements commonly used by people in the livestock industry to discount their critics when it comes to animal welfare. He countered each of them.
For instance, those who say consumers shouldn’t tell farmers how to raise their livestock have forgotten that their customers have the right to criticize.
Anyone who dismisses animal rights advocates as “extremists” don’t understand that most consumers are in fact animals rights moderates, continued Blackwell.
To say that the issue of animal rights is inconsequential compared to problems like child hunger fails to recognize that there are multiple issues to deal with and we each need to focus on what we can control.
The statement that animal right proponents are never satisfied doesn’t consider that livestock producers should seek continuous improvement, said Blackwell. And hose who support only science-based animal welfare initiatives don’t realize that science tells industry what it can do, not what it should do.
Finally, the argument that a practice is acceptable because it’s the industry norm is like saying spousal abuse is OK because it’s always occurred, said Blackwell.
Ultimately, those in the livestock industry need to own animal welfare problems and seek solutions.
“Don’t deny them, don’t make light of them,” said Blackwell. “Correct your problems and you will ensure that you can hand this privilege down to the next generation.”
In addition to the Alberta Chicken Producers, Blackwell spoke to the Alberta Turkey Producers and the Egg Farmers of Alberta. These groups, along with the Alberta Hatching Egg Producers, were in Red Deer for their respective annual general meetings and conferences.