Thanksgiving Thoughts

Regardless of your choice of radio stations, this week you can’t avoid commentaries regarding America’s Thanksgiving traditional protein source – turkey. As we have come to expect, HSUS and other anti-animal agricultural groups have weighed in with their own versions of commentary. Probably the most extreme comment that I saw from one group was the declaration that artificial insemination was animal cruelty as it denied the tom and hen turkeys from enjoyment of their natural functions.

Turkey producers have used artificial insemination for 50+years and the result has been rapid improvements in both production efficiencies and the ability to apply nutrition and housing advances to improve the overall well being of the birds.

When I was a teenager in the 1960’s, turkeys were grown in free-range conditions. They were most often housed on grasslands with shelters, feeders, drinkers and fencing moved weekly as the birds removed all of the vegetation in their pasture pens. Birds drowned in rainstorms, were ravaged by foxes and other wild animals and consumed large amounts of corn and other feed grains. Turkey production (and availability to the consumer) was a seasonal thing since it was impossible to provide suitable free-range housing conditions in winter weather and spring mud. Avian influenza was a common occurrence as the birds had access to migrating water fowl and animal losses often were large when a disease pathogen stuck a flock.

Today the anti-animal ag groups would have consumers believe that the large turkey housing complexes common in Minnesota and North Carolina are abusive to the birds. They ignore the reasons for the development of these complexes and the improvements in conditions for the animals as a result of the investments in housing, nutrition and health.

I make these comments to remind all of those that read my blog that pork production isn’t the only animal industry under attack. The disconnect between production realities and the consumer continue to widen and the anti-animal ag groups are using this to their advantage.

Worldwide, consumers have shown a preference for increasing the amount of animal protein in their diet as their income levels rise above poverty levels. This is very evident in the Chinese demand for both pork from both their producers and from imported sources such as Canada and US suppliers. This is also evident in the growing world demand for soybean meal as a high quality amino acid source for swine and poultry diets.

We need to continue to work with American consumers to educate them on our long history of improvements in animal welfare. For those of us who have spent a lifetime working with livestock, the ‘old’ ways were not animal welfare ways – they were the reality of the times given our technology and limits of knowledge. While the anti-animal ag groups say all animal agriculture is bad, our target audience should continue to be those consumers worldwide who recognize the role of animal proteins in a healthful diet. We need them telling the anti’s that they have faith in our production methods and recognize the very large leaps we’ve made in the last 50 years regarding both animal housing and the adoption of production practices that have in fact dramatically reduced out carbon footprint.

The abundance of animal protein options in our diets at prices that are the lowest in the world coming from production systems that improve the welfare of the animals under our care while reducing the impacts on the world’s environment is indeed something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

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