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The Ag Agenda

March 2008

Animal Care is Top Priority for America’s Farmers, Ranchers

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Members of the public are concerned about the treatment farm animals receive. While they might be unfamiliar with the professional and ethical standards that guide agriculture in the treatment of farm animals, they still have a desire to protect the well-being of the animals we raise.

We have listened to the concerns and issues they have raised. We are always willing to consider and discuss new ways to improve the health and safety of our animals. Our commitment is clear: The health and welfare of the animals we raise is our top priority.

In many cases, America’s farmers and ranchers represent the third or fourth generation of our families to work the land and tend animals. Many farmers and ranchers across our nation can relate personal stories about a snowy night, a sizzling summer day or a holiday evening spent caring for a sick or pregnant animal. It is a commitment few people outside of agriculture understand.

But there is another reason as well. Farms and ranches are businesses, and there is no question that the proper care and handling of animals makes good business sense. Animals are our livelihood, and it is abundantly clear that healthy, well-treated animals produce the healthy products that Americans want for their families. That includes our own families.

America’s farmers and ranchers have worked closely with veterinarians and other experts to help ensure the well-being of our animals. These efforts, along with decades of research and generations of experience, have helped us create a body of common practices that today serve the best interests of our animals and our businesses. These include practices regarding food, water, disease prevention and veterinary care. They include humane practices regarding animal transport, including confinement practices designed to protect animals and ensure their health and proper feeding. Yet, these are issues likely to put farmers and ranchers in the news this year.

We understand how important all these issues and practices are. As an agricultural industry, we’re always examining what we do and how we do it, maintaining a constant dialogue with veterinarians and within the farm community itself. Now, others outside of agriculture have joined the discussion.

While the discussion continues, some parts of our industry have started re-examining our practices and looking at alternatives that would continue to ensure the proper protection for animals while also being sensitive to changing societal concerns about them.

At the end of the day, America’s farmers and ranchers only ask that decisions about raising livestock still be based on science, not emotion. Consumers tell us they agree. The health and welfare of animals, indeed the health and welfare of an entire industry, deserve a fact-based discussion and rational resolution.

The American Farm Bureau wants to be certain any proposed change in animal care builds on our legacy of compassionate care of livestock, on the values we share with America’s consumers. However, we must also ensure that any new proposal sustains our farmers and ranchers. That’s why Farm Bureau at many levels is working diligently to help establish a process to evaluate public concerns. That is why we are encouraging farmers and ranchers to educate themselves about consumer expectations and to participate in an open dialogue.

Farmers, ranchers and veterinarians in the United States have addressed similar issues in the past as we constantly adapt to changing standards and new technology. We’re reasonable people and we’re the right folks to be addressing this issue. In fact, we are already deeply engaged in that effort.