The Truth About Farming

Sometimes it’s tough to know who is responsible for specific actions. A lot of debate has surrounded the actions of Nazi soldiers during the Second World War. Many of the soldiers at the time say they were just following orders. However, others argue that everyone still has free choice to determine their own actions. 
Regardless of who is responsible, the fact remains that over 13 million people were killed during WWII. Whether it is the responsibility of a nation of “yes men” or a single leader remains to be seen. 
Many animal activists liken modern-day farms to WWII death camps. Every day countless animals are being slaughtered by people they view as “yes men”.  
On March 31, 2017, the organization Mercy for Animals released a video describing how animals suffer on factory farms. While their goal of ending animal suffering is admirable, their video is flawed and dishonest. They apply sweeping generalizations to indicate that circumstances shown on specific farms are true of every farm. They also strategically illicit harmful emotions from the viewer and wrongfully direct that anger at farmers. By only showing partial facts, and by utilizing vast generalizations, the creators of this video promote their cause while neglecting the truth and hurting farmers and food providers by creating an unfair public outcry.
Throughout much of their video, the narrator uses strategic, generalized words to apply the circumstances shown on the screen to all farms. He says “dairy farms are very different from the commercials you see with happy cows.” Did you notice how the choice of words may have caused you to think all farms are as horrific as the one shown on screen? While I am sure that very few farms truly are represented by idealistic commercials, I am equally sure that very few farms are as bad as the one shown. My Dad not only grew up on a dairy but also went to agricultural college and then worked on various dairies for over 20 years. He didn’t just work on one farm in one country; no, he worked on several diaries on two different continents! And none of them were as shown. Few farms had stanchions even while he was growing up and even less crowd their cows this way today. Thanks to recent research about caring for animals, most farmers are switching to loose-housing and prefer to keep their pens impeccably clean to promote high-quality milk. Farmers know the importance of being vigilant in animal welfare.
Farmers make their living from caring for animals and, most times, have generations of experience behind them and stay up to date on recent studies to help them take even better care of their animals. Often my dad would take an hour or two every day to just watch the cows. He cared about their health and wanted to see them interact with each other, see if any were hurt or limping and see if any weren’t eating or drinking. It is my belief that, in most cases, the farmer’s attention and experience make them better qualified to care for animals than a regular person off the street. Yet this video encourages the average person to believe that horrible atrocities are occurring on every farm of the world, and average citizens are encouraged to be angry at current farming practices.
The video says that egg farms are a horrible atrocity and that “nothing compares to them.” I worked on an egg farm. And I can tell you that is nothing like the gritty video shown. Again, a vast generalization is applied when they say that birds are kept in cages where they can’t even spread their wings. On our farm, the birds are housed loose in barns and allowed to move about freely. Studies have been done about poultry practices and we control lighting, feeding times, barn size and more to effectively care for the birds. We do our best to reduce pecking by walking the barns multiple times a day and ensure we remove any birds that have died. Farmers aren’t off in some remote corner secretly raising birds and mistreating them as the video suggests. We have an advisory board that monitors the production of hatching eggs. And we have another board that monitors animal welfare. We have audits. We have standards. The very idea that we are hiding something is repulsive, untrue, and shows total ignorance.
Another area the video paints an untrue picture is with their wording. Stylistically, they use over-enunciated, exact speech to give them an impression of authority. Few would question them when they present their “facts,” unless one knows better.  He says that pigs are emotionally traumatized by overcrowding. He says that chickens are “sensitive and sentient creatures.” But what does that mean? Do you know what “sentient” means? Or did your brain skip over that and just pick up on his tone? The narrator said that in many cases the cows are milked by machine. This is true according to my experience. However, he said it as if that was a bad thing. Oh no! The big, bad machine is out to hurt cows and take our jobs! I’m not so sure. On one farm I visited they had robots for everything! I was fascinated by their milking robot. It was so gentle and had a laser to guide it to the cow’s udder. It even had a sensor to tell it if the seal on the milking cups weren’t sealed properly (which would hurt the cows and cause a warped udder over time) and the machine would reset the cups automatically. The farm had robots to continually push up the feed so that the cows had access to feed all day and could eat at their leisure. The barn even had large openings in the wall to not only promote great airflow but also to ensure the perfect temperature and humidity. There were large shades over each of the openings in the wall that were programmed to automatically raise and lower according to the weather. Such ingenuity shows great care for every detail of daily farm life. 
Sadly, again, the video creators failed to show as much care in their production of these clips. The narrator mentions that “in some cases, the dead are even left out in large piles.” And then promptly moves on. He neglects to explain the concern over this method: he didn’t quantify the statement and left viewers with a half-truth. The main concerns of leaving dead animals out are predators and disease spreading. However, collecting them in one place is much better than allowing them to decompose in the manure piles where their remains would be spread over the fields. So he leads viewers to believe “this is horrible,” but forgets to mention that it is much better than many of the alternatives. 
The poultry board in our province published a book that discussed the various methods for disposing of dead animals that had been approved by the government. Yet in many cases, they also stated that while the province may be okay with a specific method, due to various concerns all responsible farms follow even higher standards. The farmers and agricultural boards are setting the pace and standard.
Because I know how careful and attentive farmers are, it angers me that the video creators couldn’t show as much care in their production to accurately portray farms.  I’ve mentioned this before, but they use such open-ended generalities when pulling information from probably only one or two farms and imply that it is true of all farms in all countries. They specifically mention the US but forget that their video will reach farms and families in other countries through the power of social media. It bothers me that the creators took the time to film and put this together, but didn’t take the time to present the full facts. The entire video is focused around the idea that this breaking footage is a revelation because the drones were finally able to capture what farmers were hiding. We aren’t hiding anything. In fact, many farmers I know offer tours. The farm I worked on was prepared to offer my high school science class a tour. Through work, I’ve also met different people who have hosted tours of their farms also. Some even hosted the former Primer of Alberta, Alison Redford. We have governing boards, inspections and audits. We aren’t hiding anything. 
In so many of the comments on this, and other videos, I saw concerned citizens calling farmers “heartless, wretched people,” leading others to believe that farmers are uneducated, penniless people who are desperate for a job and only farm because they are forced to. This isn’t true. I worked on an egg farm because it was my choice. And I enjoyed it. They say that chickens are bred to grow too fast for their bodies. This is mostly true. We had a diagram in our office that shows the progression of chickens. Chickens today are more than twice as large as chickens 80 years ago. They have been bred and modified to have a huge appetite and grow extremely fast. But fast-growing birds are a huge problem for us on the egg farm. Fat birds either don’t lay eggs, or lay eggs that are culled, or weak shelled and tend to make a mess for us egg-pickers. The video leaves viewers to be outraged at farmers. 
After the Second World War, people were outraged at the genocide that had happened. It was easy to pin all the blame on one leader: Adolf Hitler. Soldiers could evade responsibility for their actions by saying they were just following orders. But the fact remains that they are still responsible. Mercy for Animals' video is designed to leave people outraged at farmers, the way one might be outraged at all the horrible things Hitler did. Why doesn’t the video point viewers to the labs? Or better yet, why doesn’t it show viewers the truth? Why have chickens been bred to grow so fast? Because our world demands it. We have created chickens with a huge appetite to meet our societies' even larger appetite. So why doesn’t the video point viewers to…themselves? 


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