by Hilary Rossow
The case for omnivores.
Join us in our series to debunk the misconceptions perpetuated against agriculture!
The final installment of The Stockman’s series, Agvocation 101, examines concerns some consumers express regarding production agriculture.
Human bodies are designed to eat meat as well as plant material. Sharp canine teeth and a monogastric digestive system are clear indicators of this fact. However, there are many reasons a person may choose a vegan diet or lifestyle.
Health concerns such as Type 2 diabetes, gallbladder issues, or high cholesterol can sometimes be mitigated by a vegan diet. However, many vegans adopted a no-animal-product diet because of their concerns about animal welfare or environmental impact.
There are different types of vegetarian diets. Vegan diets have no red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, or eggs. Variations include those adopting a plant-based diet that may contain dairy, eggs, or fish.
Poultry and Eggs
The poultry industry comes under fire for its concentrated animal farming operation (CAFO) housing. Birds are raised in cages for meat and eggs. From some consumers perspectives, this may seem cruel and inferior to a cage-free or free-range situation. However, chickens and turkeys specifically have cannibalistic tendencies, and keeping birds separated or in small groups ensure the health and safety of the animals. Feed and water can also be monitored more closely to watch feed intake for possible health issues. Eggs can be collected efficiently with fewer damaged eggs when hens are kept in cages.
Additionally, poultry barns are well ventilated and climate controlled to ensure the health of the birds and humans inside the buildings. Sick and underperforming animals are a labor and financial burden to producers, so ensuring a safe, healthy environment is a top priority for animal owners across all species.
Lastly, many people do not realize that chickens lay eggs even if they are not fertilized. Proper nutrition ensures the health of the bird and nutritional value of the egg.
Concerns some consumers have with consuming cow’s milk center on additives and possible contamination. According to the food science department at Cornell University, all raw milk is tested before it is picked up at dairy farms and before it is unloaded at the processing facility. Milk must be free of pathogens, antibiotics, pests, and other foreign material, or it will be rejected. Not only will the producer not receive money for that milk, but the producer may also be fined, and future loads penalized.
As farmers and ranchers, the care and health of the animals left in their care is of high importance. Animals produce food either with their offspring, their eggs, or their milk. When they are no longer able to produce these, they enter the food chain themselves. Much research has been done and many stringent rules have been implemented by the FDA to ensure animals are treated in the most humane way until their last breath.
Conversely, very few animals are given a painless death in nature. Disease, predators, pests, and natural disasters are all painful and possibly preventable ends animals in nature face. Producers have many tools at their disposal to combat these issues and ensure the health and longevity of each animal in their care. If animal agriculture were abolished, the animals would still exist, but their existence may contain pain, disease, and pest infestation.
Even if animals were not kept in captivity, nature dictates that they reproduce. Hormone changes in the female body make her receptive to the male, the male senses these changes, and they mate. Nature itself shows us this is true in the baby raccoons, deer, birds, and other critters seen in the wild. Humans intervene by providing a safe, disease-mitigating environment that also ensure the best traits are captured and undesirable ones are eliminated.
One exceptional talent cattle have is the ability to turn fiber that is inedible and unusable to humans into delicious, nutritious beef and milk. Humans cannot digest forages and most parts of grain. Cattle, however, convert grass, hay, and haylage into highly nutritious muscle. Most pasture terrain is unfit for large scale human habitation because of the terrain but is ideal in many cases for maintaining cow/calf pairs as well as sheep.
Many byproducts of other agriculture industries are readily consumable and highly nutritious to beef and dairy cattle. Ethanol plants use corn for biodiesel and ethanol, and the corn gluten meal and distillers grains (wet and dry) are exceptionally high in total digestible nutrients (TDN) and would be wasted if not for animal agriculture. Additionally, byproducts like cottonseed meal, beet pulp, and peanut byproducts are all high in TDN, but have no other large commercial use.
Manure from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is easily accessed and high in nitrogen and phosphorus that is readily absorbed by plants. This increases the amount of topsoil as well as its nutrient content ensuring its longevity. Farmers with access to manure can generally decrease the dollars spent on inputs to grow crops by saving on chemicals needed to augment the nutrients in their fields’ soil. Additionally, manure is one of few fertilizers that can be used in organic farming, according to the USDA.
Tofu is bean curd. It is prepared by coagulating soy milk then pressing those curds into a solid block with varying degrees of squishiness. Tofu contains high levels of manganese and calcium and is a favorite of many vegetarians as a protein source. Conversely, beef is a great source of iron, zinc, vitamins B3, B5, B6, and B12 as well as protein, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).
People making a living in production agriculture do not take the animals they raise for granted. Their health is of paramount importance. Decades of research has shown the most humane ways to treat these animals from birth to slaughter.
Agriculture is facing fire daily worldwide from uninformed activists armed with assumptions about an industry they know little about. Finding ways to educate others in a non-confrontational way with facts is key. Encouraging peers in agriculture to do their own research and arm themselves with hard truths about food safety and nutrition while also pointing out the humane and compassionate care given these animals will help ensure the future of animal agriculture.
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