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Battlefields PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Wednesday, 30 August 2006
AFF Sentinel Vol.3 #23

Any general worth his salt wants to pick his own field of battle. But sometimes the battle is forced on a field not of his choosing. Then, surviving to win the war is dependent on fighting on the opponent's battlefield.

Such a situation faces the livestock industries now. A bill in Congress would, in effect, forbid the sale of an animal for slaughter -- violating the owner's right of private property -- based not on science, food safety or humane grounds but strictly on the emotional plea that some don't want animals slaughtered for food. A precedent here could have catastrophic consequences for all animal food production. This bill (H.R. 503) in the U.S. House has over 200 co-sponsors, very close to the number required for passage. Last session's bill to pull federal funding for horse slaughter inspection did pass, despite the livestock industry's belief prior to the vote that they had the votes to defeat it.

This issue highlights something the livestock industries must come to grips with. The public increasingly views production animal agriculture with the same attitude it views the critter sitting next to them on the couch - a dog or cat they consider "family." This blurring of the line between humans and animals - silly and incomprehensible to cattlemen who handle production livestock every day - poses a potentially fatal threat to livestock production.

And while animal activist groups do not now have the political clout to propose the overall elimination of livestock production for food, they have been chipping away. Veal and hog producers have had to fight in Florida and Arizona to keep the right to raise animals even using the humane and scientifically justified methods of the 21st century. European livestock producers are already restricted.

Couple the blurring of animal and human lives and the consequent emotional response of some voters with the tremendous budgets of zealous animal activist groups, the politicians' need for votes in a tight election and the public's response to horses, and there are elements for disaster. Mind you, most of these people have no real-world experience with 1,100-lb. horses. They are just a pretty sight with big brown eyes.

Many of the bill's opponents are focusing on the huge problem it would create -- finding somewhere to go with 60,000 - 90,000 horses/year. Horse adoption programs, landfills, burial prohibitions, areas without rendering plants, environmental problems -- the systems would be quickly overwhelmed. The costs? Hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In addition, the Animal Welfare Council has estimated horse owners would take over a $300/horse valuation hit because of no salvage value, a "taking" of a different kind. Thousands of horses might just be hauled somewhere and turned loose to forage any way they could or starve - like some city folks do when they tire of their dogs and cats.

While these implications are immediate, the long- term threat to all livestock industries is worse. Banning the sale or transportation of horses for slaughter for food, based only upon emotional appeals, would give activists a foothold to intensify their efforts on egg laying and foie gras, farrowing crates and veal production, confined dairy and beef production, eventually leading to direct assaults on slaughter of all animals for food.

And while that is a leap for many to imagine today, it's not difficult to imagine the legal system finding it hard to differentiate between one animal and the next. Recall Laurence Tribe's comments on the steps of the Supreme Court that under different circumstances, livestock auction operators might be vegetarians opposing cattle slaughter. Those "different circumstances" are the kinds of quandaries lawyers create for judges and juries regularly, with sometimes dire consequences. Even Congress can be left slack jawed at the judicial system's interpretation of their laws. Congress itself creates monsters it cannot control.

The bottom line is that activists have chosen to fight over an animal most of the public likes and can imagine attachments with. They are pulling at heartstrings without regard for real-world, life-and- death facts. And livestock producers had better contact their Congressmen pronto to turn back this assault on animal agriculture. The vote could be as soon as Sept. 7.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 01 September 2006 )
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