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Public attitudes shape animal welfare debate

Published Nov. 12, 2009 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Mike Bumgarner, vice president of OFBF’s Center for Food and Animal Issues, speaks during an animal welfare symposium.

Buckeye Farm News

Experts seek to sort out complicated issues of animal care

As Ohio voters considered the best way to set care standards for livestock, researchers attempted to shine a light on the complex science and societal expectations that shape animal care decisions.

In what turned out to be a timely discussion, an animal welfare symposium that was jointly sponsored by Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and Cooper Farms took place just weeks before voters approved an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.

Paul Hemsworth, an adjunct professor of animal science at Ohio State University and director of the Animal Welfare Science Centre in Australia, told the crowd of veterinarians, farmers and researchers that the livestock industry must proactively respond when science demonstrates that animal welfare is at risk. He also acknowledged that public attitudes ultimately give farmers their license to use animals.

“What do we know about public attitudes?” he asked. “I suspect we don’t know much.”

Hemsworth said “science should inform public debate” and emotional responses should contribute to, rather than preempt, the discussion.

The problem is that there is no one societal view of animals, according to Wes Jamison, an associate professor of communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

“The debate is not about animals. It’s about people and how they interpret animals,” he said.

Jamison said American culture no longer primarily views animals as something to be consumed.

“Our society is trying to figure out are animals family or food,” he said.

Gene Baur, president of the animal rights organization Farm Sanctuary, noted that consumers want to know more about how their food is produced.

“Right now most consumers are not terribly happy to learn what is happening to most farm animals in this country,” he said.

Mike Bumgarner, vice president for OFBF's Center for Food and Animal Issues, said the livestock community needs to be transparent in everything it does. Well intentioned food marketing efforts that inaccurately depict modern agriculture may be hurting farmers efforts, he suggested.

"We have to show people what real production agriculture is all about,” he said.

Bumgarner said he believes the public would be comfortable with their purchases after seeing how well-run farms care for animals.

When videos surface showing animal mistreatment, farmers need to  speak out, according to Steve Moeller, an Ohio State University Extension swine specialist

"We cannot condone willful acts of abuse," he said.



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