There’s an old saying that in polite company, you don’t discuss politics or religion. I’m beginning to think animals should be on the list.
Nothing I write elicits more response than wildlife, livestock or pets. Like the unhappy reader who didn’t appreciate my argument for fewer deer. Apparently, according to her elegantly expressed opinion, I am “a redneck camo wearing freak!”
Thankfully, the praise and protests come in equal portions. Your calls and letters clearly show that Americans feel strongly about animals. In diverse, contradictory ways.
Recently, the charity Defenders of Wildlife collected $29 million in contributions while Americans spent $76 billion on hunting and fishing. We paid nearly $17 billion to feed our pets and $74 billion to eat beef. I once heard a rather insightful observation: “Americans want animals at the center of their lives and at the center of their plates.”
I’d like to think most of us are comfortable with the idea that we assign different purposes to different animals; some we cuddle, some we chew. In reality, there’s been no need to contemplate, let alone defend, our dissonant views. That’s changing.
Awareness of our relationship to animals is being elevated. We’re being forced to think about what’s right and what’s wrong. This newfound consciousness has been driven, so far, by a single point of view – the animal rights movement. That too is about to change.
Ohio Farm Bureau has created the Center for Food and Animal Issues. Its goal is to assure that all sides of the growing debate are heard. People who believe that animals are equal to humans should not be the only ones with a voice. So the Center will give a voice to farmers, consumers, pet and horse owners, researchers, sportsmen, hunger advocates and animal welfare groups – diverse interests with the common belief that people have the right to utilize animals and the responsibility to do so humanely.
This sounds like a common sense position, but we’re in uncommon times. California voters, thinking they were improving the lives of chickens, passed a law that resulted in the chicken business going into shut-down mode and egg prices climbing as much as 45 percent. The U.S. Congress banned the slaughter of horses; now, thousands of abandoned horses are starving or dying cruelly in foreign packing plants. Proposed laws would transform pet owners into pet guardians, which could give gerbils legal standing similar to that of your grandkids.
Clearly, there are unintended and painful consequences when decisions about animals are not thought through, when emotions are not balanced with reasoned thinking, when divergent opinions aren’t heard. We’ve learned that minority beliefs become society’s standards when majority views don’t show up. The Center for Food and Animal Issues will show up. We’ll assure that important choices about animals are fully discussed, not simply surrendered to those with political savvy, deep pockets or sheer strength of motivation.
It’s been believed for centuries that man’s character can be judged by how he treats animals. Still true, but that judgment is now harder to reach because few of us share common animal experiences. You may be as baffled about how pigs are raised for food as I am about someone wanting a pig for a pet. Through the Center, you’ll be able to experience the lab, the wild, the home and the barn. And become comfortable with both the animal’s well being and the character of the people who assure it.
Jack Fisher is executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.