Editorial on Issue 2: What does it mean to care for an animal?

White's chickens

A cage of chickens at White's Livestock Auction and Flea Market in Brookville, IN

It’s not a question that’s receiving much attention in the debate over whether an Ohio “Livestock Care Standards Board” should be formed, as per Issue 2.  But concerned humans should pay attention to the phrase “animal care” this week, since the two sides of the battle refer to different modes of caring.

To some, animal care means doing what is needed to make animal operations as efficient as possible–generally focusing on “herd health” and output over the health of individual animals.

Dean Bobby Moser of OSU’s agricultural college, and Tony Forshey, Ohio’s State Veterinarian and Animal Industry Chief, who will both be on the Board if Issue 2 passes, likely see animal care from this perpective. Moser’s academic research focused on “the effect of high-energy diets on swine reproductive performance, carcass quality, and growth rate and efficiency,” and Dr. Forshey, a food animal vet, is himself a pork producer.

In this line of work–industrial animal agriculture–we humans relate to other animals as commodities, like the cars we drive.

Another kind of care is focused on the well-being of the animal itself, unrelated to his/her reproductive performance or carcass quality; this is the kind of care we Americans usually give to the dogs and cats in our lives. It’s the kind of care the Humane Society of the United States was aiming for, when it helped pass California’s Prop. 2 this time last year, “to prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”

In these relationships–as guardians and advocates–we humans relate to animals as individuals whose lives matter to them–regardless of any other value they hold for us.

Livestock production has strayed far from where it was 50 years ago, when small, independent farmers were able to know their animals individually, and were thus personally driven to care for them as individuals. The focus there was on making a living, but it was compatible with providing for an animal’s basic needs.

On small-scale farms of the past and present, humans have related to animals as commodities without ceasing to recognize that they are also subjects of their own lives, with physical needs that include limb-stretching and walking.

To the farmers who oppose Issue 2, running an animal farm with integrity means providing for these needs; they have nothing to lose if future animal welfare reforms require it.  But the farmers who authored Issue 2–and who would populate the Livestock Care Standards Board–have repeated that reforms like California’s threaten their methods of production.

For wings to extend in Ohio, cage space would need to be redistributed in industrial chicken operations, where a large bird typically lives on an area smaller than an 8×10″ sheet of paper.

Issue 2 would both protect and perpetuate today’s low industrial standards, AND allow industrial producers to regulate standards for other farms.  Is this the direction we want our agriculture to take?  Or should we instead allow smaller, more humane farms to continue setting their own standards?

2 thoughts on “Editorial on Issue 2: What does it mean to care for an animal?

  1. Treating animals, livestock or otherwise, as commodities is indeed unethical, if not criminal, in the eyes of those of us who consider all creatures as fellow creatures. Not only do they deserve humane treatment from us humans but we owe gratitude to those animals who provide us with provisions (livestock) and love and attachment (pets). Thank you for a very clear-sighted discussion.

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