A truce is needed between farmers and animal advocates

Owen Roberts

Last updated on May 18, 23

Posted on May 18, 23

2 min read

Raising and marketing livestock in America is not going to get any easier.

In the US, a battle is being waged by animal activists against confined pork production. The main battlefield is California, but it’s going to affect the entire nation, and probably Canada,  because of the anticipated ripple effect.

California activists want pigs to have more room to move around naturally – not just in the Golden State, but everywhere pigs are raised that get sold as pork in California.

That’s a critical distinction, because it impacts states that have much more relaxed animal welfare laws. Producers in these states ship mountains of pork to California. And if they want to keep doing so, they’ll have to abide by the Golden State’s production requirements, at considerable expense.

The National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation don’t think that’s right. So, in a case that went to the Supreme Court and cost a tonne, they issued a challenge.

How, they asked, can one state with “radicalized” laws tell another state how to raise it pigs?

Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled against the challenge. The tally was 5-4, the slimmest margins for the nine-member court.

But it was a decision, nonetheless.

“While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list,” said one of the court’s members.

Such a flippant comment, given the gravity of the issue. It begs the question of whether the judges comprehended the enormity of the challenge, and the implications of the law itself.

No doubt, the industry will keep trying to push back.

But this defeat is sobering.

If activists are truly winning this war for the hearts and minds of the public, producers must think fast and come up with new ways to make their case.

Or they have to make changes, and live with them.

By and large, farmers are good to their livestock. Occasionally, a horrific video will arise that suggests otherwise. But it’s in farmers’ best interests financially to treat their animals well and keep them healthy.

The key is, who says what kind of treatment on the farm is socially acceptable? Is it the act-natural treatment, where livestock mostly does what it pleases? Or is the production-agriculture treatment, where there’s a middle ground between what pleases livestock, and what farmers can afford?

As always, it comes down to what we’re prepared to pay for food.

Livestock farmers will serve their animals champagne and caviar and run them a hot bath if that’s what consumers want, and they’re willing to pay for it. There’s a sweet spot where profitability and animal welfare meet, where livestock are content, where farmers can make a living, and where consumers feel good about the way livestock are raised.

It’s time to move toward that sweet spot. This current battle is like trench warfare. Each side makes incremental gains, and lately, that’s animal advocates. Next time it may well be producers. In the end, like with any war, victory is fleeting. There needs to be a truce and a peaceful solution.

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