A recent USA Today op/ed piece (“What’s the godly way to treat animals?”) by Rev. Oliver Thomas poses an interesting question in its title.
He answers that question by essentially positing a response to the age-old “What Would Jesus Do?” query. Rev. Thomas says, “Here’s what I think Jesus would have to say on the subject: If you’re going to eat animals, raise and slaughter them as humanely as possible. That’s what God had in mind when he made you caretakers of his planet. Consider the fact that these animals are giving up their lives for you, and respect that.”
Well said. The vast majority of those involved with livestock production would agree with Rev. Thomas’s premise, whether or not they subscribe to the religious nature of it.
However, Rev. Thomas makes some apparently uninformed generalizations about the care and handling of livestock in reaching his conclusion.
What he says: “As for the animals we raise for food consumption, my guess is that few Americans have any inkling of the horror these poor creatures endure.”
What we say: This statement is the kind of sweeping generalization that, when it appears in print from an “authoritative” source, registers in a reader’s mind as fact. Rev. Thomas writes that his assumptions are based on the reading of one book— Jonathan Safron Foer’s Eating Animals, itself a biased work from an activist perspective. Rev. Thomas never indicates that he actually spent time on a livestock farm to see animal care for himself.
Vegan blogger Ryan Andrews had some preconceived notions about what goes on at a modern livestock production facility—until he actually visited one.
What he says: “Would you call packing animals shoulder to shoulder in their own excrement . . . humane or responsible stewardship?”
What our experts say: Rev. Thomas uses a broad brush to imply that every food animal that you rely on is treated in this manner. We would agree the conditions he describes aren’t humane or responsible. Trouble is, it’s not an accurate picture of what goes on on livestock farms. If animals were packed together in their own excrement, they wouldn’t be healthy, and therefore, wouldn’t be productive. Again, we challenge Rev. Thomas to document where he saw such conditions.
In fact, if you visit the “We Care” section of the National Pork Producers Council website, you can find that group’s ethical principles when it comes to animal care. You can also visit the Beef Quality Assurance website to learn about the national standards for cattle production, as well as their Code of Cattle Care. And the Master’s of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program has had more than 2,800 participants to date.
What he says: “…wiring them into cages…” and “Find out what’s really free-range…”
What our experts say: Rev. Thomas is likely referring to the practice of raising poultry in a battery-cage environment, as opposed to in an open barnyard. However, it’s been shown time and again that chickens are safer and healthier when cage-raised as opposed to so-called “free range.”
What he says: Twice, Rev. Thomas refers to “factory farms.”
What we say: The term “factory farm” is disparaging, prejudicial, and inaccurate. The way he inserts the phrase subtly brings the reader to his side by making them assume facts not proven.
The bottom line: Ultimately, we agree with what Rev. Thomas says about how food animals should be treated. However, we question how much he actually researched the subject of livestock production. Based on his column, we can only assume his research did not go beyond reading a single book. We would hope that someone writing such a piece—particularly in such a prominent forum—would have done what Ryan Andrews did: actually visit a farm and learn the subject matter for himself firsthand.