The one thing I want to tell HSUS about agriculture

So, there’s another “undercover video” out today.  This time it’s targeting the pork industry, and gestation crates.  Actually, it claims to target Smithfield Foods.  For those unaware, Smithfield is the largest pork producer in the world, with hundreds of thousands of sows.  The issue is gestation crates for sows, not something I’m up to speed on, I’ll defer to those that have researched the issue, but I’m fully aware it’s not a simple black and white question.

What really bothers me..  HSUS claims to support family farmers.  Videos such as this do nothing of the sort.  It’s the classic case of if one REALLY cared about animals they’d actually spend more than a minuscule amount of their budget caring for them.  But that’s not my point either.   What I really want to talk about is consolidation in agriculture.

It’s a big issue, and a difficult one.  I bleed free market conservatism, yet I have a deep interest in seeing the family farm preserved.  Those two realities can be difficult to merge in today’s environment.  Smithfield and what’s happened in the pork industry could be a classic example of the issues, questions and concerns. 

But what I wish HSUS would understand, videos like this hurt family farmers the most.  Wether they convince Smithfield to get rid of gestation creates a few months sooner or not, that’s gonna affect the bottom line of a corporate giant.  But what’s forgotten is the family farm folk who get caught in the fallout.  Who are getting up long before dawn, in  sometimes awful weather, to provide true care for their animals.

Additional regulation, which seems to be the ultimate goal of groups like HSUS, won’t improve the care of those animals the slightest bit, what it will do is drive those family farms out of business.  You see, small family farms don’t have the deep pockets of the corporate giants, they arn’t able to make massive new investments in facilities/operating procedures on a few years notice.  Their methods and care of the animals they raise has been built often over decades, even generations, it’s done from the heart, not a law book.  That’s the message I wish HSUS could understand about the agriculture I know.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Darin, Thanks for clearly stating your viewpoint. Definitely something to consider.


  2. The family farmer is the agriculture I know too. Great post…I wonder if the HSUS higher-ups have ever been on a family farm?


  3. Posted by Larry on December 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Very good point about regulations and small farmers.
    But… the reason HSUS says they are for small farmers is the same reason they show pictures of sick little kitties and puppies! It is all for emotion! They are not for small farmers, but people love the way farming was back in the forties and fifties. So who can be against small farmers. HSUS uses that emotion to raise more money to raise more money and to fund their salaries and pension fund!


    • Agree, and to me the biggest shame of the whole thing is it’s all about emotion and marketing and very few in the organization seems to actually care about the difficult task of caring for animals that need it


      • I don’t think they do. Respectfully – I think they like the IDEA of farming then – but not the reality. I know old farmers who talked of the work horse dying and they’d drag it into the hog pen for ‘disposal’. The reality would not meet the IDEA. Not to mention the proportion of people who would have to work for ‘not enough money’ – who *won’t* in order to do that. I just got ‘accused’ of working for Smithfield’s and I think anyone who spent five minutes around me at ACFC10 will laugh at that idea. People are so swept up in hating “corporate ag” or “big ag” they go with what sounds good without any clue the reality. If it tromps the small places to death it doesn’t seem to matter.
        I wonder how that local fresh food is doing in Chicago right now.

  4. Posted by GailZ on December 15, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Good article, but I think you are the one missing the point when you write “But what I wish HSUS would understand, videos like this hurt family farmers the most.” What makes you think that they don’t? They can go noisily and with much fanfare after the “factory farms” which are easy targets in the eye of the general public, and quietly watch the family farms go out of business in the way that you described. Classic misdirection.


  5. Posted by Mary on December 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I understand the point about how hard family farmers work in all kinds of weather. Our temperatures here are almost 25 degrees below normal with the wind making it feel even colder. I have to walk to the barn in the wind, check on all the wateres to make sure they aren’t frozen, and if so, break ice, clean out buckets, and refill in freezing cold. I go to the barn multiple times during the day and night.

    You are right that every regulation hurts. Every regulation costs money from an industry where the average profit margin is very narrow. In fact the last number I read was an average of 3%. Ironically, in healthcare, the non profits aid for 10 or 11 % return on their investment so they can continue to reivest and improve the service.


  6. Posted by Cody on January 3, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Hey Darin – As a fellow family farmer, I have a different perspective. Gestation crates, million-dollar tractors, and other expensive equipment that is used almost exclusively by megafarms (what the HSUS likes to call “factory farms”) allow these operations to leverage their scale to drive smaller farms out of business. I’m a 98% free-market guy myself, but I think things like gestation crates (not farrowing crates) should be limited 1) because it’s cruel to the animals and 2) because it is precisely the sort of thing driving small farmers out of business. The government should be using the Food Bill to help us little guys out, not throw us under the bus to Cargill and Monsanto.


    • Cody, I appreciate your perspective, thats the thing that I find wonderful about agriculture, the diverse range of views that hopefully can co-exist. Personally, from what I’ve heard from experts on animal care, I’m not convinced the “best” way to care for pigs is clear cut.

      But, the issue we really disagree on is that somehow passing laws mandating animal welfare is going to save the small family farm from corporate giants. To me, there’s really two separate issues – proper care for animals raised for food production and the whole question of corporate agriculture, the best model to feed the world, etc. I just don’t see much overlap between the two issues, and from what I’ve seen here mixing them up mostly clouds the issue and hurts agriculture as an industry


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