The politics of Easter eggs

kids_spring06_egg_cow.jpg

Easter eggs are now a political football with Animals Australia is using them as an opportunity to spread the word – and the guilt – about eating food laced with dairy cruelty.

At the same time, the Australian Raw Milk Movement is preaching the gospel of Vicki Jones, the woman behind the recalled milk associated with the death of a toddler. Apparently cows being treated with antibiotics when they fall ill are “paying the price” for the milk we conventional farmers provide. Better to assume no animal on an organic farm ever falls ill (or can simply “disappear” if she doesn’t respond to a massage with magic cream).

It disheartens me tremendously that treating a sick animal with the best medicine available can be dressed up as some form of cruelty but I think I’d better get used to it fast. Why? Because there are two movements gathering pace in Australia: “food fear farming” and “orthorexia nervosa”.

Food fear farming for product differentiation
You can make money from frightening mums and dads in the supermarket.

Milk that contains added permeate (which is an ugly name for milk’s natural sugars and vitamins), is pasteurised, comes from cows fed some grain or is not organic can be made scary. And non-scary milk gets a lift!

This is a basic marketing principle called “product differentiation” and is used by marketers in every consumer goods category from toilet paper to life insurance to gain market share or justify a higher price.

“When we were conventional dairy farmers I felt so frustrated at being powerless in the industry but now we are price setters and have security. It actually feels like we are running a business.”
– Vicki Jones, raw milk farmer, The Weekly Times, 17 September 2014

The reality is that as the margins around milk become tighter and tighter, we can expect to see increasingly desperate attempts to differentiate milk brands from the mainstream.

Orthorexia nervosa
Nutrition lecturer at UNSW Australia, Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds, wrote in The Conversation recently, that:

Orthorexia nervosa, the “health food eating disorder”, gets its name from the Greek word ortho, meaning straight, proper or correct. This exaggerated focus on food can be seen today in some people who follow lifestyle movements such as “raw”, “clean” and “paleo”.

Of course, food-centric righteousness comes in many forms and I’m watching as animal activists and food activists come together.

That quest for purity teamed with the need to differentiate what is otherwise a commodity product is perfect for farmers and food marketers desperate to make a dollar. Sadly, it’s often at the expense of everyday farmers and shoppers like you and me. And, if they could have their way preventing the use of basic medicines like antibiotics, the wellbeing of innocent cows.

Work with me to look after our cows

I want to give every one of our cows a better life. It may sound grandiose but I think of myself as their guardian.

BoldHeiferLoRes

I am not a corporation, not a money-hungry investor looking to tear a quick buck off the backs of our cows. No, I am in this for the long-term, not five years or a decade but for the generations beyond mine. Every time I plant a new trailer-load of trees, I imagine the deep shade they will cast when my children reach middle age.

How we planted trees 40 years ago

How we planted trees 40 years ago

Every calf we rear is fed with enough colostrum to bless her with a long and healthy life, not just until market day. And the herd is scrupulously isolated from disease like BJD, not just for now, but for generations of cows to come.

No rest for the mother of twins

A perfect multi-tasking mother cow!

I’m not an aberration, not a monster, just a farmer doing her best. So don’t tell me I am cruel if you don’t understand – or approve of – the way I care for our animals. Sit alongside me in the paddocks and, together, perhaps we can work out a better way.

 

How does it feel?

The sideshow continues: Coles claiming farmers are lucky to see milk sacrificed, animal activists making uninformed allegations of cruelty, vegans banging on about growth hormones (which are illegal here anyway).

Sitting in the stifling heat of the office and reading it all in one hit on one page tortured with anger, confusion and deceit, it is as if the world is against you.

So, with the kids asleep and only the crickets to keep you company, you step outside to fill your lungs with fresh, cool twilight air. And it feels like the world is yours.

My reality

My reality

No wonder so few farmers have an appetite to take their dairy lives beyond the farm gate.

Could you be suffering from cow envy?

CuriousHeifersRun

The ethics of food is so complex. Vegans following a conscientious diet are told they are inadvertently starving Peruvians, causing deforestation and even eating with blood on their vegetarian hands. It’s not easy being green and I don’t blame vegans for being so passionate about their choice.

Life on farm is a microcosm of those ethical dilemmas. Every day, we must make decisions that impact on the well-being of an animal. Often, there is no easy answer. Should we euthanase that cow now or wait although she’s in discomfort in the hope she recovers? Should we raise that calf away from her mother or risk deadly disease transmission? And the big one: should I send heifers to China if milking just won’t pay the bills?

If nothing else, it forces you to stare hard in the mirror and here’s what I see: yes, I am a commercial dairy farmer and, hell yes, I care about our animals and our land.

Although this is something vegans on Twitter seem to find inconceivable, in my experience, this mindset is not only possible but typical of dairy farmers. It’s what keeps us on the land for generations and I am incredibly grateful to be here. My farm may not be a “cow sanctuary” as one vegan put it but I’m doing my best to make sure the cows never realise.

(Special note to my vegan friends: I realise what a privilege this is and wouldn’t blame you for some serious cow envy!)

The hard lessons of life on farm

Message for Papa

Every farmer is by nature a philosopher. You must live for the big picture, cherish the little things and remember that, no matter what, the wheel continues to turn.

This week, a cow died in labour and two more gave birth to bulls. We felt sad about the death of a favourite but welcomed two of her sisters back into the herd. Farmers know that death is an inescapable fact of life.

Even so, it was different when a friend’s dog was killed in a freak tree-felling accident. It’s much harder to be philosophical about a the passing of a man’s best mate and I felt sick just hearing about it.

It’s times like these that throw the delineation between farm animal and pet into stark relief. Animal activists often ask farmers and meat eaters whether they would eat their own pets. Of course not. Does that make a compelling case for veganism?

Not in my view. All our animals will die one day, irrespective of the cause. What makes us ethical custodians is the quality of life we provide.

How transparent should farmers be?

There is no counter argument out there. Could it be because there is no humane practice?

Can’t take your word for it. You need to explain your practices and where your product goes. What happens to your male calves? Etc.

Show me! Tell me! I would like to keep consuming dairy.

The campaign against you is growing.

Honestly. I’m very open to being educated. It was an FYI. “You” = “dairy industry”.

One of your biggest hurdles is that like the cattle industry, u appear secretive. Transparency might be too late.

These tweets from a journalist with a self-proclaimed “love for our living planet and my opposition to her corporate destruction” has made an understandable choice: to believe a charity dedicated to the welfare of animals rather than an “industry”. Yes, although 98 per cent of Australian dairy farms are family farms where cows roam free, the perception is that we act as an industry in perpetrating animal cruelty on factory farms in the name of profit.

Why do I say it’s understandable? Do a little test to see for yourself. Google “bobby calf”.

Animal welfare organisations dominate the results. The people who live and breathe animal care – farmers – are missing. Our voices are not being heard.

I don’t really believe that Animals Australia campaigns will cause a noticeable drop in milk consumption because Aussies love to drink milk but these activists and their followers have worked hard to win the attention of policy makers.

Some of their views are valid, some are ludicrous, and some of the policymakers may well be swayed to adopt them. If we want to be able to operate farms free from a tangle of compliance or, worse, mandatory practices that are actually bad for animal welfare, we must learn from our detractors.

Animals Australia knows that science and logic do not resonate when it comes to animal welfare. Emotions quite rightly do because animal welfare only triumphs when the custodians hold the care of their animals close to their hearts. And because everyone knows that politicians are quick to follow popular opinion, we cannot be satisfied with lobbying in Canberra. We’ve got to tell the story like it is to anyone who will listen.

Tonight, Twitter forum AgChatOz will host a discussion on bobby calf welfare and other dairy practices. I will be there (baby bedtime permitting) and I hope lots of other dairy farmers will be too.

Unless we learn to work together, the animals will be the losers

You know, something diabolical has happened to our sensibilities as we use animals to feed ourselves. We have lost something in the process. It’s called CONSCIENCE.
I don’t know how dairy farmers can lie straight in bed, when they kill the babies … just as the baby seals are killed for their fur, these poor little animals don’t even get a chance to grow a pelt, let alone have time to be alive!!!! Where are we going as a species, to use other creatures in such callous, cruel ways? I am beyond disgusted, I’m appalled and ashamed. GET A CONSCIENCE FOR GODS SAKE, ALL THOSE IN THE DAIRY INDUSTRY.
Friday at 18:19

I don’t blame Sally Hook for that comment posted on the Bush Telegraph Facebook page. Her response to the reported dairy practices was very typical and I’d feel the same way if I wasn’t better informed. Sally and every other Australian has a right to know her food is ethically produced and if we dairy farmers feel slighted by the comments that misinformation brings, we only have ourselves to blame.

Farmers are understandably wary of the vitriol that drips from the tongues of many animal activists.  But that is no excuse to keep people in the dark. Nor can we leave it to our “leaders” to communicate with the rest of the world because it is impossible to delegate telling your own story. Sally needs to hear it from the horse’s mouth, no matter how scary that might be for us.

At the same time, I’m hoping the animal activists will also take a step closer to the table. Sally did. After two days of online “talks” with real farmers, as distinct from agripoliticians, she posted this comment:

I urge the good people of the dairy industry to keep pushing.
Sunday 2 hours ago

We can and must build bridges with Australians who share our passion for animals. Defending the indefensible minority, as industry people caught like rabbits in the spotlight tried and failed miserably to do on national radio, is not only morally bankrupt but counterproductive in the extreme.

Sally is right. The good people of the dairy industry must keep pushing.