Originally printed in Feedstuffs July 22, 2007

Fighting for what we know is right

I just spent four exciting days in San Antonio, TX at the 2007 joint meeting of four animal science societies. ASAS, ADSA, PSA and AMPA were all present and 3500 registered attendees made it great. I was fortunate to be asked to give the keynote address during the opening session and made a statement that I believe will turn out to be truer than even I realized at the time. The fact that the meetings took place at the site of the Alamo may not have been an accident.

In 1836, with Santa Anna and his Mexican army invading Texas, it was the battle at the Alamo that made all of the difference in the overall outcome of the war. Had William Barrett Travis and company not held Santa Anna off for 13 days, Sam Houston may not have gathered the forces necessary for the Texas Nationals to ultimately win the war. Today in the world of food production, the invaders are the fabricators of truth over fact and they are armed with an arsenal of emotion that is attempting to trump science. I have no doubt that it will take a strong stand by a few brave individuals who will eventually stall the invaders long enough for the rest of the scientific community to gather their facts and their motivation and eventually prevail.

So many tremendous scientific discoveries were available for inquiring minds in San Antonio but it seemed as though animal welfare held the buzz. Animal welfare is quite simple. We need to provide the animals in our care with adequate food, water and protection from predators and the environment. Anything we worry about in addition to these basic needs is satisfying the emotions of humans not food animals. With that said I felt too much of a “defending animal agriculture to the animal rights community” attitude throughout the scientific population. If the seats had been filled with animal rights zealots would the science these professionals presented have satisfied their demands? NO!

By the same token, Santa Anna was not attempting to solely take control of San Antonio and the Alamo. This was one small battle in his quest for control of the State of Texas. So goes the battle of animal welfare in regard to the animal rights community. They represent such a minute percentage of the population but the blast they make by demanding better care for animals rings like the cannons over the Alamo in 1836. However, we must not lose sight of their real mission. It is not better treatment for animals; it is the complete liberation of animals. Therefore, no amount of validated science is going to satisfy them.

It is high time someone draws a line in the sand as William B. Travis did by saying, “We will fight to the death.” I feel too many in the scientific community as well as the industry are beginning to wonder if it is really worth the fight. Let’s not forget whom we are working for here. The bottom line is research and science that benefits the American consumer. Our mission is to research and discover more efficient ways of converting natural resources into human consumable products. Land grant Universities are supposed to use taxpayer dollars to help in ensuring that our people have safe, high quality food products and sustainable natural resources.

At the same time a Live Earth concert was taking place, directly blaming animal agriculture for being the leading cause of global warming, we should at least have the scientific community within animal agriculture rallying around the notion that we don’t care how much education and extension it takes, we will explain in a consumer-friendly manner the benefits of science and technology on reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment.

To be very clear and to the point, technology such as gestation stalls, caged layers, veal stalls, free-stall barns, rBST and CAFOs are just a few of the management tools that have assisted consumers in their quest for the safest, most reasonably priced food available to any society around the world. Any wavering from anyone in the food system by suggesting that maybe we can’t explain the advantages to the activists is like Colonel Travis saying, “Okay. You have us surrounded. We will concede one wing of the Alamo.” Remember, the results of the Alamo have implications far beyond what it meant to the state of Texas to maintain their independence from Mexico. It also had national implications just as there are national food security issues that are in jeopardy if the scientific community in animal agriculture starts waving their white flag! Remember the Alamo and that should have taught us that we must always fight for what we know is right.