Little is surprising these days when it comes to what anti-animal agriculture groups say and do.
If they’re not infiltrating farms and instigating animal abuse for self-promotion, they are stealing cows, attacking farmers on social media or misleading others about food.
So, when the head of a farming activist group tosses around words like cruel, wasteful and irresponsible, it would be easy to chalk it up to more looniness and walk away. Animal agriculture critics, like Farm Sanctuary’s Gene Baur in a recent op-ed, use the pretext of government subsidies to take a swipe at dairy farmers and the vital food they produce.
Why would the government support the dairy community? It might just be that there’s widespread recognition of the importance of dairy farming — to the nation’s food supply, the economy and the well-being of countless communities. Nearly every industrialized nation supports agriculture to some degree. Those programs especially make sense now because the entire U.S. farm economy is hurting.
By the way, crops grown for human-vegan consumption are eligible for government programs, too.
Regardless, the motive for those who oppose animal agriculture is not tax dollars. They call for the world to stop producing animal-based foods — the target is large-scale dairy farming.
Dairy farms come in all shapes and sizes, and all have their place. The average herd is around 200. The differences are driven by each farm family and their business objectives. Demographics and lifestyle are factors. Many farmers are nearing retirement age without someone to carry the torch because younger people can be less willing to take over the farm and its 24-7 lifestyle. Through economies of scale, large farms make it possible for members of the extended family to build sustainable careers, raise children, find downtime and continue a legacy.
Second only to the well-being of a farmer’s family is the care of the cows. At most farms, open-air barns keep optimum temperature, flies are scarce and the bedding is comfortable to keep the animals healthy and happy. In general, farmers have deep respect for their cows.
There’s similar respect for natural resources. A commitment to environmental sustainability brings continuous improvements that reduce the impact on the land, air and water. Farmers have an inherent love for the environment; many grew up on the farm, they work with the land every day and their livelihoods depend on it. This brings innovation, such as water recycling and GPS-guided manure application, that requires major personal financial investment.
The finished product is food that is among the most efficiently and responsibly produced and most affordable sources of nutrition available. U.S. dietary guidelines say dairy is linked to improved bone health and is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and with lower blood pressure in adults. Fear-mongering by activists cannot change those facts.
No one is forcing vegans to drink milk or eat cheese. Likewise, they shouldn’t be stuffing the vegan agenda down other people’s throats.
Tim Trotter is executive director of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, which represents nearly 800 farms of all sizes in nine Midwestern states on federal dairy policy.