The Future of Food Safety

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Looking Into Not-Too-Distant Future, Joel Salatin Sees the Spectre of Animal Rights Haunting Small Farms

Dear Readers, I found this piece, based on an article from Good Housekeeping, on another website and wanted to share it with you. I don’t know what your experiences have been or what your thoughts might be concerning this issue. Agree or Disagree. But, it certainly is food for thought – pardon the pun – and something we may very well have to deal with in the future.

Believe it or not, there’s a food issue lurking out there beyond food rights and food safety. Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer-author-activist is worried that that next issue is animal rights. He’s already seeing evidence of it at Polyface Farm, his own farm in the Shenandoah foothills. During a tour of his farm Saturday for 150 attendees as part of a fundraiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Salatin said he’s been reported to his local animal control officials by area residents who have had concerns about the treatment of his cattle.

In one case, someone reported him because one of his steers was limping. In another case, he was reported because his cattle were “mobbing”–hanging out close to each other as a herd in a new pasture. In each instance, “We had to spend two days with local vets explaining what we do”…and he was off the hook.

His view of animal rights as an emerging issue for owners of sustainable farms rates a chapter in his upcoming book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. It’s due out in early October.

During the Saturday farm tour, Salatin wondered aloud what other problems the animal rights people might find at his farm. He pointed out how, during recent heavy rains, the chickens (who stay outside in mobile structures) got pretty wet, which isn’t unusual. “We have days when our chickens are out here in the rain and cold and shivering. I know there are people who would like to go out and buy them L.L. Bean dog pillows.”

Joel Salatin explains the workings of Polyface Farm on Saturday, as FTCLDF attendees, and chickens, look on. Might the animal rights folks be better off focusing their attention more on CAFO’s and other factory farm practices? They already have, of course, but Salatin speaks to a more ideological tendency.

The problem is a theme of his book: “We live in extremely abnormal times…” And one expression: “In our communities, we have more and more animal rightists.”

Among other issues he previewed that come up in the new book:

  • The outsized attention being given by government and corporations to food safety, and the disparate approaches between his farm and factory producers. Salatin says he shuts down his operation for two 21-day periods each year, to allow all pathogens to die off. Factory farm operations, of course, refuse to build in such shutdowns because of the loss of income inherent. “They use bleach and drugs and fumigants of various sorts, to try to break the natural cycle,” Salatin stated.
  • The societal orientation toward removing all risk. “You can’t have freedom without risk,” he said. He discussed after the tour his challenges conforming with the new food safety standards of a huge food services company like Sysco. He’s wanted Sysco to include his food in cafeterias at the University of Virginia, where demand from students for locally-produced food is strong. But so-called safety standards continuously have become so onerous, he’s been unable to convince the company to examine his operation. For example, Sysco and others demand delivery by refrigerated truck. Salatin uses large coolers. He monitors food temperatures, and says he maintains constant refrigerated temperatures throughout deliveries, but the big corporations tend to be locked into one way of doing things.
  • The growing influence of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. He said the organization has intervened three different times on his farm’s behalf to head off unwarranted regulatory interference. “Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has clout,” he stated.

As a measure of the support for FTCLDF, the organization raised more than $150,000 from the Saturday farm tour and other fund-raising efforts. And membership has passed the 2,000 mark.


Wayne Craig, one of the Wisconsin farmers who lost his raw milk case, as I described in my post last week, told me Saturday, at the FTCLDF event, that the judge made a serious factual error. His farm uses its Grade A license to sell a significant portion, about 90 per cent, of its milk output to a processor. The judge indicated he was ruling against Craig in large measure because he exclusively distributes raw milk to herdshare members. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has filed a motion for reconsideration based on the discrepancy.


The enlightened discussion about food safety and illness going on here is in stark contrast to what generally occurs in the mass media. The mass media tend to apply fearmongering of the sort they use for child kidnappings–you never know when the boogeyman will get you. The latest example comes from a major article in the October issue of Good Housekeeping, “Why Your Food Isn’t Safe”. The feature includes a full page given over to 20 photos of children and adults who died from tainted food–hamburgers, peanut butter, pizza, oysters, spinach. So mysterious is the affliction that four of the 20 died from “unknown” food…though there’s no indication how the authorities can be so sure the deaths were even caused by tainted food. Somehow, raw dairy escapes even a mention in the article–don’t know how that happened.

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Good Housekeeping article link: Response

As a longtime livestock producer, turned suburban homesteader, I find this kind of animal activism troubling. No! I don’t condone any of the horrific abuses we’ve seen lately, perpetrated by factory farms and slaughterhouses. But, I am a realist. Livestock get sick and injured and scared, just like any human can in the normal course of daily activity. However, when we project our human emotions and human level of care and well being onto animals of any kind we are only setting ourselves up to being reported for perceived mistreatment as defined by non-livestock people.

I, like Joel Salatin, allow my chickens and geese to free range throughout the yard during rain and colder weather. Frankly, they’re a hoot, running after raindrops and scratching the newly dampened soil for bugs and worms that have made their way to the surface. Our sheep, too, will wander the corral, preferring to be outdoors during a rain rather than in the barn. My friends who raise horses and cattle also allow their animals outside during all kinds of weather. If a storm becomes severe enough most animals will seek shelter of their own accord. It’s build into their DNA. It’s instinctive.

Health problems, lameness, loss of appetite or general unwellness are all common occurrences when raising livestock. Weather, changes in feed, illness or injury can all cause animals to act and look less than normal. It has been my experience though that the majority of livestock people are quick to react to these situations and provide needed treatment. This does not mean that we (livestock raisers) rush our animals to the vet’s office or an emergency clinic the same way we would a sick or injured child or loved one. Most competent livestock people are adept at treating a wide variety of situations on their own, saving a visit by the vet for extreme cases.

The limping steer, mentioned in the article, may have been under treatment for an injury, but it would be very uncommon for any cattle person to confine an animal, except in extreme cases, because cattle are herding animals and when left alone could cause themselves further injury trying to rejoin their herd.

When people are not knowledgeable about raising and caring for large livestock it would be in everyone’s best interest to ask the farmer or rancher if the animal was under treatment before assuming any mistreatment was taking place.

This is a slippery slope, folks; one that could have dire and intrusive consequences. In my opinion, the animal rights issue people should be concentrating on is the one that promotes the breeding of designer dogs so they can be used as dress-up dolls for their owners or the veterinarians who think cosmetic surgery to ward off the signs of aging is a viable specialty in animal medicine. Now that’s true animal abuse!

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