Should we thank PETA and HSUS?

Yesterday I, like many people in the agriculture world, tuned in to watch Oprah when I heard that she and her staff of over 300 people were giving up meat and all other animal products for a week-long “vegan challenge”. Now, it’s no secret that Oprah has had her issues with the livestock industry, so it’s also no surprise that when the agriculture community heard about what she was doing on yesterday’s episode that the defenses went right up. Instead of demonizing livestock farming, however, the episode (except for a few criticisms here and there) overall focused on consumers understanding where their food comes from in order to make an informed choice about their meal options.

As food “experts” (although I don’t think that title applies to either person), Oprah invited author Michael Pollan (read about my encounter with Pollan here) and veganist Kathy Freston to join her for the episode. Surprisingly, Pollan almost seemed like the voice of reason on the couch, stating how he thought meat is an important part of the diet and that “eating meat isn’t evil”. Reporter Lisa Ling also visited a Cargill plant and learned how our meat goes from the pasture/feedlot to our plate. Cargill did a great job representing agriculture and everyone in animal ag should be proud of their willingness to open their doors to the cameras.

One of the things that I thought was very interesting about the Cargill tour is a comment that Pollan made after the segment. In general, he noted how animal rights groups like PETA were to thank for the advancements agriculture has made in our processing facilities.

My first thought – as displayed in this tweet of mine – was “PETA and HSUS DO NOT get credit for improving agriculture. Ugh…..”

What did he mean? Is he saying we should THANK them for their never-ceasing pressure? We should be GRATEFUL for their petitions and lawsuits because we now have better slaughter facilities? I DO NOT THINK SO.

But then I got this tweet from @antiquecutie: “@sollmana why not? if there was no pressure…they would never change.”

Wait. What?

That got me thinking and, to be totally honest, way confused. I do understand that pressure from animal rights activists since the time of when ‘The Jungle‘ was released have played a part in the industry’s advancement. But still, these groups aren’t about advancing agriculture – they’re about ending it. The fact that changes occur because of their campaigns seems to me more of a side effect. I am much more grateful for people like Temple Grandin who understand the role of animal agriculture and seek to improve it, without an agenda to put an end to owning livestock.

What do you think? The question from @antiquecutie definitely made me question my own beliefs (which is never a bad thing), but I’d like to hear from others. Should we be thankful for groups like PETA and HSUS, since their pressure has played a role (to what extent is debatable) in our improvement?

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2 thoughts on “Should we thank PETA and HSUS?

  1. Trav Williams says:

    Good post; I found your blog through a link on AgChat.

    I appreciate your thoughts on this; it’s remarkable to me what a pop culture topic agriculture has become these past few years, and how a new class of celebrity has been created around it.

    I do appreciate that groups such as PETA exist, if only to force us to continue questioning our systems and individual motives. I suppose it’s necessary to have extremes on any side of an issue, and it’s usually this extremes that gain attention.

    That’s why I’m glad Pollan has been conducting himself so practically lately. He has the star power right now to slander an industry or to build bridges, and he’s choosing to stay fairly middle-of-the-road, as a journalist should.

    Thanks for writing!

    –Trav–

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