Editorial: The gaping difference

We’ve known for years that there’s a gaping chasm between the world view of some urbanites and the people who have made it their vocation to care for animals.

Luckily for most, that chasm has not been physical. Animal rights activists and livestock farmers haven’t often met.

There are some notable exceptions, including activists gaining employment and videotaping what happens on some farms and dead-of-night raids that have resulted in released animals.

The events of March 9 were different.

Toronto-based activists made it clear on their Facebook pages that they would be carpooling out to farms near Toronto to pay a visit.

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Farmers have repeatedly said they would welcome people who wanted to learn more to their farms, and the activists said they were taking them up on the offer. Self-guided was not likely what most farmers had in mind.

The result was a bizarre and I expect for the farmer, terrifying, encounter in which the activists arrived on Lloyd Weber’s Webstone Holsteins farm near Elmira and decided they should have a walk about.

The activists say they brought flowers and pastries for the farmer and for the calves. They wore plastic boots, and said they came with love in their hearts.

They had hoped to liberate a calf from the farm, which was refused, but they did hustle away a dead animal into their vehicle to take it for an “appropriate burial”, while singing songs and holding flowers.

A Facebook live post by a woman called Joanna Elizabeth, talked about visiting the farm, and admitted to purposely trespassing with 15 people.

Weber deserves credit for his lack of overt reaction to people trespassing on his property and removing the calf. There’s a reason why deadstock services exist – the dead animal is safely disposed of and the energy and work that went into the calf’s life until that point isn’t wasted. The circle of life is continued, appropriately.

Burial is an accepted method of post-mortem disposal of animals, but deadstock removal, where it makes sense, is a preferred method.

Activists also visited London Dairy, located on the outskirts of the city and a regular target for activists, on the same day.

The activists on the Facebook live post expressed concern about the lives of calves “without much hair” living in calf hutches in the Canadian cold. They talked about the number of sick cows, but anyone with any experience with animals could tell that the Webstone cows were healthy and content.

Dairy Farmers of Ontario and other organizations involved in animal agriculture had sent out an alert to dairy farmers that something was planned. The question was where. It was expected that they would arrive at the den Haan farm near Loretto. Bonnie den Haan is a member of the board of directors of Dairy Farmers of Ontario and was recently featured on TVO’s The Agenda program talking about dairy farms’ adherence to standards and openness to scrutiny.

I’m interested to watch the fallout of this visit. Will farmers close up their buildings and properties? Will more security be employed?

More security, including cameras and recording of entries to the property would make sense, but the education battle will be won person by person, farm visit by farm visit. Yes when the activists come calling with a well-proclaimed agenda to disrupt a farm operation, then legal remedies should be considered. But the rest of the time, farmers need to continue to be open and welcoming of their neighbours, friends and local school children. That’s what farmers can do on the ground.

I do hear the genuine anger and frustration around this incident. People have said to me that more education is needed. It’s bigger than education. For those truly believing in equal rights for animals, it is a full difference in world view between those who have spent their lives working with animals and those who have little to no experience with them and who have values that are different than farmers.

There’s evidence that those who care for livestock are losing the overall public relations battle and on a national level, that’s a concern. That’s also a job for national and provincial organizations and larger than individual farmers.

University of Guelph researchers Mike von Massow and Evan Fraser recently wrote a report that argued that it’s not the radical fringe that’s threatening meat consumption. Instead it is the sentiment that’s become dogma by repetition in the media, by teachers and in public fora that a person can do better by the planet by simply eating less meat. It’s a simple request – choose the legumes over the pork or beef or lamb – and it makes people feel like they are doing better for themselves and the environment. That feeling is difficult to combat and is so pervasive that undoing it will take years.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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