The beef industry seems to fully agree we need to do a better job of transporting cattle to markets and slaughter facilities.
I devoted a recent blog at www.beeftoday.com to the concept of asking the Livestock Market Association to create an "industry standard" refusing to take cows with a body condition score of 2 or lower.
The response was almost uniformly positive. The beef industry doesn't owe the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) much, but you have to admit their sensationalist videos of how non-ambulatory cattle are sometimes handled have captured our attention.
But make no mistake: We are fighting a rear-guard action on animal rights. If we get it 100% right on downer cows, don't expect HSUS or PETA to suddenly be our friends. Their livelihood depends on pushing the envelope.
On watch. To be candid, animal- rights folks may be helping the beef industry more than hurting it.
At the moment, they have their sights set on banning intensive confinement operations: caged hens and sow gestation crates. They make passing references about cattle being fed "unnatural foods" in feedlots, but for now they're hurting our competition more than us.
But it wasn't long ago they were worried only about dogfighting, bullfighting and homeless pets. In the war analogy, they are outside Atlanta in their march to the sea. As they win one battlefield, they will choose another hill to conquer.
They've even given us the game plan. From the HSUS Web site:
"Most beef cattle endure painful mutilations, such as castration, dehorning and branding, without anesthesia. For seven months, calves graze on the range before they're transported to feedlots, where they're fattened on unnatural diets. Within another six months, they reach market weights of 1,200 lb. and are trucked to slaughter—with no food, water or protection from the elements during the journey."
Pick any topic in there—anesthesia, trucking, unnatural diets—and you have a hill they will eventually climb if something doesn't slow their march. Once they take the hills, they'll push on to their final goal: a world with no beef, poultry or pork.
Don't look to me for answers to this. The combined annual budget of HSUS and PETA is nearly twice that of the entire beef checkoff program. They get millions of dollars' worth of free celebrity help because it is the chic thing to do. And demographics are on their side, as the gap grows between consumers who know livestock firsthand and those who know only pets and barnyard characters in popular movies.
My guess is that we're on the wrong side of history on this one.