Got Milk AND Ethics?

Published on: 17:24PM Jan 27, 2010

Many in the dairy business had been awaiting ABC News’s investigation into the alleged evils of dairy farming…few more so than yours truly, who had a 30 minute sit-down interview with investigative reporter Brian Ross a few weeks ago.  For those who haven’t yet seen the results, you can view the Nightline clip here. 

What’s a little more interesting is the print version of the story, available here at the ABC website.  They chose the telling headline “Got Milk? Got Ethics? Animal Rights v. U.S. Dairy Industry.”  And this choice of headline is probably the most accurate thing in what ABC reported, namely, that the animal rights community, about whom I’ve blogged repeatedly in the past, is absolutely convinced that there can be no equal sign between livestock production and ethical behavior.  It's either/or, black and white. Period.

I knew that ABC was getting all of its fodder from PETA, the Humane Society and other activist groups.  I even challenged Ross and his producer, Anna Schecter, that relying on such organizations for facts about farming is like looking to the Taliban to lead an objective discussion of Judeo-Christian religious values.  Ain’t gonna happen.  But ABC forged ahead, with its gotcha videos in hand.

Now, certainly some of what was captured on tape is not ethical, and disturbing not just to consumers, but to most other dairy farmers.  The guy with the wrench needs a new career direction.  Other farm workers need a quick education in the proper application of anesthesia and good animal husbandry.  There were red flags that need a good investigation by the local authorities in New York.  And none of us in the dairy industry should tolerate bad apple behavior.  Too many people who only know what they see, will see guilt by association.

On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that the common and necessary practice of dehorning should be reported as shocking.  Has anyone ever seen a bullfight, a rodeo, or watched the running of the bulls in Pamplona?  (This photo is instructive…).

A 1400 pound cow with horns is a lethal weapon, to humans, as well as to other bovine herdmates.  Dehorning is an animal welfare, and a worker safety issue.  Imagine the complaints if it wasn’t performed (as long as it is done properly).

Where tail docking is concerned, there are several schools of thought within the industry.  What Ross didn’t really point out is that most farms do NOT employ tail docking – gee, you'd think that would be a relevant  fact to include in the story.  What they also didn’t report is that, gee, other farm animals also get docked tails, like sheep and horses.  And what about those Dobermans and Schnauzers, whose tails are docked, and their ears are clipped?   I must have missed the part where the Humane Society of the U.S. is terribly upset about the ethics, or lack thereof, of docking dogs’ tails for purely cosmetic reasons.  But going after suburban pet owners is not part of their business model.  (Not to pick on Toyota with all of its problems, but has anyone noticed that a German Shorthair Pointer with a docked tail is prominently featured in this current commercial?  Where’s the outrage?).

There’s more that could be said, but the ultimate point is that none of us, on our worst day in the office or at home, is going to look good 100% of the time. The same goes for reporters, and even animal rights activists who say and do kooky, self-exploitive and ethically dubious things to grab the public’s attention.  The vegan crowd always want to see the world in black and white.  Holsteins may come that way, but life does not.