Editor's Note: John's commentary on petting zoos having no place on today's farms is drawing quite a bit of response. Below is his original commentary...followed by viewer comments by email and by voice mail:
John's Commentary from August 15-16, 2009:
I VISITED WITH DAIRY FARMERS IN THE OHIO REGION THIS WEEK AND ONE OF THE TOPICS THEY DISCUSSED WAS THE DAIRY INDUSTRY REACTION TO THE CHALLENGE PRESENTED BY ANIMAL RIGHTS CAMPAIGNS. I WAS IMPRESSED BY THEIR DILIGENT STUDY OF THE ISSUES AND THEIR EFFORTS TO REACH OUT AND LISTEN TO PEOPLE ON ALL SIDES.
ATTITUDES IN THE PUBLIC HAVE CHANGED SLOWLY AS THE NUMBER OF COMPANION ANIMALS IN OUR COUNTRY INCREASES AND LIVESTOCK ON FARMS CONSOLIDATE INTO ENORMOUS OPERATIONS FARTHER FROM PUBLIC SCRUTINY.
THE EFFECT HAS BEEN TO BLUR THE LINE BETWEEN COMPANION ANIMALS AND FOOD ANIMALS. UNFORTUNATELY FARMERS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THIS CONFUSION WITH ACTIVITIES LIKE PETTING ZOOS AND HOW THEY PRESENT ANIMALS - ESPECIALLY YOUNG ONES - TO VISITORS ON THEIR FARMS.
THE MESSAGE FROM THE DAIRYMEN ACTIVE IN THIS DEBATE WAS CLEAR: WE NEED TO DISCONTINUE PRACTICES THAT PROMOTE THE IDEA OF CALVES AND LAMBS AS CUDDLY AND CUTE. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT AS SCHOOL ,AND COUNTY FAIR OFFICIALS HAVE DISOCVERED FROM THEIR INSURANCE AGENTS THE RISK OF DISEASE TRANSMISSION IS ALSO A SIGNIFICANT THREAT.
PETTING ZOOS WERE HAVE PLAYED ON THE INSTINCTIVE REACTIONS OF HUMANS TO BABY ANIMALS. BUT THE PROGRESSION FROM "AWWWW" TO "YOU'RE GOING TO KILL THEM?" IS TO BE EXPECTED. FOR THE SAKE OF OUR ANIMAL AGRICULTURE I THINK IT'S TIME TO LOSE THE PETTING ZOOS.
Farm Report Mailbag from August 22-23, 2009:
TIME NOW FOR OUR WEEKLY LOOK INSIDE THE FARM REPORT MAIL BAG...
MY COMMENTS ABOUT PETTING ZOOS SPLIT OUR VIEWERS RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE. FOR EXAMPLE THERE WAS THIS VOICEMAIL FROM COLORADO SPRINGS:
"TOTALLY WRONG ABOUT THE PETTING ZOO. CHILDREN NEED TO LEARN ANIMALS ARE NOT TO BE AFRAID OF. PETTING ZOOS ARE GOOD."
WHICH WAS FOLLOWED BY THIS MESSAGE FROM JOHN IN OHIO:
"GOOD POINT ON PETTING ZOOS. THIS GIVES PETA A LOT OF HELP. GOOD COMMENT, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK."
THEN THIS: "OK IS THIS REALLY A FARMER SAYING NOT HAVING A PETTING ZOO IS GOOD. WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS? VERY DISAPPOINTED."
AND THIS FROM NORTHERN ILLINOIS: "I AGREE PETTING ZOOS SHOULD BE ELIMINATED. KIDS WON'T GET STEPPED ON OR ANYTHING ELSE."
BUT MY FAVORITE WAS THIS ONE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE: "IT'S TIME YOU PEOPLE GOT CIVILIZED AND REALIZE PETTING ZOOS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT."
I THINK IT IS SAFE TO SAY THE SEARCH FOR CONSENSUS CONTINUES ON THIS ISSUE, BUT I WILL ADD ONE OTHER FACTOR I ALLUDED TO IN MY COMMENTS LAST WEEK.
WHETHER YOU SUPPORT THE IDEA OF PETTING ZOOS OR NOT, THE INCREASING AWARENESS OF EVEN FAINT POSSIBILITIES OF ANIMAL TO HUMAN DISEASE TRANSMISSION HAS PUT INSURANCE COMPANIES ON EDGE.
FOR PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS SCHOOLS OR FAIRS, HUMAN -ANIMAL CONTACT IS BECOMING SEEN AS AN AVOIDABLE RISK, AND AT LEAST TWO SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS HAVE TOLD ME THEY HAVE ENDED PETTING ZOOS AT THE ADVICE OF THEIR INSURANCE AGENTS.
IS IT ME, OR HAVE INSURANCE COMPANIES BECOME THE FINAL AUTHORITY FOR PROPER CONDUCT?
Petting Zoos are great for kids and should be kept without question. It can be that one contact that a child has with an animal that can shape a life long outlook. I would much rather have a child touch an animal than an Anti-American insurance company.
The insurance companies can go back to their corporate corrupt office on wall street. If they don't want the business, then they should get out. When an insurance company says they won't insure something, whatever it is, fine. It only means that they do not know their own business,(which is corruption anyway).
America could fix the corrupt insurance companies by dropping all insurance policies. They would all go broke and out of business very quickly.
Your final comments regarding the petting zoos issue are close, but I'm afraid you stopped just short of the real problem. It's not the insurance companies themselves who are dictating behavior. They, too, are only reacting to the issues and situations they face. I could take it a step further by claiming it's the (expletive deleted) lawyers. But even that claim still skirts the problem. The real problem, as always, is where the buck stops -- we, the people. Those who elect the politicians, pay the lawyers, culture the victimhood and allow such inane activities to continue will continue to pay the price for our own foolhardiness. "Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it." (can't remember who said that ;-) A faithful viewer (and big fan of Tractor Tales).
What is the difference between a petting zoo and a county fair? I have yet to figure this out.
My husband and I regularly watch US Farm Report on RFDTV -DISH channel 231.
We own and have operated a 850 milking cow Dairy and 1000 acre Farm in Central California since 1978.
We agree with your comment regarding the Insurance Industry having the final say and opinion on many decisions we make on our dairy farm.
Especially with living in our highly regulated state of California. We live in constant fear of lawsuits and fines regarding air and water quality every day we remain in business all the while just struggling to hold on to our business with the high feed and fuel costs and record low dairy prices.
My 85 year old father is a retired cotton/alfalfa and grain farmer. I grew up seeing him as well as my grandfather being stewards of the land and working diligently to provide an honest living for their families. That was back in the day when a man's word and a handshake was all that was needed for an honest transaction. I have always understood what was meant when it's said; "farming is in his blood". I grew up with my father's stories of living through the "Depression" and how the family struggled through it and survived.
Now we are fighting to hold on to our business because we know that dairy & farming isn't just a business to us but a way of life.
Regarding your comment on Petting Zoos last week:
After giving your views some thought I agree that "Petting Zoos" are probably not the best way to promote farming and knowledge of farm animals with the general public and school children. I believe the better way to promote understanding is by demonstrating how farm animals really do their work on farms. Our local fair has an exhibit of real dairy cows being milked and the products that come from milk. This "show and tell" type of setting is much more productive to our industry than representing baby farm animals as cute & cuddly animals that children and adults relate to as house pets.
Julie & Tony Jorge- California
Voice Mail Comments:
Plenty to say about petting zoos. I am in favor of them. Children who grow up without being around animals vs. those that do treat other human beings differently. Those that do not grow up around animals really don’t learn how to treat others. Also, who really get diseases from these animals? It is not like these kids are getting the HIV virus which is much more serious. Last, children who need children therapy uses animals to get across these children. Animals are a good thing and so are petting zoos.
If children don’t keep having no contact with human and computers like they do…instead of animals they can relate to. They’re not even going to be human.
Montgomery, TX: I believe that if Ag would like to do themselves a favor they should have a petting zoo on the white house lawn. It would be good for Obama and his kids.