Support for Animal Agriculture

US - Animal care a top priority for modern farmers, writes Gary Wilson, county director/extension educator, agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension service in Findlay.
calendar icon 19 November 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

Consumers demand innovation, writes Gary Wilson in The Courier. We've come to expect science and technology to serve our needs faster, better and ever more efficiently. But nowhere is innovation for 'faster, better, cheaper' less well-understood than in modern agriculture.

"Many consumers hold an idealized vision of farming."

Many people expect eggs, meat, milk and vegetables to magically appear on store shelves in ever-increasing quantities, at ever-higher quality and safety standards, and at economical prices.

Farmers have met these demands while remaining good stewards of the environment and their animals.

However, there is one curious expectation that farmers have not and cannot meet: that they sustain these remarkable advances using antiquated farming practices that have not been viable for 75 years.

Many consumers hold an idealized vision of farming populated with small family farms with their red barns, a few chickens in the yard, some pigs in the mud, and some cows in the field.

This view contrasts with reality.

Thanks to decades of scientific research and technological advances, farming today is a scientifically-based, highly-innovative industry that keeps products on store shelves at low prices by leveraging economies of scale.

Society's conflicting expectations raise the important questions of what responsible animal agriculture looks like in the 21st century and how farmers are meeting these challenges.

Because humane care is a prerequisite to producing safe, wholesome, high-quality foods for consumers, animal care is a top priority for Ohio farmers, the vast majority of whom follow Ohio Farm Animal Care Commission/Ohio Livestock Coalition standards to ensure a safe and healthy environment for animals.

As animal agriculture grows and changes, it remains constant that American farmers are concerned for their animals' welfare and they are dedicated to providing the highest quality, safest food in the world.

One reason American livestock farmers produce one of the safest food supplies is the extreme care taken to keep disease out of animal populations and protect the nation's food supply.

Ohio's farmers and producers, in cooperation with state and federal governments and veterinarians, adhere to diligent, written plans to prevent the introduction and spread of any livestock disease to animals and people.

Comprehensive biosecurity programs have already been adopted by many poultry and livestock producers as they recognized the need to safeguard their flocks and herds from diseases like avian or swine influenza, foot and mouth disease and others.

"Humane care is a prerequisite to producing safe, wholesome, high-quality foods for consumers"

In addition to sound animal management techniques, food processors prepare and handle meat, milk and eggs in strict alignment with state and federal regulations. These include ongoing inspections by the state and federal departments of agriculture.

Today's popular image of agriculture glamorizes the past, when nearly every family in America worked on or lived on farms. America owes much to those small, self-sufficient farms and the hardworking men and women who planted crops, raised livestock and pioneered the way for modern agriculture.

However, the farms of the past could not begin to compete with today's agricultural operations in food safety, animal welfare, environmental stewardship, job creation and ability to economically feed the world.

While the family farm is still central to American agriculture, these family-owned businesses benefit from technology undreamed of just a generation ago.

Ohio's high-tech, high-volume farms incorporate mechanical and biological advancements that have increased production, speed and efficiency.

This increase has benefited consumers economically. The percentage of income Americans spend on food has dropped significantly. It's just 9.9 percent today, compared to more than 11 percent in 1990, 17.5 percent in 1960 and 24 percent in 1930.

Ohio's large livestock farms must comply with the rules and regulations of the Livestock Environmental Permitting Program. An Ohio Department of Agriculture program, it regulates Ohio's large livestock and poultry farms, their construction and how large farms handle manure and wastewater to protect surface and ground water quality, as well as manage flies, rodents and other pests.

They also participate in third-party audits to monitor and confirm to program protocol. This program assures that livestock farmers are up to date on all regulations and heading off problems before they can develop.

Ohio's animal agriculture, along with livestock production nationwide, is a dynamic, specialized industry that allows just 2 percent of the population to feed everyone.

Technology, animal care, environmental responsibility and hard work are the keys to advancements that have created the highest quality and most affordable food in the history of the world, writes Mr Wilson, concluding his column.

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