It’s every livestock producer’s worst nightmare -- a hidden video camera revealing a bad day. Even if it’s not animal abuse as producers define it, the right lighting and angle of the camera catching that moment when frustrations turn to impatience can suddenly make your employee look like the Grim Reaper. The result of the video clip is millions of dollars lost in the industry and a similar amount flowing to the coffers of animal rights organizations.
Nevil Speer, professor of animal science at Western Kentucky University (WKU), tells BEEF Daily that beef producers need to be aware of their vulnerability in certain aspects of beef production.
“Social issues like sustainability, antibiotics, animal welfare and the environment – these issues continue to ratchet up and up, and if anything, the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is kind of emboldened by these issues,” he says.
While HSUS has focused largely on the poultry, pork and veal industries, Speer says it’s only a matter of time before cattle ranchers become the target. “We probably need to be careful because our turn is coming,” he warns.
One of the areas in which the industry is most vulnerable is the sale barn, which is completely accessible to the public and often employs workers who might not be as well trained and supervised in proper animal handling techniques as we’d like.
Speer says, “We need to be better at self-regulating and do things better in the industry. I don’t want to see a 700-lb. bull getting castrated on a YouTube video. We need to do a better job of creating standards, providing training, continuing education and assessment. We must close the loop. This requires cost and leadership.”
Speer says the industry gets entrenched in saying everything it does is great. “My personal opinion is we can differentiate between standard industry practices and animal abuse. I think consumers would give us a pass on castration and dehorning. But when we get into abuse at a sale barn, then all of a sudden everything we do becomes vulnerable to discussion on those practices,” he says.
Perhaps,the sale barn is a good place to concentrate on in the beef industry. While certainly most employees are there because they love working with cattle, I think too often there are folks who don’t have much interest or stock in the beef industry. We need to ensure these individuals are well trained on the best animal handling practices, and the use of low-stress methods.
Because so many cattle are marketed through this traditional venue, this should be a top priority. In fact, I think every sale barn employee should be Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified.
Auction yards are a critical juncture in the beef production chain, and they realize the importance of marketing livestock and presenting a good impression for livestock production. In fact, the 2012-14 president of the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) is Tim Stark, a DVM and auction market owner from Cherokee, OK. Coming at his new volunteer duties with a unique animal health perspective, Starks says he wants LMA to be the "gold standard" in animal handling and care. That's good news to everyone within and outside the industry. You can read about Starks here.
What are your thoughts on the scenarios and issues in which the beef industry is most vulnerable to misrepresentation or criticism by activists? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.