BILL Bright is convinced that the livestock producing sector must represent itself to - and be seen by - the wider community as food producers, rather than as a little known and understood sector of the community who derive their income from breeding and growing domestic animals.
The need for this distinction is clear in Mr Bright’s view.
“Unless the collective mind of the consuming public is clear on the role of livestock in food production, then the risk is that livestock industries will forever be at a disadvantage to the manipulative arguments and actions from the anti-livestock lobby,” he said.
In promoting its credentials to the wider community as food producers, Mr Bright believes that the livestock sector should openly embrace and welcome those who are genuinely concerned about animal welfare.
However, he sees no place at the table for those who seek to exploit the emotive side of animal welfare in an attempt to win favour for their philosophical viewpoints.
He sees the issue as essentially black and white. On one hand is the moral imperative of animals as a source of food in a hungry world and with that comes a range of ethical considerations.
On the other is the view that sourcing food from animals is morally corrupt and that livestock industries should cease to exist.
On the morality issue, Mr Bright struggles to find rational argument for the case against.
“Should man continue to kill animals for food as he has since he was able to carry a stick? If the answer is no, the next question is why?
Is it because meat is unhealthy or is there risk of species extinction or is it all to do with developed, wealthy-nation sensitivities around concepts of psychological and physical pain?”
With meat universally acclaimed as an important part of our diet (in moderation) and domestic animals being far from risk of extinction, it would seem to be all about the latter and in particular, notions of cruelty.
“From the historical and evolutionary point of view, man is a carnivore. His early technique of spearing, chasing to exhaustion and clubbing the animal to death has given way to more humane procedures.
But carnivores in the wild continue to kill animals in a manner that would appear inherently cruel.”
And for Mr Bright, the concept of cruelty is central to a balanced understanding of the whole issue of animals (domestic or wild) as a source of food.
“It is important to make a distinction between cruelty and pain,” he said.
“When the aboriginal hunter spears a kangaroo his intention is not to cause pain. His intention is to get food; pain is an unfortunate side effect.”
“Cruelty refers to deliberately causing unnecessary pain. For instance it is ethically wrong for a person to kill an animal in a manner that causes unnecessary pain if that person has the means to do it better.”
Developed nations around the world have employed the best available science to develop systems and procedures to ensure unnecessary pain is not caused in the process of killing domestic livestock for food production.
However, such development comes at a cost and it is only through the relative wealth of developed nations that money for investment in world best practice can be found.
“Therefore, should less developed nations be judged harshly if their systems and procedures are not equivalent to world best practice?
Are they guilty of cruelty if the best they have available to them under their economic circumstances is of a lesser standard than that which exists in wealthier countries?
Should the hunter be denied use of the spear if that is all he has to secure food?”
Mr Bright believes the Australian anti-livestock lobby has very cleverly avoided any debate around the concept of cruelty and in doing so has not had to defend their moral stance on wanting to see livestock industries completely dismantled.
He said “The Four Corners program on practices in certain Indonesian abattoirs was case in point.”
At the height of the emotions invoked by the program, the lobby played the cruelty card not in the context of what may or may not be acceptable in a foreign, less developed sovereign nation, but in the context of what is not acceptable in Australia.
That part was easy as the practices depicted were totally unacceptable across all facets of Australian society.
An unsuspecting federal government with little interest in or understanding of livestock industries was easy meat for the lobby.
The lobby demanded the trade in Australian livestock to Indonesia cease and the government complied.
“In doing so, what the Australian government was in effect saying to Indonesia was our wealthy, educated, developed-nation ethics are offended by certain practices in your country so we are going to punish the poorer people in your country who depend on the food derived by those practices by denying them that very food.”
Presumably, the enormity of what it had just done must have dawned on the government as it took only a matter of a few weeks to lift the ban.
But in doing so and without any apparent economic evaluation, the federal government concluded that the Australian livestock export industry could singularly afford to pay the cost of upgrading abattoir systems and procedures in the numerous foreign countries to which it exports livestock to a standard acceptable to the wealthy, developed countries of the world.
This statement (albeit misplaced) of the economic strength of the Australian livestock export sector was not lost on the Indonesian government.
They seem to have concluded that if the Australian industry can afford to do that, it can easily afford to pay a new 5 per cent tariff on the live cattle it exports to Indonesia.
News of this only filtered through in July with importers receiving bills backdated to January 2012.
With the vulnerability of the livestock sector so emphatically demonstrated in recent events, Mr Bright is convinced that there is no time to be lost in getting the message through to the wider public that cattlemen are in the business of producing food.
“There is every reason to believe that it is morally acceptable in the wider public sense to source food from animals as long as it is done in the most humane manner practically possible.
"If so, then there should be common ground for meat producers and animal welfare ethicists to agree on what constitutes the best, most humane treatment of food animals that circumstances will allow.”
“In that context, let’s embrace those with a genuine and realistic animal welfare agenda,” he said.
“In doing so, we stand a chance of forcing the anti-livestock lobby into publicly stating their unreasoned, emotional position against any animal dying in the cause of feeding humans.”
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