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Recently, our youngest daughter announced that she had become a vegetarian. “Why,” I asked, “have you lost your power of reason and succumbed to the pressure of your current vegetarian peer group?” She quickly retorted “ Well, have you lost your power of reason and succumbed to the factory farming status quo?” When did dinner choices become so political?
This is a rural-raised 18-year-old girl, very cognizant of farming and ranching practices, and has consumed lovingly raised 4-H beef and free-range poultry her entire life. I feel like a failure as a mother and a veterinarian. The food we raise in this country is safe. This was a moral and ethical decision based on animal welfare and the environment. Have we, as veterinarians, shirked our animal welfare advocate responsibilities for farmed animals? The CVMA has produced numerous animal welfare position statements and has been involved with all of the codes of practice for farmed animals, but is this enough? The public, particularly the youthful public, has strong opinions on what they will and will not eat.
Check the best seller list. There are numerous books exploring and questioning the politics of meat consumption. There is also the methane and carbon footprint argument surrounding the meat industry that is gaining credence with our increasingly urban society. The UK-based research company, Mintel, has identified 2 new categories of consumers: the meat avoiders who comprise 10% of the population and are those who eat little or no meat but sometimes have lapses, and the meat reducers, who make up 23% of the UK population and eat less meat, mainly for health and environmental reasons.
The January 1, 2009 CanFax numbers saw Canada’s national cow herd decline for the 4th consecutive year. Inventories fell 12% below the 2005 peak. According to Statistics Canada, since 2005, the Alberta cow herd has shrunk by 20%. Many factors account for this sell-off, but poor consumer demand is definitely a factor. Consumers with money seem to be willing to pay for “organic, free-range, ethically farmed” beef, lamb, pork and poultry. I am surrounded by ethical farmers who have not taken product promotion to this next step and are slowly going bankrupt.
Veterinarians have, and will always have, a strong role to play in how food-producing animals are raised. Trends in food consumption are changing, a fact that will stare me in the face as I plan our next family meal.
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