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Sending the wrong message

Al Gustin, author of Farm Byline for North Dakota Living
Al Gustin

I’ve often thought that Walt Disney did a real disservice to the livestock industry when he humanized animals with the cartoons he created back in the 1950s. In Disney’s world, mice wear clothes, ducks are millionaires, dogs fall in love over a bowl of spaghetti and they all can have intelligent conversations.

So, what’s the harm in that, you ask? It’s only make-believe. It is, and rational people understand that. But it still sends a message.

Consider the case of a man in Missouri, caught poaching deer late last year. According to the prosecutor, the deer were trophy bucks taken illegally, mostly at night. The judge ordered the convicted poacher to repeatedly watch the movie “Bambi” at least once a month during his year-long jail sentence.

Instead of sending a message to the poacher that it’s wrong to break the law and wrong to take deer illegally, the judge told the poacher, and everyone else indirectly, that it’s wrong to kill deer because they are cute.

What we do as individual producers and as a livestock industry sends a message, too. Even something as seemingly harmless as a petting zoo can send the wrong message. I understand that children love baby animals. But what if the young girl at the petting zoo asks her mom, “Can I take the baby sheep home?” And if her mom thinks to herself, “I guess I’d better not serve lamb tonight,” then we’ve sent the wrong message. The message we need to send is that young livestock are part of the food production system. As producers, we care for them and about them and treat them humanely, but they are livestock, not pets.

Every year just before Thanksgiving, the news media shows us the president and our governor and other governors pardoning some turkeys – commuting their death sentence. While, the turkey growers seem to love the publicity, what message is that sending? Even President Obama acknowledged it was “puzzling” that he was asked to do that every year. The message being sent is that the turkeys were wrongly sentenced to death and deserve to be pardoned. What do you tell the children when they ask, “Then why didn’t he pardon them all?”

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.