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Resilience in the Wake of Bird Flu
This week, I saw a video on a blog I follow that showed a 3-year-old in Brazil "explaining" why he's a vegetarian. I won't go into details on the video (although you can watch it here if you are so inclined). But I will note that most, if not all, the comments the blogger received were very supportive of the video - and in fact, noted often more than once that being vegetarian (or vegan, for that matter), is an ethical choice.
Yes, cue the angelic music. "I'm being more ethical if I don't eat meat."
I sat there for a moment and thought, "Well, I am a meat eater and feel totally and completely ethical about my choice. I'm not a bad person."
This is nothing new, of course. Animal activists use this so-called ethical dilemma all the time to persuade people that farmers who raise animals for food are bad, bad people.
Cruel and inhumane treatment. Animals wallowing in their own excrement. Tightly packed inside barns with no access to light or fresh air.
I've heard all the twisted and untrue messages. I'm lucky, though. I know farmers all over the country and see firsthand that the vast majority are good, solid people who are doing right by their animals.
A couple of hours later after viewing that video, I read a Facebook message from a poultry farmer I know who lost her entire flock of chickens to avian influenza. Her profound sadness was almost as palpable as her anger and frustration. She had worked so hard to keep her flock safe and healthy, but in the end, a new strain of a nasty virus came into the barn and wiped out her birds. Now she is lamenting a summer where she doesn't get up every single morning to check on the flock, when she doesn't hear the hum of the ventilating fan of the barn, where the feeder doesn't turn on to make sure every single bird has the food it needs to thrive.
This farmer is not a cruel monster. In fact, those of us in the poultry industry would say she's as honest as they come and very good at raising chickens.
I know I can't change the mind of a vegan who doesn't believe killing animals for food is right. But I want people who aren't close to the farm to see what farmers really look like, how they really feel when their flock of turkeys or chickens goes down in the wake of avian influenza.
Avian influenza has had a tremendous economic impact on the poultry industry and its farmers - and from the looks of it, will affect consumers for at least a little while, mostly as far as egg prices go. But far worse, in my mind, are the emotional scars left behind. Farmers with no choice but to put down their healthy birds because the virus hit one of its barns; farmers who can't sleep at night, wondering if their flock is next; farmers who finally restock their barns after an outbreak but who worry day and night if avian influenza will come back.
The stresses they feel cut deep and won't be forgotten anytime soon. These are not unethical people and what they do for a living - raising animals for food - is their passion. They pray for resilience; they remain hopeful for the future; and they work together to stay strong.
That's the story we all need to keep sharing.
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