By Lucy Ziesemer
When I thought about how I would shape this blog I tangled with whether or not I should ease into the hard-hitting topics that prompt ongoing controversy or jump straight in. Now I’m all for suspense and surprises, but this blog was always intended to encourage people to develop their ability to apply critical thinking to what they hear in mainstream media.
My time as a journalist was mainly spent preaching to the converted so I figured if just one non-agriculturalist was to read these posts and broaden their perspective, I would have taken a small step towards achieving my goal. So, why wait? Let’s talk about Meat and the process of how it gets there!
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians- you name it! Obviously there are some with particular dietary requirements limiting their consumption of meat proteins, but there is also a portion of the community whose decisions are based on the portrayal of mainly beef, lamb, chicken and pork production in a negative light. I will be the first to admit, I have seen some horrific footage of animal cruelty that truly makes me sick to the stomach. There is, no doubt, people in the industry who don’t do the majority of producers any favours. It would be irresponsible of me to try to pretend bad things don’t happen. They do. Shonky builders or electricians place the majority of first class operators under the ‘rip off tradie’ label. This is no different in the rural industry- there are bad eggs in every occupation and it is that industry’s responsibility to weed them out.
What I can also tell you is that Australia is actually a global leader when it comes to animal welfare and our standards support countries to do better around the world.
Many of the animal cruelty incidents that have received large scale media coverage in the last 10 years have actually happened off-shore. The 2011 live cattle export ban left many grass roots Australian farming families on their knees. Some are still recovering, some never will. What was happening to livestock in backyard abattoirs overseas needed to be exposed and the result was a major overhaul of operations ensuring Australian cattle are only slaughtered in approved facilities. This was a big win for export cattle in the long run! However, something did not sit right with me about the whole fiasco. Why did we punish our hardworking Aussie families for another country’s mistakes? It wasn't quite so simple...
I was taking a trip down memory lane when thinking about my relationship with animals. I believe farm kids grow to be some of the most gentle and compassionate adults. My Mum tells me I would have been all of three-years-old when I, upon finding a butterfly in the final stages of its natural life cycle, tried to provide mouth to mouth resuscitation and feed it water from a plastic syringe from my toy doctor’s kit. I was about 10 when I came across an orphaned calf whose mother had died during labour and convinced Dad to bring it home. He needed convincing because the calf was clearly disabled through lack of oxygen and his experience told him it wouldn’t end well. I tried for hours and hours to help the calf stand and teach it to suck from a silicone teat attached to a bottle of calf milk. Ultimately the calf died and as Dad predicted, it ended in heartbreak.
I know the vast majority of farmers would take every option available to them before ending an animal’s life. Through illness and injury, we nurse and pamper and persist until there is literally nothing more we can do. I have seen broken legs splinted and wrapped by a cockie* with as much care and attention as a registered nurse. I’ve witnessed grown men cry at losing a best mate in their Kelpie or Stockhorse. These are men and women who carry the weight of the world through droughts and floods and market slumps. People who are often portrayed as uncaring, budget focused brutes. I mention money, as I’ve come across the argument that farmers only appear to care because a life saved is dollars in the bank. This theory doesn’t float- an ailing animal is expensive to maintain. Time alone outweighs potential sale profits, then you need to add the cost of hand feeding and injections such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and pain relief. Often vet bills are involved as well. We save lives because it’s what any normal, emotionally available human would do.
Now we’re getting to the pointy, unavoidable end. I can hear this question buzzing back at me through my computer screen: if you care so much about your cattle, how can you let them be turned into meat and eat meat yourself?
I’ve grappled with how to answer this when I’ve asked myself the same question. I eat meat because I know where it comes from, how it was treated and how it was handled in its final moments. I have stood in the viewing room at an abattoir and watched as the cattle calmly make their way down the ramp, are painlessly stunned and then very quickly and cleanly killed by experts in their field. I know how grass-fed cattle spend their days peacefully munching away in big open paddocks. I’ve seen grain-fed cattle behave like kids with an ice-cream truck when their feed is delivered- kicking and bucking with what can only be described as pure joy.
I’ve felt real sadness when a hand-reared poddy reaches its marketable stage of life. I’ve processed this by realising that this is nature as it has been for hundreds of thousands of years. It is undeniable- we humans are the superior beings. Animals such as cattle and sheep existed centuries ago as a food source and the same is true today. Humans have a role to play in getting these animals from paddock to plate in a way we can be proud of. And I am proud. I’m proud to be involved in an industry that places so much emphasis on the animals in our care. I’m proud to be one of thousands of Aussie farmers who can confidently say they place their animals’ welfare ahead of their own. We literally have lives in our hands. That’s a pretty big deal and not a responsibility we take lightly.
After all, we are the earth’s caretakers and I reckon we’re doing a mighty fine job.
If you’re keen for more information and want to check that this chick actually knows what she’s on about (fair) head to https://www.goodmeat.com.au/.
*Cockie- another term for someone who works on the land, usually with livestock.
Oli Le Lievre
Oli's experience is extensive for someone his age; from AgTech to production agriculture to consulting. He was a key member in the development of Australia's largest agrifood event in 2019. Oli's passionate about a resilient food system and believes engaged people are pivotal to this success.