I am intrigued by the word “balance,” as it has come up a few times when discussing some of the more contentious issues facing the industry. Most recently, I was interviewed for a documentary on modern swine production. Following this lengthy interview for a college project, I suggested that the group doing the project should maintain a balanced approach to their production of this piece of communications work. I was curious about what Webster would say about the word balance so I looked it up. There are numerous definitions for balance, many having to do with accounting or mathematics. However, two that stood out to me were a verb and a noun:
- arrange the different parts of something so that they form a harmonious and well-proportioned whole
- a state in which various parts form a satisfying and harmonious whole and nothing is out of proportion or unduly emphasized at the expense of the rest
After I completed the interview, I realized and stated that my approach is very balanced. These students agreed. After some introspection, I realize that I am somewhat like the economist with his “on one hand but on the other hand” view of things. I probably come by that honestly. For instance, on the subject of animal welfare, I understand both sides of this debate. I was raised by parents who were polar opposites on this subject. My dad came from a family for which animals were nothing more than objects. Through much of my childhood, I couldn’t imagine my dad having feelings for an animal. My mom, on the other hand (see there I go), was the epitome of an animal lover. She had all her dogs and cats on the farm and even had adopted animals at the zoo. It is interesting to watch my dad now, with their favorite cat curled up on his lap. He has changed considerably and now leans toward my mom’s view of animals.
I know what is said about the way people treat their pets and I have to admit I am guilty. My dogs sleep with us and are just like siblings to my kids. I love animals. That is the primary reason that I majored in animal science instead of pursuing a degree in agronomy, which was what my dad urged me to consider. I also love meat. I am the consummate meat-aterian. And it caused me no conflict or anxiety as I spent a portion of my career in a packing plant. I have to add that I also believe in humane treatment of animals. I consider a balanced view where I can eat meat but still love animals and demand that they be treated with the care and welfare they deserve.
During the interview, I was asked several questions about the controversy over gestation housing. I understand how people can look at a picture of gestation housing with stalls as far as you can see in a long gestation building and wonder about that system. I mentioned that there are many compelling reasons why we have gone to that system and that we surely cannot even consider going back to outdoor production as a way to feed the masses here and abroad. However, I personally think that we can come up with a means of group housing which satisfies the innate needs of the sow but still protects her and her ration from overzealous pen mates. This probably requires more space per sow at some cost, but I am sure we would all benefit from the move.
We also had discussions about manure management, odor control strategies, climate change, antibiotic feeding, pork quality, consumers’ rights to know, etc. It was an engaging and interesting interview and many of these topics could be subjects of commentaries in the future. In the meantime, I hope that the documentary produced by these students is, indeed, balanced with the various viewpoints represented in a way that is not “unduly emphasized at the expense of the rest.”
I also wish that those in the pork industry would deal with all those who have opinions and direction that differ from our industry viewpoint so that we can come up with a harmonious and well-proportioned solution to these issues